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Children at 1,770 schools in disadvantaged areas are to benefit from investment in free school breakfasts, the Government has announced - only days after a vote in Parliament introduced a cap to curb children’s entitlement to free school dinners.
The Department of Education (DfE) said it will invest £26 million in free breakfasts from 1 April (paid for by income from its soft drinks tax) and has appointed two charities to run the breakfast clubs.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: “A healthy breakfast can help fuel children’s concentration so they can get the most out of their school day.
“Children only get one chance at an education and they deserve the best, whatever their background. That is why we are giving more pupils in some of the country’s most disadvantaged areas the chance to go to a breakfast club.”
A report by Kelloggs, published last September, highlighted nearly half of teachers feared their breakfast club would close within three years because of underfunding - resulting in 200,000 schoolchildren (mostly from deprived areas) likely to lose out on a breakfast.
The charities appointed to run the breakfast clubs are Family Action and Magic Breakfast.
Carmel McConnell, founder of Magic Breakfast, said: “Crucially, it will ensure a nutritious breakfast reaches many more thousands of hungry schoolchildren, unlocking up to four hours of learning each morning to support their education. This is an excellent investment in these children and in the future of this country."
But while the Government is introducing free breakfasts for the country’s poorest children, The Children's Society and the Labour party has claimed changes to Universal Credit will see 1.1 million children losing their entitlement to free school dinners.
Currently, all children from households claiming Universal Credit can have free school dinners under transitional arrangements. New rules coming into force from 1 April, means only children from families in England with net earnings of less than £7,400 will be eligible for free dinners.
But the Government has said children who currently receive the free meals will not lose them on 1 April - even if their household breaches this earnings threshold. In a statement, the DfE said: ‘Contrary to some reports and claims, no pupil currently eligible for free school meals will lose that status’.
A move to block the new rules by Labour, was voted down by Conservative and DUP MPs in the House of Commons. The GMB union has said the ‘cruel school dinner cap’ will leave families with the stark choice of cutting their working hours or their children's meals.
Jamie Oliver: ‘Worrying logic’ to replace free lunch for all with breakfast for some
The scrapping of school dinners from all but the poorest of children and the decision to offer free breakfasts was in the Conservative's manifesto last year and was attacked by many at the time including celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.
The chef turned healthy eating campaigner criticised Prime Minister Theresa May for her party’s election manifesto pledge to end the free lunches for all but the poorest.
At the time, the Prime Minister was dubbed a ‘lunch snatcher’ by taking meals from the mouths of five-to-seven-year-olds. In a blogpost published on Jamie's Food Revolution website last year, Jamie Oliver wrote: "Access to free school lunches for all early years kids is at the heart of what we, and countless others, campaign for every day.
"The logic behind this decision is extremely worrying. Why scrap a policy that gives every child access to a free school lunch and replace it with a policy that only gives breakfast to some? It doesn’t add up."
The Conservative's manifesto stated the party did not believe ‘giving school lunches to all children free of charge for the first three years of primary school – regardless of the income of their parents – is a sensible use of public money. ‘There is now good evidence that school breakfasts are at least as effective in helping children to make progress in school.’
Early years chief calls on PM to ditch school dinner cap
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance told daynurseries .co.uk: “Ensuring children aren’t attending school hungry is vital if they are to achieve their full potential" adding more Government money for breakfast clubs "could be an excellent way of achieving that for some of the poorest children".
“However, it’s important to see this policy announcement in its proper context. Last week the Government went ahead with its decision to introduce a cap on the amount families receiving Universal Credit entitled to free school meals. They did this despite repeated warnings from the Alliance and other organisations that this policy would create a cliff-edge for low-income families."
Mr Leitch added: "Ministers should remove their proposed universal credit cap and ensure children from low-income families are able to benefit free school meals throughout the school day.”