Laws: Half of children in poverty not getting free school meals

by Stephen Tall on December 16, 2008

The Guardian has the story, courtesy of Lib Dem research published by the party’s children and schools’ spokesman David Laws:

A million children living below the poverty line do not receive free school meals as a result of flaws in the funding system, figures released in parliament show. Half of pupils from families in poverty are not getting a free lunch because the income threshold to qualify is set lower than the current level used to define poverty. It means that a family of two adults and two children struggling to get by on £18,000 a year has to pay for school dinners, which now cost on average £1.70 a day per child. Children at schools in every local authority in England are affected. Parent campaigners said the government was letting down some of the most vulnerable “working poor” families.

Here’s what David himself says in the party’s official press release:

It is outrageous that half of our poorest children are missing out on free school meals. For the most disadvantaged children, a school dinner can be the only hot meal they get. As times get tough, paying for school lunches is going to be a real struggle for more and more families.

“The Tories caused this problem in the 1980s when they changed the rules to deny free school meals to half a million children living in families who were working but on low incomes. The Government must now look at restoring the entitlement to free school meals to this group – including to families on working tax credits.”

If rumour is to be believed, Nick Clegg is considering moving David Laws from his post, remarking in his infamous flight to Scotland as covered by the Mirror, “Laws is not enjoying Education. The Tories have left him no space.”

If he’s feeling frustrated it’s a shame. David has done much in his current post to rehabilitate his reputation among those he offended with The Orange Book; even his severest critics, who accuse him of being an ultra-liberal market-worshipper, have acknowledged the positive publicity he has earned, and (many of) the new ideas he has generated, at education. As The Times noted just today, “Under David Laws, the party has abandoned its echo of the teaching unions and is committed to schools reform and a premium budget for poorer children.”

Today’s press coverage is another reminder of his ability to hit home a good, liberal point, and to reassert the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to social justice.

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True about the Times coverage today. But that was exceptionally favourable. The Laws bit of the Clegg-on-plane conversation was one of the bits that rang true to me. He really doesn’t have any room for clear water between us and the Tories (essentially because we’ve both taken our education policy from the same Policy Exchange paper, so far as I can see) so there are easy rebuttals which probably preclude most big splash press releases. It can’t be fun.

by Alix on December 16, 2008 at 9:07 pm. Reply #

Laws makes a good point in the Guardian today – but could go much further in his response. How many LibDems would support the calls of the Child Poverty Action Group and others to extend free school meals, For example, this could be done in all primary schools to start with.

A post about this
http://www.nextleft.org/2008/12/case-for-free-school-meals_16.html

by Sunder Katwala on December 16, 2008 at 10:12 pm. Reply #

A lot of schoolchildren in Hackney where I live can be seen buying junk food during lunch-hour.
I admit my judgement is more subjective than scientific, but I think that David Laws is probably right. I would have thought free school meals for thos living in poverty would be a good incentive for school children not to do this.
Incidently I do wonder why the Times objects to the teacher’s unions – apart from partizan political reasons. I think teachers have an incredibly difficult job and I respect them for what they do.

by Geoffrey Payne on December 16, 2008 at 10:40 pm. Reply #

Geoffrey,
Because kids needs and unions wishlists are not always aligned, for a start. Take being paid extra money to work weekends and holidays for kids from difficult backgrounds. Sound public policy sense, but unions wouldn’t wear it because of the differential pay. We’re best to be as critical of unions as we should be of business groups.

And, yes, David Laws use of parliamentary questions to get data that leads to headlines is incredibly impressive. In his own way he has been as impressive as Vince Cable.

by Simon on December 16, 2008 at 11:42 pm. Reply #

Laws was also there well before the Tories. The Centre Forum papers on educational inequalities is really worth a read.

by Simon on December 16, 2008 at 11:43 pm. Reply #

This is an example of why some people get quite so upperty about statements like “the vast bulk” of £20bn of expenditure savinsg going on tax cuts.

This is an excellent piece of research but if you take 1 Million children times say 180 school days a year at an average of £1.70 per meal you end up with £306 Million quid. Plus any additional capital costs from extra demand and the fact that entitlement is likely to rise during a reccession etc.

The Party’s policy process spews out spending commitments all the time and i’ve yet to see convincing figures about how we’ll reconcile them all with a net cut in public spending.

However top marks to David. I suspect he is just to adverse to the rubber chicken circuit to ever do it but he’d make a really interesting Leader.

by David Morton on December 17, 2008 at 1:01 am. Reply #

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