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.