Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has announced that from next September, free school meals will be available for all infants in primary schools across England.
The announcement was made at the Lib Dem party conference in Glasgow on Tuesday.Clegg said he has “ambitions” to roll the scheme out to all primary school pupils.
The service, which is expected to cost around £600m a year, will be launched to help the most financially vulnerable parents who are “feeling the squeeze“. One in five infants across England currently qualify for free school meals.
Clegg said, “My ambition is that every primary school pupil should be able to sit down to a hot, healthy lunch with their classmates every day.”
He added, “Millions of parents across the country are feeling the squeeze. I am determined to do all we can to help put money back in the pockets of these families.”
The measures are expected to save families an average of £400 per year, but Clegg was criticised by Labour MPs, who said that he could not be trusted.
Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said, “They talk about helping families but they will have taken up to £7 billion a year of support away from children by 2015. They talk about helping with school meals after supporting the Tories in scrapping Labour’s plans to extend free meals for school kids. You can’t trust a word the Lib Dems say.”
The announcement comes after a survey revealed in August that an increasing number of working families were being forced to turn to food banks, an increase which some believe is a response to the coalition’s welfare reforms.
Education secretary Michael Gove was criticised last week for his comments that struggling families only use food banks because of “poor financial management”.