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Oliver leads calls for school meals U-turn

Jamie Oliver is among a host of campaigners to have called for the Conservatives to scrap a manifesto pledge to axe universal free school meals.

The Conservatives said they did not believe giving free schools lunches to all primary school children was a sensible use of public money and proposed to instead provide those same children with free school breakfasts.

Oliver labelled the proposal “a disgrace” and said the decision put “future generations at huge risk”.

The Children’s Food Trust said that “just about managing families” would be worst hit by the policy, which they claimed would be “a huge blow” in the fight against obesity.

The policy was also criticised by the Leon co-founders John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby who put forward the Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM) policy in their 2013 School Food Plan, commissioned by the coalition government.

They wrote in a blog on the Leon website: “Eating a proper cooked meal in the middle of the day has been shown to have a positive impact on a child’s overall diet, not just at school. What’s more, only 1% of packed lunches meet the nutritional guidelines set for school food – without UIFSM, the number of kids eating packed lunches is certain to increase.”

In their manifesto, the Conservatives’ pledged that schools in England would offer a free school breakfast to every child in every year of primary school, while children from low-income families would continue to receive free school lunches throughout their years in primary and secondary education. They added that savings made from the change – estimated to be around £650m – would be added to the core schools budget.

Justifying the policy, the Conservatives referred to “good evidence that school breakfasts are at least as effective in helping children to make progress in school.” However, Vincent and Dimbleby questioned the claim, writing that the research cited was not conducted to prove the case for breakfast over lunch.