Taxing private school fees to fund primary school meals for all children is only fair

Angela Rayner
VAT on private school fees will raise at least £1.3bn to fund school meals for primary school children: Peter Cade

Today at an after school club in Leyland, Lancashire, Jeremy Corbyn and I will announce that the next Labour government will guarantee free school meals for all primary school children.

By introducing VAT on private school fees Labour will level the playing field between children. Only 7 per cent of children in England attend private school. VAT on private school fees will raise at least £1.3bn, enabling us to fully fund this policy.

Labour’s policy will benefit the education and health of all children by ending a subsidy to the privileged few.

I’m a mum and I hate the thought of any child going a whole day at school without a healthy meal.

Four million children in Britain are living in poverty – and because of rising in-work poverty, many do not qualify for free school meals under the existing system.

Children who eat a healthy lunch do better at school – research has proven that offering universal access to free school meals enables primary school pupils to advance by around two months on average. Give children healthy food and they behave better at school, concentrate more in class and perform better in exams. As a parent I don’t see any downside.

Britain faces a serious health crisis linked to a poor diet – almost 20 per cent of children are obese by the time they leave primary school at 11. There is a real need to address these health problems. We as a nation cannot be satisfied with our children suffering health problems through no fault of their own.

Labour’s policy will help improve the health of our children by making sure every child gets given a nutritious meal at school – over 90 per cent of pupils taking a school lunch eat food or drink containing vegetables or fruit compared with only 58 per cent of pupils bringing in packed lunches. It is right and proper that we aim to ensure every child is receiving a healthy, balanced lunch at school.

Despite these huge benefits, the government is failing to provide children their basic right to a healthy meal. In 2013, the Coalition Government accepted a report that recommended all primary school pupils get free school meals. However, as is usually the case with this government, the plan was quietly dropped. Instead, since 2014, children in reception, year one and year two get free school meals – but funding per child per meal has been frozen, therefore failing to keep up with inflation.

The Conservatives are leading an assault on our country’s schools. The serious funding crisis currently looming over schools has not only left them unable to provide healthy lunches for pupils, but has forced schools like St John’s Primary School in Crowborough to resort to extreme measures such as asking parents to donate essential items – like toilet rolls – that the school can’t afford. It’s simply unacceptable. Our children deserve better and Labour will make sure that’s what they get.

As Shadow Education Secretary, I’ve had enough of seeing schools struggling to provide the support and education children need because of the misplaced priorities of this Conservative government. Free school meals for all children, no matter what their background, will improve the education and health of our children. Labour will deliver it.

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