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Tories ‘reflecting’ on whether to honour free school breakfasts manifesto pledge

The Conservatives had pledged to scrap universal free lunches for infant school children in England and replace them with a free breakfast option for all.

The Tories have cast doubt on whether they will continue with their manifesto pledge to scrap free school lunches and replace them with free breakfasts.

Education minister Robert Goodwill said the Government was “reflecting on our programmes in relation to school meals” after being asked about the estimated costs for the provision.

In its General Election manifesto, the Conservatives pledged to scrap universal free lunches for infant school children in England, but said they would instead offer a free breakfast for all primary school pupils.

The minister’s comments came in response to a written parliamentary question by Labour’s Wes Streeting (Ilford North), who said he was “really disappointed” that the Government appeared to be “stalling” on the promise for free breakfasts.

Mr Streeting, a former president of the National Union of Students, said he believed free school lunches were “enormously beneficial in terms of tackling childhood obesity and promoting healthy eating amongst young people”.

He said there was evidence that primary school breakfast provision had both “health and educational benefits”.

He told the Press Association: “I think it’s genuinely disappointing that one of the few glimmers of light and hope in the Conservative manifesto is now up for reconsideration. It feels like the Conservatives are learning all the wrong lessons from this election.

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Robert Goodwill said the Government was "reflecting on our programmes" (PA)

“Sure they’ve dropped some of their really unpopular policies around grammar schools – but whether it’s police funding, or education funding, or the scandal of rising child poverty in the UK, I don’t think the Conservatives have really got the message about what life is like for too many people in our country.”

He said introducing free primary school breakfasts would demonstrate the Government had “heard the message from the public that Tory austerity has gone too far – that it is a scandal that children in Britain are growing up in poverty – and that they are prepared to do something about it”.

Mr Streeting said: “I think, particularly given that we’re in a hung Parliament, I think there is a genuine opportunity for the Conservatives to build cross-party support and consensus around free primary school breakfast provision.

“And given that there is such a strong evidence base about both the educational and health benefits of free primary school breakfast provision I really hope that this is something that Justine Greening runs with because I think she’ll find cross party support for it.”

In the written question, he asked the Education Secretary: “What estimate her department has made of the cost of free school breakfast provision in every primary school in England.”

Mr Goodwill replied: “We are reflecting on our programmes in relation to school meals and will come forward with proposals in due course.”

During the campaign the Tories said evidence showed a free school breakfast is as effective at helping children learn as a hot meal at lunch and can be delivered at a 10th of the cost, at around £60 million a year.

The policy was criticised as “misguided” by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, while school leaders warned that hundreds of millions of pounds pumped into funding the free dinners would be wasted.

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