The PM faces anger tomorrow over his food strategy white paper after he dropped pleas from his food czar Henry Dimbleby – including demanding that all children with DWP Universal Credit be entitled to free school meals
Image: POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson is furious as he shelves plans to extend free school meals to up to a million poor children.
Tory ministers are understood to have brushed aside the request as they watered down radical plans to solve Britain’s problems of hunger, health and the environment.
The Prime Minister is due to present a white paper on food strategy on Monday but has dropped a number of proposals from his food czar, Henry Dimbleby.
The Leon founder’s call for free school meals to be extended to all children in households on Universal Credit is understood to have been shelved and instead will continue to be considered.
Andrew Forsey, director of Feeding Britain, told the Mirror: “At first glance this looks like a bowl of thin porridge being served to families who are struggling to get food on the table.
“While it is noteworthy that the threshold for free school meals is to be reviewed, this strategy should have been the prime minister’s moment to ride to the rescue of those families – who often work for low wages – who desperately need that help now.”
Currently, most older children are not entitled to free school meals if their household income from work is more than £7,400 a year.
Mr Dimbleby had proposed extending this to all children in households receiving Universal Credit.
In his updated food strategy last summer, he acknowledged that it would cost £790million and proposed an alternative – raising the income threshold to £20,000 – which would cost £544million.
Feeding Britain activists said hundreds of thousands of children had benefited from an extension of eligibility.
Once expanded to include families without recourse to public funds based on immigration status, an estimated 1.1 million more children could have benefited.
The NRPF extension has already happened, but tomorrow’s plan is expected to dodge calls to extend free school meals to all children at UC.
Instead, it said the government will “continue to review eligibility for free school meals to ensure those meals support those who need them most.
“We have already committed to continue the Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) scheme with an investment of £600m over three years.”
A government source insisted free school meals could be extended at a later date, telling the Mirror: “We are very confident that we will continue to look into free school eligibility.”
Mr Dimbleby’s bid for a “reformulation tax” on unhealthy foods to reduce sugar and salt was also dropped. It’s understood officials believe it’s “deaf” during a cost-of-living crisis.
Mr Dimbleby’s suggestions to encourage Britons to eat less meat have also been dropped from the document, according to the Mirror.
And National Farmers Union President Minette Batters blasted the strategy as a whole for saying it was “stripped to the bare bones.”
Ms Batters welcomed measures on food security and production as the war in Ukraine hurts wheat exports.
But she told The Observer there was no plan to meet the overall goals. She said: “It’s all very good to have words, but it really needs to be delivered in a meaningful way and we don’t see that in this document yet.”
Graham MacGregor, chairman of Action on Sugar and Action on Salt, added the government was “in the pocket of the food industry” and had “no desire to bite the hand that feeds them”.
A 27-page draft of the plan was leaked to the Guardian on Friday.
The Mirror understands it has been updated since the leaked version and has now deleted a controversial line which had suggested hard-fought Brits were eating more venison.
The document, due to be presented to Parliament after a joint visit by Prime Minister and Environment Secretary George Eustice, will also outline “agri-tech innovations” to increase food production.
But in another development, the Sunday Times reported that Boris Johnson has scaled back green plans to “wilder” the country.
Just around £50m over three years will be given to the Landscape Restoration Scheme, one of three post-Brexit schemes to return peat and forests to the landscape.
A Government source disputed the newspaper’s claims that it could be worth up to £800million a year. It goes without saying that the ministers are initially only sticking to 15 rewilding plans.
The bitter battle over rural politics comes as the Tories brace themselves to lose the Tiverton and Honiton rural by-elections sparked by Tory Neil Parish who went looking for a tractor and ended up watching porn in Parliament.
The Lib Dems hope to overthrow Mr Parish’s majority of 24,239 on June 23.
Labor criticized the leaked document as “nothing more than a declaration of vague intentions”.
Ministers appear to be moving forward on some of Mr Dimbleby’s proposals, including through consultations on mandatory food waste reporting for companies of a certain size.
The government has also agreed to pilot a Community Eatwell program, as announced in the Leveling Up White Paper, to help low-income people improve their diets.
The document said ministers would “support progress on a wide range of issues, including alternative proteins” after the review called on the government to “push” consumers to change their meat-eating habits.
However, it suggested that sustainable protein sources need not “crowd out traditional sectors”.
The paper said the government will launch a call for evidence to better understand the challenges of reducing methane emissions from livestock, such as cattle.
In his report, Mr Dimbleby set himself the goal of reducing meat consumption by 30% over 10 years.
Louisa Casson, head of food and forests at Greenpeace UK, accused ministers of appearing to be “pushing” British farmers to produce more meat.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it had not commented on the leaked documents, but a spokesman added: “We will set out the content of our ambitious new food strategy in due course.”
https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/boris-johnson-shelves-free-school-27210879 Boris Johnson halts free school meals for up to a million children in 'thin mush' meal plan