Henry Dimbleby has said it’s “impossible” to claim that Universal Credit children don’t all need free school meals – as he warned the cost of living crisis is hitting some of Britain’s poorest families hard
Boris Johnson’s Food Tsar hit today after the Prime Minister dropped his request to introduce a new wave of free school meals.
Henry Dimbleby, the founder of the Leon fast-food chain, had asked for the policy to be extended to nearly a million more children on Universal Credit.
But the Food Strategy White Paper released today will only say that the idea will be reviewed.
Mr Dimbleby said the paper – which failed to take up a number of his other recommendations – lacked “a vision for the whole system”.
And on free school meals, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s impossible to say that’s not necessary at this point.”
He added: “They must now increase the entitlement to free school meals and increase the £2.30 paid for each meal.
“Inflation has both reduced the purchasing power of schools to provide good, nutritious meals to children in poverty and has meant more families need free school meals to support their children.”
Currently, most children from the 3rd grade 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 diet strategy last summer, he acknowledged that it would cost £790m and proposed an alternative – raising the income threshold to £20,000 – which would cost £544m.
But none of these options were taken up in the Food Strategy White Paper.
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.”
Shadow Education Minister Bridget Phillipson said: “With prices in shops, at the pump and on energy bills soaring, the Tories are showing once again that they have no vision and no plan for Britain.
“With universal credit cut, ministers are now fooling around while the kids go hungry. Our children deserve better.”
Feeding Britain activists said hundreds of thousands of children had benefited from an extension of eligibility.
If an extension to families not eligible for public funds based on immigration status had also been included, an estimated 1.1 million more children could have benefited.
The NRPF extension has already happened, but today’s plan is expected to sidestep calls to extend free school meals to all children at UC.
Instead, it is understood the government will “continue to review eligibility for free school meals to ensure those meals are supporting 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.
But the food czar said he believed the tax would not have increased the cost of food and instead forced manufacturers to change recipes.
He blamed an “ideological arm wrestling” between the intervention and Tory free marketers and said he was “nervous” about the future.
And he said the goal of halving childhood obesity by 2030 cannot be met “without strong government intervention in the junk food cycle, the toxic relationship between corporate commercial incentives and our increased appetites.”
He told The Guardian the document was “not a strategy”, saying: “It does not present a clear vision of why we are having the problems we are having now and it does not set out what needs to be done.”
https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/boris-johnsons-food-expert-hits-27215128 Boris Johnson's food expert slams PM for phasing out new wave of free school meals