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Social Justice

National food strategy won’t expand free school meals to another 1.1 million children, despite recommendations

Green MP Caroline Lucas called the strategy an “unforgivably wasted opportunity”

A suggestion to make 1.1 million extra children eligible for free school meals has been ignored by the government.

Henry Dimbleby, the lead adviser on the government’s national food strategy, recommended free school meals be extended to all children under 16 living in households earning less than £20,000.

But the plan, due to be presented to parliament by Environment Secretary George Eustice today, has not taken up the recommendation.

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In response, Dimbleby – who co-founded the Leon fast food restaurant chain – said the strategy was “not a strategy”.

He added that the government’s current spending on free school meals was failing to keep pace with inflation, and told Sky News: “I hope this is under urgent review because this number needs to go up.”

Polling cited alongside the recommendations found 51 per cent of people believed free school meals should be available for all children.

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Dimbleby’s recommendations initially suggested extending free school meals to everyone on universal credit up to the age of 16.

A second part of the review, published last July, then watered down the recommendation after finding it would cost £790 million.

Instead, it said the current threshold for receiving free school meals should be raised from £7,400 household income before benefits to £20,000.

The current threshold, it said, meant “there are some children from low-income households going hungry”.

This would have cost £544 million a year and would have meant feeding an extra 1.1 million children. But the government has ignored this recommendation as well.

Green MP Caroline Lucas described the strategy as an “unforgivably wasted opportunity”.

A white paper laying out the government’s food strategy, reported by the Guardian, said the idea would be “kept under review”.

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