The Lib Dems have said “breakfast doesn’t mean breakfast” as they attacked Conservative plans to end the free school lunch policy brought in while they were in coalition.
Ex-leader Nick Clegg called on Theresa May to reverse the cut, saying a plan for free breakfasts in England instead would allocate only 7p to each child.
The Tories say breakfasts would help all pupils – while also freeing up extra cash to spend on schools.
Mr Clegg urged a U-turn on the plan.
The former deputy prime minister parodied the prime minister’s “Brexit means Brexit” phrase as he attacked the plan to end the current policy which gives all pupils free lunches for their first three years at primary school, irrespective of their parents’ wealth.
The Conservatives say that it would be better instead to offer all primary school pupils a free breakfast – as well as continuing to offer the traditional means-tested free lunches.
Mr Clegg said: “Not only do I think Theresa May’s decision to snatch readily available lunches to kids in primary school is wrong… it is also so dishonest, to claim that somehow free breakfast will be readily available when the Conservatives’ own figures show that they’re only calculating for 7p per breakfast.
“Any parent across the country knows that a 7p breakfast is not going to replace what is lost by taking away healthy lunches.”
‘Half an egg’
MPs in the next parliament would have to vote to repeal the law guaranteeing infant school free lunches, he stressed, whereas Conservative MPs had voted for it in coalition with the Lib Dems, and kept it on the manifesto for the 2015 general election.
The prime minister should do a U-turn on the policy, Mr Clegg said – as she had, he said, on calling an election, on national insurance tax increases and the dementia tax.
The Liberal Democrats say the Children’s Society estimates half of school age children who live in poverty would not access free school meals because of the eligibility criteria and the associated stigma in claiming them.
The Conservatives want to axe the free meals plan to save money to plug gaps in England’s school finances.
The party hopes to save £650m by ending the right to a free meal for all children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2, but has pledged to offer all children a free breakfast.
It said in its manifesto: “We do not believe that giving school lunches to all children free of charge for the first three years of primary school – regardless of the income of their parents – is a sensible use of public money.
“There is now good evidence that school breakfasts are at least as effective in helping children to make progress in school.”