Free school meals in England, mapped

Carto/Louis Doré

On Thursday, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn announced that a Labour government (if elected) would make school dinners free for all primary school pupils.

The move would be paid for by introducing VAT on private school fees.

Speaking at a children’s holiday club in Leyland, Lancashire, Corbyn said:

No child in the UK should go hungry at school. By charging VAT on private schools fees, Labour will make sure all primary school children, no matter what their background, get a healthy meal at school.

The next Labour Government will provide all primary school children with a free school meal, invest in our schools, and make sure no child is held back because of their background.

Free school meals for 5-7 year olds were introduced by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government in 2014, which excludes the last three years of primary school pupils (commonly known as ‘Juniors’).

Labour have claimed the policy will cost between £700-900 million per year, based on figures from the House of Commons Library.

They quoted an estimate from left wing incrementalists the Fabian Society, which estimated introducing VAT on private school fees would raise £1.5 billion per year.

Corbyn also said ‘nothing is ruled out’ with regards to changing the charitable status of private schools. The status gives them tax advantages.

See the below map for the percentage of primary school children in each unitary area in England that are eligible for and claim free school meals, as per Department for Education January 2016 data.

'Sums do not add up'

Asked about the policy during a local election campaign launch in Nottinghamshire, Prime Minister Theresa May did not directly criticise the policy, but reiterated her line that Labour spending plans would ‘bankrupt’ Britain.

A former head of the schools regulator Ofsted endorsed the move to put VAT on private education fees, but not in favour of extending meals.

The Independent Schools Council which represents fee paying schools has said that Corbyn’s ‘sums do not add up’.

HT BBC, Guardian, Politics Home, Telegraph

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