Thursday, February 18, 2010
Free Healthy School Meals for Primary School pupils
Today I was delighted to launch our local election pledge that a Labour Council will provide every primary school pupil at a Southwark School with a free school meal. This is the text of an article I have written for Progress Online:-
"Southwark Labour's announcement that it will provide free healthy school meals for all primary school children across the borough was the first of a number of positive key pledges which we believe will deliver us control of the Council on May 6th.
It is a policy which an increasing number of Labour Groups and authorities are supporting - for many of us simply because it reflects the very best of progressive Labour politics. It is a policy which cuts across boundaries of class and income, and addresses the critical problems of childhood obesity and ill-health.
Some critics of the policy have said to me that it just benefits middle-class families. But in the present economic climate everyone is feeling the pinch, particularly those who live just above the current free school meals threshold. In Southwark we also believe that it is vitally it important that Labour continues to appeal to middle-class voters – those who helped elect and re-elect a Labour Government at three successive general elections and may currently be disaffected – and who will surely welcome a policy which will potentially save them £7 per week per child at a Southwark primary school.
But this is fundamentally a policy which will help poorer families, by removing the stigma and social barriers which continue to be attached to recipients of free school meals and by offering a healthy and nutritious midday meal to those 1,800 pupils who are already entitled to free school meals but do not take advantage of that entitlement. With a recent study by Leeds University showing that only 1% of packed lunches taken to school contain the nutritional content that a child needs, the rationale for ensuring that children eat a healthy meal at school could not be stronger.
Southwark’s Lib Dem/Tory administration has overseen the borough’s childhood obesity figures rise to shocking levels, so that we now have the worst rates in England. With council tax collection rates the worst in London; our recycling rate the 6th worst in the country; an adult social care service whose performance has plummeted to one of the eight worst in the country and no plan for how to finish Decent Homes works, it’s little wonder that Southwark’s political executive is even regarded as “dysfunctional” by senior council officers.
But however compelling your critical narrative of any administration may be, there still has to be a positive reason for a voter to support you. The Tories failure nationally to offer that positive alternative has left them looking fairly insubstantial - a triumph of spin over substance.
So Southwark Labour's support for a Free School Meals policy reflects that desire to offer our residents a positive alternative to the rudderless Lib Dems; a policy to enthuse our activists and supporters; a real reason to vote Labour."
You can read more at Progress Online