This is in response to speculation that the Government is to axe the flagship Liberal Democrat policy which means that since September last year all children aged four- to-seven have been provided with a free school dinner.
The two petitions, which call on the Government to back the UIFSM scheme, argue that free school meals make a real difference to children, particularly those from families who cannot afford to provide a nutritious dinner.
Nursery World reported earlier in the month that UIFSM could be scrapped in the Autumn Spending Review (25 November) amid claims the scheme’s funding is ‘eating into the core education budget’.
However the Department for Education has not confirmed or denied the plans.
The petitions have received the support of Labour’s shadow children’s minister Sharon Hodgson, who has written a letter to the chancellor George Osborne asking for reassurance that the scheme will not be axed in the Spending Review.
In the letter, Ms Hodgson, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for School Food, expresses concerns that scrapping the scheme will have ‘detrimental effects on the attainment and life chances of children’.
Labour’s shadow education secretary Lucy Powell has also spoken out against the Government’s alleged plans, arguing that schools have gone to a ‘huge amount of trouble and effort to deliver the scheme’.
She said, ‘Schools have, at their own cost, installed new kitchens to deliver this scheme. Yet before it can be properly evaluated for its impact on pupils’ performance at school, they are shutting the door.’
Ms Powell added, ‘This decision comes at a time when the Government is cutting tax credits for working families. It will see over three million families lose an average of £1,000 a year and directly increase levels of poverty in Britain.’