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The Liberal Democrats have today announced they would introduce free school meals for all primary schoolchildren. The policy will appear in the Liberal Democrat general election manifesto and is intended to help tackle child poverty.

Presently, free school meals are provided to children in reception, year 1 and year 2, and to children who are from lower income families in year 3 and above.

The Lib Dems say they will initiate the policy by extending free school meals to the 900,000 children currently living in policy who are not eligible for the scheme. The party says that would then be followed by rolling out free school meals for all schoolchildren if public finances stabilise.

The Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey announced the policy in an interview with the Guardian. In the interview, Davey said the case for universal free school meals is “overwhelming”. He went on to say: “The Liberal Democrats are very progressive politicians. That’s who we always have been. It’s who we are. We believe in social justice … If we can get some Liberal Democrat MPs in the next parliament, many more of them, these are the things we’ll provide for.”

According to Sky News, Davey has said: “Across the country, I hear heartbreaking stories of children going to school with empty packed lunch boxes as parents struggle to cover even the basic costs.

“Conservative MPs should hang their heads in shame at a legacy of children going hungry in the worst cost of living crisis in a generation.”

Davey added: “I am proud the Liberal Democrats have the most ambitious plan for free school meals of any party, which would save parents money and transform the future for millions of children.”

The policy is said to cost around £500m and the Liberal Democrats plan to fund it by a share buy-back tax.

The Liberal Democrats first endorsed the policy at their autumn conference in September 2023. Left Foot Forward reported at the time that the party intended the measure – alongside a series of other proposals for the education system – “to improve educational attainment and opportunities for all children”.

While the Labour Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has already introduced universal free school meals in the capital city, the Labour Party has not yet committed to the policy nationally.

Chris Jarvis is head of strategy and development at Left Foot Forward

The post Lib Dems promise free school meals for all primary schoolchildren appeared first on Left Foot Forward: Leading the UK’s progressive debate.

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