Coffee House

Lib Dem conference: Nick Clegg to announce free school meals for all infant school pupils

17 September 2013

5:01 PM

17 September 2013

5:01 PM

Nick Clegg has had a good party conference, and wants to round it off with an announcement that will leave a warm glow in delegates’ tummies. So he’s announcing free school meals for all children in infant school from next September.

This will be a key feature in the Deputy Prime Minister’s speech tomorrow afternoon, and also represents the key trade between the two coalition parties over tax breaks for married couples. The latter is likely to appear in a conference speech or two when the Tories meet in Manchester the week after next, and the Lib Dems have a provision in the Coalition Agreement that they will abstain on this policy. Clegg will attack the policy directly in his speech, saying:

‘The Conservatives, on the other hand, have made it clear that their priority is to help some families over others, with tax break for married couples. A tax break for some, funded through the taxes of others. That tells you everything you need to know about their values.’


The marriage tax break will cost around £550 million a year, while this new free school meals policy will cost £600 million and will apply to reception, and years 1 and 2. The Lib Dems point to pilots showing that in pilots where all children had been given a free school dinner, attainment rose, as well as children being more likely to eat vegetables at lunchtime. Between 3 per cent and 5 per cent more children reached target levels in Maths and English at Key Stage 1, a bigger improvement than the 3.6 per cent rise caused by the compulsory literacy hour.

But sources close to Clegg also say that ‘this is about helping families who are squeezed with the cost of living’: the policy will save parents around £400 a year. The Lib Dem leader will say:

‘We, however, will help all families in these tough times, not just the kind we like best, by helping their young children get the best possible start in life – and that tells you everything about ours.’

As well as being an attempt to improve children’s nutritional intake, this is also clearly a policy aimed at taking down Labour on their big cost of living drive. David Laws managed another victory on that front earlier this week when he announced new guidance controlling the cost of school uniforms, which was another issue Labour MPs were just beginning to burrow into.

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Show comments
  • Hudson Hall

    These Lib Dems must live in a parallel world. This country is absolutely broke. They come up with these supposed vote winning ‘policies’ that are beyond comprehension at a time when our national debt continues to balloon. The Lib Dems are an absolute disgrace of a party.

  • Mynydd

    What’s £1,000,000,000 (Lib Dem £600.000,000 Tory £550,000,000) among Mr Crosby’s friends. One must remember, this is just the start of the government buying votes during this twelve month long general election campaign. Lookout for more on the back of, we have saved the economy so now is the time for the long suffering public to share in our success.
    The first question being, where will the money come from? from further cuts, from further borrowing, from tax rises, or the preferred method of this government, delay balancing the books (deficit reduction) until after the 2020 election.
    The second question being, who are the winners and losers? Clear winners on both accounts are married couples with an income of £150,000 with young children at school. Poor families already have free lunches. Losers will only be known when after the 2015 election, when the government will finally tell us, the taxpayers, how this extra debit will be paid for.

  • Alexandrovich

    That picture…is it a mock-up of a Lib-Dem cabinet meeting?

  • Tony_E

    So all that happens now is that an ‘entitlement’ is created that will slowly shift up the school ladder – election by election. My party can out promise yours.

    When you deal with clear ‘free’ items – then the costs tend to increase. Taxation, and the modification of allowances has been shown to be more flexible as a way of helping the working classes. They are also much cheaper because they tend not to spread. (Remember that the non-working classes are not involved here).

    But it’s not about helping – it’s about politics. It’s about the appearance of universality.

  • Fergus Pickering

    Ah, a really silly idea. The LibDems are back on form. Cue for lots of photoshots of cute kiddies and smiling politicos. Who said kissing babies was dead?

  • Lady Magdalene

    There is no such thing as a “Free Lunch.”
    The Government is going to borrow to fund this and British taxpayers are going to pay the bill.
    In due course, the children who consumed these “Free” lunches are going to pay for them over and over again, when they pay tax to cover this Government’s obscene levels of expenditure, including decades of interest loaded on top.
    This policy will apply to children regardless of their parents’ wealth, so Clegg will be robbing low-wage families to give a subsidy to highly paid ones. It will also apply to the children of immigrants who pitch up in the land of ‘free everything’ and now – in addition to getting Child Benefit, Tax Credits, JSA, social housing, NHS, State Education (none of which they’ve paid towards) they will get “free” food as well, courtesty of the British taxpayer.
    Anyone would think that the £1.5 TRILLION of debt this ridiculous coalition Government is saddling us with is a figment of our imagination.
    This is a moronic policy from a moronic politician leading a moronic party which is in cahoots with a moronic Prime Minister.

  • Austin Barry

    There is a well-known Romani phrase:

    “Kon del tut o nai shai dela tut wi o vast.”

    Which translates as:

    “He who willingly gives you one finger will also give you the whole hand.”

    I’m sure that glasses of y ţuică will be raised to Mr Clegg in Bucharest tonight.

    • Francis P

      “He who willingly gives you one finger will also give you the whole hand.”

      I new the LibDirties were into fisting, but the Romanian’s too?

  • Makroon

    Please, please, tell us that this excruciating, terminally boring pantomime is now over. Pretty please.

  • Noa

    These crumbs, which the Lib Dems are dispensing from the Cabinet table, have been pre-agreed with their conservative partners, between Cameron and Clegg.
    Now we must wait until next week to see what bribe Cameron offers us, as the quid pro quo for this tidbit.

  • itdoesntaddup

    There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

    Who is being taxed to provide these ones?

  • Dogsnob

    Honestly Isabel, does any of this conference, or the other two coming up – do any of these people and what they say, mean very much about where the country is going?

  • ButcombeMan

    Surely the correct place for such an announcement is in the House of Commons, by the responsible Minister?
    Certainly not as a point scorer in front of the faithful at the conference of a (very) minority party.
    The policy itself, is of course, utterly ridiculous.

  • Austin Barry

    Free school meals?

    Tonight there will be dancing and yelps of anticipatory joy in the streets of Bucharest and Sofia.


  • Jimble

    Free school meals a Clegg promise. Hmmm… shall we wait and see whether it happens and how it’s implemented.

  • Guest

    Free school meals a LibDem /Clegg promise. Hmmm… shall we wait and see whether it happens and how it’s implemented.

  • London Calling

    Good :)…………………

  • Smithersjones2013

    Well I do hope that these school meals are better than the inedible swill that is served up in many hospitals. Is it going to be means tested? In the name of fairness surely the Libdems wouldn’t want to give the children of millionaires (or even those earning over £50k perhaps) something for free……

    I thought one of the primary tennets of the contemporary Libdems was ‘fairness’ and as such no handout should be universal. Or is it the case where they see the opportunity to indulge in a bit of social engineering (by bureaucrats controlling infants diets) it’s all right?

    • willshome

      Is it going to be means-tested? Just how dumb are you? What part of “all” children don’t you get?

  • blindsticks

    Most of these infants will be the off spring of the usual suspect bloc vote. I don’t think his trouble and strife likes the English much either, considering not one of her own was been given an English name.
    What is she doing here.

    • telemachus

      She is the face of European integration
      And lovely

    • edward

      Nick Clegg is not English either.

  • HookesLaw

    All people have to be is married to get the tax break and thus, if any children, they would be more able to afford subsidised school meals. So no need to make them free. And just for year 1 and 2 is pathetic and proof he is indulging in mere gesture politices.
    But a gesture is increasingly all he is worth.

  • AnotherDaveB

    Is there any attempt being made to reduce government spending? Do they really intend to face the voters in 2015 having done nothing to close the budget deficit but increase taxation?

  • Swiss Bob

    They’re all very good at spending other people’s money and as we all know Clegg will be off to Europe once booted as leader of the perverts party for another luxurious sinecure with a second big fat pension.

    • huktra

      Nick deserves it- does he not? THe Socialists would say so.
      He moderated potential untrammelled conservatism.
      He deferred the referendum on the EU until the Tories are no longer in power.
      And he limited the tax break for the rich to 5%.

      • Swiss Bob

        And he limited the pay rise to the rich to 5%

        As with all bedwetters you are economically illiterate, by not reducing the rate to 40% lower earners are having to make up the difference in the tax shortfall that having punitive tax rates create, and that’s without taking into account the reduction in economic activity.

        So your brilliant Clegg has cost the lower paid more and kept some people on the dole queue who would otherwise be in work.

        • telemachus

          Go for it SB
          But remember bedwetters are good manufacturers of enuresis alarms

          • Swiss Bob

            Go take a golden shower.

  • Chris lancashire

    Absolutely beggars the imagination. At a time when we are running a huge deficit the LibDems find more and new ways to spend money. On top of that, introducing yet another universal benefit where the taxpayer subsidises well-off families is totally brainless.

    • HookesLaw

      The logic of free school meals is exactly the same as the one relating to married couples allowance. Clegg is a bigot and a hypocrit if he votes for one and effectively votes against the other.
      Pathetic contortions from Clegg and the LDs. Its easy to see if left to their own in govt (or even worse in coalition with Labour) they would fold as easily as one of Ed Milibands deckchairs at the first sign of trouble.
      Once folded, deckchairs are notoriously difficult to re-erect.

      • AnotherDaveB

        No it isn’t.

        Marriage is a proven way of providing a stable home for children. Children of married parents do better in life.

        The UK is unusual in _not_ having a pro-marriage tax/welfare policy.

        • telemachus

          Does that include pro-Gay-Marriage tax

          • AnotherDaveB

            I would expect any marriage tax allowance to also apply to civil unions, but I’m not aware of any published policy details from this government.

            • telemachus

              Either way it is inequitable to deny equal tax concessions to folks just because they are not wed

              • AnotherDaveB

                No it isn’t. It’s incentivising behaviour that benefits both the individual and society.

                • telemachus

                  Who on eart are you to tell folks how to run their private lives

                • AnotherDaveB

                  Have you noticed the taxes on cigarettes and alcohol? The different rates of vehicle tax based on engine size?

                • telemachus

                  THat is not paternalistic social engineering

                • Apoplexy

                  “efforts to influence popular attitudes and social behaviours on a large scale”. Yes it is, its just social engineering approved of by left-leaners.

                • Colonel Mustard

                  Ha ha ha! You do that here all the time!

      • willshome

        No. Feeding children is not the same as subsidising marriage. It just isn’t and I can’t see how you could argue it is.

    • Count Dooku

      This is an unbelievable policy. What of people without kids? Isn’t that taxing them to fund those with children who are the highest recipients of state policy?
      I can’t believe it.

      • willshome

        Er… yes. Which makes perfect sense when you realise that the childless (like me too) will be relying on the children of the childed to get them through old age.

        • Count Dooku

          Errrr, how about no! Speak for yourself. I plan to save for my own retirement.
          Rather than tax people and give them back their own money, why don’t they just cut tax or raise the threshold higher? Maybe people won’t have to steal from their children and the unborn if they didn’t pay so much tax.

      • MikeBrighton

        Yes after my “millionaires tax cut” the state is going to feed my children as well, whatever next? Perhaps free houses? Er….
        Absolutely nuts

      • R2-D2

        Everyone is a child once in their life.

        • Count Dooku

          Yes. And how have children managed to feed themselves for 10,000 years without a government subsidy?

          • R2-D2

            That’s a different argument.

            • Count Dooku

              So what’s your argument? That we should borrow now to feed children who will then have to pay the money back in the future plus interest?
              The policy is even more disgusting when you think a bit deeper. Poor children already receive meal subsidies. This is middle class welfare which Brown was famous for. Stop taxing people so much and they will be able to feed their kids.

    • dalai guevara

      I must say Chris, couldn’t agree more.
      This is coalition socialism gone too far.
      Why would I care about other peoples’ sprogs dinner, never mind their schooling. Stop paying council tax now. Bring down the sisdim.

    • David Lindsay

      Free school meals for all.

      Ed Miliband, I understand that you will be giving an important speech next week.

      Oh, and even the existing policy, which itself falls well short of what applied for several recent years in County Durham, does not apply in the city where it has been announced.

      The Barnett formula applies, so that the Government can do nothing more than hope that the money will then be used as intended.

    • Andy

      What do you expect ? That’s all the political class can do: tax, tax, tax; borrow, borrow, borrow and spend, spend, spend. They are just buying votes. The pity of it all is that so many sell them.

    • R-Dubs

      ‘Absolutely beggars the imagination. At a time when we are running a huge deficit’, that we even find money to feed children at all! Free school meals should universal, simple as. What about the many low paid workers, those on tax credits for example, who previously struggled – it isn’t only ‘well off’ families. Forget the selfishness. Apart from the clear lack of a humane bone in your body, you’re the ‘brainless’ one.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    A much needed LD bribe to their client state voters and immigrant families who now make up around a 1/4 (and increasing proportion) of new births.

    • huktra

      Why does every reasonable thread need to be turned into an immigration rant

      • blindsticks

        Because, like it or not, Hex has a point. And because sometimes it’s funny winding up the do-gooders.

        • Alexsandr

          Its money taken from everyones pocket and given to a small subset of the population. Its not just people with young kids that struggle.

          • willshome

            No, but it’s young kids who are set up to fail their whole lives if malnourished in their early years.

      • Hexhamgeezer

        1) Because it isn’t a rant.

        2) The cynicism of politicians knows no bounds. Do you seriously think those fckrs haven’t considered and factored in that element to this policy?
        Who benefits?

        3) Why ignore the client state point (50% of the ‘rant’)

        4) Stop ranting

        • Makroon

          I wonder if the LibDem leadership will be obliged to sign a pledge on this one too ?

    • dalai guevara

      Your hero Farange bonks a foreigner. Don’t knock it.

      • Hexhamgeezer

        Is ‘Farange’ a wishful thinking cross between ‘Farage’ and ‘Falange’?

        • dalai guevara

          blancmange le dictateur

          • Hexhamgeezer

            Plume de ma tante

  • telemachus

    Good Cablesque stuff
    But it won’t save them from oblivion

    • telemackus

      Cable will lead us into the next progressive national socialist party with Ed Balls and Ed Miliband as his trusted lieutenants. We cannot wait.

      • HookesLaw

        I think it will be the Pragmatically Progressive National Socialist People’s Democratic Party.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          …your boy Dave should fit right in, then.

          On second thought, they may be too conservative to have him.

          • telemachus

            Cameron is a Patrician
            He is as fitted to lead the Tories as was Baillie Vass

          • HookesLaw

            He is a conservative – like me.
            You are a crypto fascist neo fruit loop.

            • the viceroy’s gin

              …no, you 2 socialists are the furthest thing from conservative as can be imagined.

            • Andy

              How dare you insult neo fruit loops.