Free school breakfasts scheme an uncosted blow to schools, families and children

The Lib Dems have warned that Tory plans to scrap free school lunches, in favour of free breakfasts, is an uncosted scheme that will put pressure on barely managing families and schools, as well as contributing to the issue of childhood obesity.

The Conservative manifesto pledges to scrap universal free school lunches for primary school pupils under seven, one of the policies the Lib Dems authored during their time in the coalition, and replace it with a scheme to provide free school breakfasts for all primary school children. Universal Free School Meals cost an estimated £600 million a year. The Tory manifesto has pledged just £60 million a year for their breakfast scheme, saying the difference will help fund school budgets.

However, the Conservatives have set aside just 6.8p per pupil for its manifesto pledge to give all primary school pupils free breakfasts, in what food experts have labelled a “black hole” in the government’s manifesto calculations.

Aisling Kirwan, the founding director of the Grub Club, a school-based social enterprise that provides cooking lessons for pupils in poorer areas, said that a nutritious meal costs 25p  per pupil on average. Even then, this is only a bowl of porridge with milk. A more filling breakfast, which would include bacon, two sausages, one egg and bread, would cost 85p per portion.

“Clearly there’s a huge disparity between the realistic costing and that put forward by the Tories,” she said.

Dr Rebecca Allen, director of think tank Education Datalab, said in SchoolsWeek, that schools were looking at a bill in the region of £400 million once costs of paying a teaching assistant to oversee the breakfast club were included.

Scrapping free school lunches in favour of free breakfasts could also have a significant nutritional cost, Nick Clegg has warned, saying Theresa May should take “her inspiration from Jamie Oliver not Oliver Twist”.

Clegg said scrapping the lunches, which will be replaced by free breakfasts, could mean thousands of pupils no longer receive a single portion of fruit or vegetables on a daily basis.

No nutritional guidelines exist for school breakfasts, though schools are expected to provide two to three of the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day in school lunches.

Judith Bunting said this week that:

“This scheme is an uncosted disaster that will hit children, families and schools hard. At a time of unprecedented school cuts, schools will be expected to fund staff to cover free breakfast clubs. Families who are barely managing with stagnated incomes and rising costs will struggle to fund the extra £440 a year per child for lunches – or send them to school with a less nutritious packed lunch.

Half of low-income pupils go hungry at breakfast, and a further fifth eat breakfasts with little or no nutritional value. Providing them with a bowl of sugary cereal is not going to help this. When we know we have issues in this country with both childhood obesity and food poverty, this scheme is ridiculous.”

Judith Bunting calls for end to injustice on mental health and social care

Judith Bunting outside West Berkshire Community Hospital

Judith Bunting, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for Newbury constituency, has outlined Lib Dem plans to end the “injustice” against people with mental ill health.

Speaking at the start of Dementia Awareness Week, ahead of a visit on Wednesday (17th May) to West Berkshire Dementia Action Alliance’s event at Newbury Corn Exchange, Judith Bunting said:

“Under this Conservative Government, NHS services have been stretched to breaking point. This is at a time when the prevalence of mental ill health appears to be rising.

She said: “Neither Labour nor the Conservatives have explained how they will fund mental health services. Our priorities are clear and will be funded by the injection of £6bn a year into the NHS with an additional penny on income tax.

“We want to in improve waiting time standards for mental health care in the NHS, end the degrading use of force against people with mental ill health and prioritise action to reduce the number of people who take their own lives.

“The Lib Dems want this country to be a world leader in mental health care. These are not just empty words – in Government it was the Lib Dems who introduced a legal duty on the NHS to promote parity of esteem for mental health and invested £400m to increase access to talking therapies.

“I am well aware of the pressures our wonderful local NHS teams are under both at GP level and at our fantastic West Berkshire Hospital which is struggling to keep up. On top of this, mental health and social care issues are a ticking time bomb for West Berkshire. Our Lib Dem commitment to healthcare will give the NHS in West Berkshire the investment it needs NOW.”

Lib Dems Our Plan for Health: Save the NHS by putting a penny in the pound on income tax to give the NHS and social care services the cash they need. Make waiting times for mental health care match those for physical health care. Limit the amount elderly people have to pay for social care.
Summary of the Lib Dem plan for Health & Social Care. Find out more: http://www.libdems.org.uk/health

Thatcham Quarry – do you have questions?

I will be sending questions to Grundon Sand and Gravel and the owners of Waterside Farm. Any residents who would like me to submit questions on their behalf are welcome to contact me at: judith.bunting@wbld.org.uk.

Last week, I visited Grundon Sand and Gravel Ltd in Colthrop to lobby estates director, Andrew Short, on behalf of local residents who are opposed to the proposed quarry at Waterside Farm in South Thatcham. Judith is the parliamentary candidate for Newbury and West Berkshire Liberal Democrats.

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The real problem, is that plans for the quarry are proceeding without Waterside Farm even being recognised as a preferred site for development by West Berkshire Council. The Council’s plans for Minerals and Waste Sites are so many years behind that Grundon feels the need to proceed before they are completed.

The result is that plans for development in our area are being driven by the needs of industry, rather than the needs of residents. Once again Richard Benyon and his Conservatives on West Berkshire Council are dropping the ball.

Waterside Farm is a lovely area, which is well used by walkers, riders and schools for recreation and keeping fit. The quarry will not block any paths or bridleways, but will obviously destroy the attractive environment. It will also disrupt the local wildlife, although Grundon have said they are willing take the nesting times of ground-nesting lapwings into account.

Residents who live near the Waterside Farm area are of course worried by the prospect of the noise, dust and environmental upset that can come with having a quarry at the end of the garden and they have started a campaign to stop the development.

At the meeting, Andrew Short told me that Grundon is open to listening to residents’ concerns and will do everything they can to make the development acceptable, but the company is keen to press ahead. This is not what residents want.

I have also approached the owners of Waterside Farm, St John’s College, Oxford. The St John’s team has offered to answer any questions residents may have after the public open day, which was held at Thatcham Football Club this week.

I will be sending questions to Grundon Sand and Gravel and the owners of Waterside Farm. Any residents who would like me to submit questions on their behalf are welcome to contact me at: judith.bunting@wbld.org.uk.