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Funding for infant Free School Meals in Essex and Southend slashed by £1½ million in real terms

June 7, 2022 7:01 AM
Originally published by Essex Liberal Democrats

Children eating a school lunch

The government has slashed funding for free school meals for 4-7 year olds in Essex, Southend and Thurrock by £1.5 million in real terms, shocking new figures uncovered by the Liberal Democrats have revealed.

The party said it is another example of the Conservatives "short-changing our children."

Children in the Essex County Council area have lost the equivalent of £1,171,603 - more than any other area in the country. Those in Thurrock have lost £154,583 and Southend-on-Sea £138,555.

Universal Infant Free School Meals were introduced by the Liberal Democrats, to provide free school meals to all pupils in reception, Year 1 and Year 2. However since the policy was introduced seven years ago, the Conservatives have increased funding per pupil by just four pence, from £2.30 to £2.34, or an increase of 1.3%.

It comes despite the latest ONS figures showing food prices have soared by 7% since the introduction of this policy.

Had the funding increased with inflation, it would currently stand at at least £2.46 per pupil. This amounts to a real-terms cut of £35.8 million this year for the 1.57 million children affected nationally, or £22.80 per child.

This real-terms funding cut has left schools in Essex needing to fund the extra cost from their own budget leaving less money for textbooks, teachers and catch-up classes.

Responding to these figures, an Essex Liberal Democrat spokesperson said:

"Free school meals were introduced as a way of giving children a healthy lunch every day and saving parents hundreds of pounds a year.

"But the Conservatives have slashed funding in real terms despite food prices going through the roof.

"This is leaving schools to stump up the cash from their own budgets, meaning less money to spend on our children's education and well-being.

"It is another example of this government short-changing children. The Liberal Democrats in Essex are calling for a U-turn now to provide the extra funding for free school meals our children desperately need."