TUC Congress: Unions demand Labour manifesto pledge on free school meals

Morgan Jones
© James Jiao/shutterstock.com

The TUC Congress has passed a motion calling on the Labour Party to include a commitment on free school meals for all primary school pupils across England in its next manifesto.

The motion, put forward by the British Dietetic Association, states that “all children in England should be guaranteed access to the food that they need to live healthy lives and that good nutrition in childhood is essential for this critical period in rapid growth.

“Without it, health outcomes worsen as do children’s life chances, as well as pressure on the NHS”.

The motion concludes that “universal free school meals for all primary school children would reduce inequality and the stigmatisation of pupils experiencing food poverty”.

It calls for the TUC to continue campaigning for free school meals, and praised the National Education Union (NEU)’s “No Child Left Behind” campaign.

A successful amendment by Unison, whose members include many school support staff,  also calls for “the Labour Party to commit to this in its general election manifesto”.

The motion supporting free school meals passed on the first day of the TUC’s annual Congress, which is being held this week in Liverpool.

Labour has been under pressure from the NEU, metro-mayors, and Labour campaign group Momentum to extend free school meals, which are already universal between reception and year two.

In February 2023, London mayor Sadiq Khan announced that free school meals for primary school students would be rolled out in the capital from September 2023. Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford and the Scottish National Party have also set out longer-term plans for a similar programme.

Asked about universal free school meals in June, a Labour spokesperson told the Times:This is not Labour policy and we have no plans to implement it.”

It comes amid wider pressure on Labour over child poverty, with Keir Starmer sparking a backlash across the left in July for suggesting Labour would not reverse the Conservatives’ two-child cap on child benefit.

Support for widening provision is not universal, however. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, has previously highlighted the fact that making free school meals universal at primary schools would “only have a modest direct impact” on poorer children.

It said in a report earlier this year: “It would primarily directly benefit middle- and high-income households.”

Other passed motions at Congress will also add to pressure on Labour, including a PCS and Unison motion on fair funding for public services and the Society of Radiographers on public sector pay restoration.

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