Tuesday 19 November 2019

Here's why everyone is talking about free school meals

By Kameron Virk

Jeremy Corbyn wants to tax private schools and use the money to provide free school meals.

Jeremy Corbyn has proposed a major new policy that would see all state primary school pupils given free lunch, paid for by a 20% tax on private school fees.

Parents who send their children to private school don’t currently pay VAT – a tax of 20% included on pretty much every purchase you can think of – on fees. VAT goes straight to the government, who can use it in whichever way they please.

“No child in the UK should go hungry at school. By charging VAT on private school fees, Labour will make sure all primary school children, no matter what their background, get a healthy meal at school,” the Labour leader said.

Private schools, most of them anyway, are registered as charities in the UK, meaning they enjoy many of the same tax breaks as a charity.

This stems from private schools being founded to educate the poor, but nowadays the fee-paying schools are used mainly by the wealthy, and Corbyn thinks providing tax breaks for the 7% of the population who send their children to them is unfair.

The proposed policy is causing a lot of conversation, with critics suggesting that parents who send their children to private school are already funding state schools through their taxes.

Corbyn pointed to research showing that offering universal access to free school meals improved pupils’ productivity, enabling primary school pupils to advance by around two months on average.

Labour also said the provision of free school meals improved the health of pupils through better nutrition, with over 90% of pupils who have a school lunch consuming food or drink containing vegetables or fruit compared with 58% who don’t.

And many people think that can’t be a bad thing.

Other critics of the policy say that with the poorest in schools already entitled to a free school meal, this policy will essentially be helping parents who don’t need help.

But eroding the stigma that comes with being marked out as poor means the policy would be worth it for some people.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: “While the Conservatives offer tax giveaways to their billionaire friends, they are cutting the schools budget and threatening the health and futures of all our children by denying children the basic right of a healthy lunch at school.

“By investing in our education system and providing free school meals for every primary school child, we will remove the stigma attached to free school meals, and improve health and attainment for all children.”

Children in reception, year 1 and year 2 already get free school meals and Labour said extending the scheme to all primary school pupils had been estimated to cost between £700 to £900 million a year.

The party said that an estimate by the Fabian Society in 2010 suggested that introducing VAT on private school fees could raise around £1.5 billion annually.

A Conservative spokesman said: “Labour would wreck the economy if they ever got back into government, meaning there would be less money to spend on our schools, not more.

“Their economic incompetence means this promise isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”

PA Media

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