Robert Halfon MP

The conservative case for extending free school meals

(Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)

What do Conservatives care about? First, high-quality education and academic attainment. Second, value for money for the taxpayer. Third, (unless you are an arch-libertarian) recognition that the battle that must be won is not between big government or small government, but good government.

Combating child hunger should, therefore, be a cause that all Conservatives can embrace. That should include the temporary extension of free school meals over the holidays while (and only while) the economic impacts of the pandemic continue to be felt. That’s why I voted against the government on Wednesday evening in favour of the proposal.

First, on academic attainment, we know that children who regularly eat breakfast achieve, on average, two higher GSCE grades than children who don’t. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has also shown that children in schools with breakfast clubs made two months additional academic progress over the course of a year compared to their peers with no breakfast provision. According to Kellogg’s (not an organisation normally associated with the far left), the grip of hunger could potentially cost the English economy at least £5.2 million a year through lost teaching time spent on dealing with the needs of hungry pupils.

Dealing with child hunger should not be a left-wing issue — far from it

Given all these facts, it should be a no-brainer to any Conservative that having a long-term plan to combat child food insecurity should be a priority for the Prime Minister and the Department for Education.

Some have tried to argue that the footballer Marcus Rashford, who has been central to driving this campaign, is somehow virtue signalling. He is someone who experienced hunger as a child, having relied on food banks and the generosity of neighbours growing up. Albeit a Manchester United player now, he really does represent the grassroots and is a passionate advocate for this cause.

Actually, it is often the big businesses, sitting on task forces and the like, who virtue signal about the state of food insecurity in the UK.

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