Corbyn: I’ll tax private school fees to fund free meals for primary pupils
Jeremy Corbyn will announce tomorrow that a Labour government would extend universal free school meals to all primary school pupils, and charge parents VAT on private school fees to pay for it.
Labour says the extension of free school meals to juniors would cost between £700 and £900 million a year and will improve pupil attainment and health.
Universal infant free school meals, introduced by the coalition government in 2014, already costs the taxpayer more than £600 million a year, but Labour claims it can raise £1.5 billion by charging VAT on tuition fees charged by independent schools.
No child in the UK should go hungry at school
Corbyn will also pledge to invest in schools if elected prime minister at the next election. He is expected to make the announcement at a children’s holiday club tomorrow.
However no details of any further investment beyond the free school meals extension have been announced.
The Labour leader will be joined by Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, who says her party wants to remove the “stigma attached to free school meals”.
“No child in the UK should go hungry at school,” Corbyn is expected to say.
“The next Labour government will provide all primary school children with a free school meal, invest in our schools, and make sure no child is held back because of their background.”
Rayner will say that cuts to school budgets are “making school meals worse and limiting the number of children that can be fed”, adding that this affects both the attainment and health of pupils.
“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.”
Labour claims that offering free meals improves pupil productivity and nutrition.
However, the policy has not been universally successful since its introduction for children under the age of 7, with some smaller schools making a loss in order to feed their children.
Schools also suffered a further blow last year when the government got rid of its annual £2,300 grant for institutions with 150 or fewer pupils which had helped them fund the meals.
It is not known whether Labour will re-introduce funding for smaller schools as part of its plan.
The estimated cost of the policy is based on figures from the House of Commons library, and the £1.5 billion figure for the revenue from VAT on private school fees was calculated by the Fabian Society in 2010.
Since then, both the rate of VAT and private school fees have risen.
Julie Robinson, general secretary at the Independent Schools Council, said the proposals could also push smaller independent schools to close – “driving more children back to be funded in the state system”.
“Independent schools are fully aware of their social responsibilities and offer free and reduced cost places to children from lower income homes. They also partner with state schools to offer support with sciences and languages, A-levels and university access, as well as sport and music.”