Conservatives’ free breakfast pledge ‘costed at just 7p per meal’

The Conservatives have set aside just under 7p per pupil for its manifesto pledge to give all primary school pupils free breakfasts, in what food experts have labelled a “black hole” in the government’s manifesto calculations.

The party’s manifesto, launched last Thursday, scraps universal infant free school meals (UIFSM), which cost an estimated £600 million a year, in favour of free breakfasts for all primary pupils, which a press release today said will cost just £60 million a year.

But critics have calculated that if the country’s 4.62 million primary state school pupils were fed a free breakfast on this budget for 190 school days each year, each meal would have to cost no more than 6.8p.

Even if just half of those pupils took up the offer of free breakfast, these meals would cost just 13.6p each.

Aisling Kirwan, the founding director of the Grub Club, a school-based social enterprise that provides cooking lessons for pupils in poorer areas, said that a nutritious meal costs 25p  per pupil on average – which even then would only amount to porridge with milk.

A more filling portion, which would include bacon, two sausages, one egg and bread, would cost 85p per portion.

“Clearly there’s a huge disparity between the realistic costing and that put forward by the Tories,” she said.

Half of low-income pupils go hungry at breakfast, and a further fifth eat breakfasts with little or no nutritional value. Poorer pupils must be able to get hold of the right nutrients at breakfast clubs, Kirwan insisted.

Dr Rebecca Allen, director of think tank Education Datalab, said schools were looking at a bill in the region of £400 million once costs of paying a teaching assistant to oversee the breakfast club were included.

The government had not just “slightly” underestimated the free breakfast policy costs, but underestimated them by between five- and 10-fold, said Allen. The cost would be closer to estimations if breakfast clubs were held in morning lessons rather than before school began, she added.

The Conservatives first proposed the end of UIFSMs after the Institute of Fiscal Studies and the Education Endowment Foundation conducted research to show that free breakfasts for primary pupils were more effective for learning outcomes, and less expensive, than free lunches for pupils in their first three years of school.

Ellen Greaves, a senior research economist at IFS who evaluated a trial on breakfast clubs by the EEF, said it was “really clear” that breakfast clubs “had a positive impact at a relatively low cost”.

“It’s a lower cost than universal free school meals for infants, which is a national policy.”

Labour came under fire for its manifesto commitment to spend £1.5 billion extending universal free lunches to all primary pupils after councils failed to back Jeremy Corbyn’s claim it had been proven to boost attainment and tackle obesity.

But now the Conservatives appear to have made their own miscalculation. According to Schools Week’s sums, if each pupil were given breakfast at 50p per portion, it would cost £723.9 million per year to fund – a cool £663 million more than currently budgeted for.

According to the government’s own Healthy Eating Regulations for schools, a nutritious breakfast consists of milk-based drinks or yoghurt, fruit and vegetables, bread and non-flavoured or coated cereals.

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  1. RononGellert

    So we’re to feed or children bacon, sausage, egg and bread for breakfast every day! So many things wrong with that, for starters porridge would be quite filling and have the kind of slow release carbs that would sustain a child until break time; this could be supplemented with some dried fruit or honey for those inclined to sweeter tastes. Bacon and sausage have alot of salt in them which is a dietary no no as well as the fats that are in them and the egg. Also if we’re to keep budgets under control the quality of the products would be extremely low meaning that the meat would be factory farmed which lowers it’s nutritional content and would be in low quantities in the sausage which would then have to be supplemented with God knows what kind of garbage.

    Porridge did me fine when I was a child and it still does now that I’m a teacher. Bacon and sausage should be seen as a treat not a healthy breakfast.

    Rather than blast the government for trying to amend a policy all be it in a manner that probably will end up costing more than originally budgeted for (what policies don’t?) at least come up with a more coherent argument and maybe just maybe a better idea to help solve the issues faced by us and our children.

    Granted you’re not Jamie Oliver but if we at least try to make sensible suggestions and champion them then we could make a difference.

  2. Something has gone desperately wrong in this country if a parent can not feed their children breakfast before they go to primary school. What is child benefit being used for? If they need to drop their children off early because of work, would not a banana/apple and cereal bar be OK with a carton of milk? We have teachers giving out small change for things, buying sanitary protection, pens, etc. I thought the whole fun of parenthood was to nuture your children and provide material things for them. Maybe parents could walk their kids to school instead of running a second car, and use the money to feed their children. Having children means huge sacrifices for those adults who are parents. The free school lunches should be provided for those children from household joint income below £21,000.

    • There are many reasons why parents don’t provide breakfast. Some due to poverty, some due to disorganization and other factors Some children won’t eat early in the morning. two of mine couldn’t face food at the time they would have, had to eat it in order to them get off to school in time when you live a long way away. One of mine used to faint regularly in assembly, it was low blood sugar and she felt sick if she tried to eat early. Sometimes, parents are just to busy trying to get themselves and children ready for school. The days when mothers would oversee breakfast is gone. Most families who have two cars, have them because both parents need them for work or they live in rural areas or there is no bus service any more.

    • DaveRandom

      Opal – What about the parents who walk there kids to school because they don’t have a car? What about the ones who can’t afford bananas, apples and cereal bars for their children every day?

      Your basic assumption that every can afford these basics but is instead frittering it away on luxuries is demonstrably wrong.

  3. One of the unforeseen consequences of offering free breakfasts to all children is that a lot more children will be arriving at school much earlier.

    Without substantial supervision this is going to have negative consequences on pupil behaviour which will impact on learning throughout the day.

    I don’t see employing one teaching assistant as a solution. Did any of the studies into universal breakfasts look into this potential negative effect?

    The policy could be saving money on food but then costing a huge amount in supervision costs. As a policy it seems a bit half baked to me.

  4. Poor people aren’t really poor, according to Conservative/conservative thinkers. Hungry kids are just faking it. Starve some sense into them! Let them eat Pop Tarts. Strong and stable people don’t need free food. So I must have imagined the sudden increase in the need to issue food vouchers at the start of the Easter holiday at my local Citizens Advice Bureau as a result of children not being able to get free school meals for two weeks. No, of course, all their parents and carers are shirkers and wastrels. And that Jamie Oliver’s a Commie lunatic. Vote for Theresa May! She’ll sort everyone out, being the daughter of a vicar, as she constantly reminds us. So, what would Jesus do? Suffer the little children, perhaps? Complete misreading of the New Testament. Jesus was, of course, a hard working self employed entrepreneur who had no time for the poor and needy. Fake news!