UIFSM victory

We’re still waiting for the definitive word from Chancellor George Osbourne in his Autumn Statement on 25 November, but it now looks odds on that the universal infant free school meals (UIFSM) initiative is safe – at least for another year.

David Cameron said as much in Prime Minister’s Questions last month, and it was difficult to interpret his words in any other way.

“I’m proud of what we’ve done, and we’ll be keeping it,” he responded to Labour MP Sharon Hodgson when she asked if he was prepared to guarantee he would not scrap UIFSM.

That was what LACA, which represents the country’s school meal providers, wanted to hear, but they were not alone. In the weeks leading up to the announcement, groups including medical experts, head teachers and children’s welfare organisations all wrote open letters to national media in support, and a petition supporting the initiative had already attracted more than 40,000 signatures before Cameron spoke up.

Everyone knows the government won the election on a pledge to cut public spending, so it was no surprise UIFSM was in the firing line, but a decision to axe the programme after just one year never made any sense other than as a short-term financial fix. Almost £600 million was allocated to get the scheme off the ground in 2014, including £150 million to fund kitchen building and refurbishments to cope with increased take-up numbers.

Cut funding now, and many schools would have redundant kitchen capacity and too many staff because take-up numbers would inevitably drop. Not a very fiscally responsible use of taxpayers’ money, it could well be argued.

Not only that, but the scheme has not been running long enough to provide any solid evidence for the much touted health, behavioural and attainment benefits that many experts have predicted as a result of UIFSM.

And with the government still going full steam ahead with plans to announce its Childhood Obesity Strategy in the next few months, that would have seemed particularly short-sighted.

UIFSM victory

Copyright 2019 Public Sector Catering
Dewberry Redpoint Limited is a company Registered in England and Wales No : 03129594 Registered Office:
Riverbridge House, Anchor Boulevard, Crossways Business Park, Dartford, DA2 6SL VAT registered, number 305 8752 95.

Design & Development by Eton Digital