Labour serves up free school meals for all children in Durham

Fruit BowlAll Primary school children in County Durham are to get free healthy school meals under a pilot scheme from the Labour Government.

Labour-run Durham County Council will provide universal free school meals to all primary school children in a two-year pilot scheme to run from September.

One of three pilots nationwide, the scheme is jointly funded with a total of £20 million being provided by the Government.

The pilot scheme will investigate whether they reduce obesity, change eating habits at home, improve academic performance, general health and wellbeing.

Labour’s Children's Secretary Ed Balls said: "Healthy school dinners feed the minds and bodies of our children helping them to get the most out of their school day and these pilots will let us understand the benefits of a hot dinner for all pupils.

"We are determined that those eligible for free school meals but not claiming them, do so - it is not good enough that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are missing out on a free healthy meal every school day.

"We know good health is vital if children and young people are to enjoy their childhood and achieve their full potential."

Labour’s Health Secretary Alan Johnson said: "We know from the independent analysis of free healthy school meals in primary schools in Hull that good nutrition helps to improve behaviour and attainment in schools as well as improving health."

Welcoming the announcement, City of Durham MP and Deputy Regional Minister, Roberta Blackman-Woods said;

“I believe giving children a healthy meal is so important for their learning and development.  That is why I was one of the lead campaigners in parliament for the establishment of free school meal pilots and why I encouraged Durham County Council to put a bid in to be one of the pilot areas.  The council’s bid was excellent and I am absolutely delighted that it has been accepted.

“I visited Hull to discuss a council-funded pilot scheme which was unfortunately stopped by an incoming Liberal Democrat administration without taking into consideration the evaluation of that scheme.  I encouraged the Government to take on board that evaluation which showed that the Hull scheme made an enormous difference to children, especially those from low-income backgrounds.

“The Government’s investment of a total of £20m for the pilots, along with the councils’ matched funding, could really make a difference to improving children’s health, changing eating habits, improving ability and attainment and improving general health.

“The pilot in Durham will run for two years and I will be making sure the Council and DCSF look at the what the impact of the pilot is with a view to extending the scheme nationally and permanently if it proves to be a success.

“Once again, this is an example of Government investment in children which I support and which would be in danger with a Tory government which won’t explain where they would make cuts.”

Labour Leader of Durham County Council, Councillor Simon Henig said;

“We see this as being an important investment in the health and wellbeing of our children and we’re very grateful to be working in partnership with the government and NHS County Durham on this project.  

“And at a time when we know families are finding it hard financially, I am sure this will be welcome news to many people in County Durham.”