City MP secures school meals commitment from Prime Minister

MP for Washington and Sunderland West Sharon Hodgson visiting the breakfast club at Town End Farm Academy.
MP for Washington and Sunderland West Sharon Hodgson visiting the breakfast club at Town End Farm Academy.
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A Sunderland MP managed to get a promise from David Cameron that free school meals would be protected.

Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West, scored a victory on her Prime Minister’s Question yesterday on securing the future of Universal Infant Free School Meals.

Last month it was rumoured the scheme, which saves parents of reception, Year One and Year Two pupils around £400 a year, would be scrapped in Chancellor George Osborne’s November spending review.

Mrs Hodgson, who has campaigned for the free meals, said this could leave thousands of children in Sunderland going hungry.

However, yesterday, Mrs Hodgson, who is also chairman of the All-Party Partliamentary Group for School Food, succeeded in getting the Prime Minister to commit at the Despatch Box to protect the future of universal infant free school meals.

During the exchange, Mrs Hodgson warned the Prime Minister that if he did not protect this policy, which was brought in September last year, in the Comprehensive Spending Review in November that he would “go down in history as Dave the Dinner Snatcher”.

Since the introduction of the Universal Infant Free School Meals scheme the number of hot meals served to reception and infants in Sunderland schools each day rose by more than 1,600 to an average of 13,261.

In reaction to the answer from the Prime Minister, Mrs Hodgson said: “It was welcome news that the Prime Minister has finally committed to protecting and continuing universal infant free school meals on the floor of the House of Commons.

“Yet I, and the many advocates for universal free school meals, will not rest until the ink has dried on the Comprehensive Spending Review in November and make sure that the Prime Minister sticks to his commitment to protect this important and positive policy.”

Following her question, Mrs Hodgson received the support of large numbers of people who have advocated the improvement of food in schools and for universal free school meals, including Jamie Oliver who began his campaign to improve school food back in 2005 who said on Twitter: “brilliant news such a relief and great news for child health and support to our cooks across the country onwards and upwards.”

Mrs Hodgson’s victory was the culmination of a campaign that was spearheaded by the school food sector and backed by the authors of the School Food Plan and owners of the LEON chain of restaurants, John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby, who recommended universal free school meals for all primary school children when funding could be found in the School Food Plan.

John Vincent, co-author of the School Food Plan, added: “David Cameron’s confirmation of this excellent policy is great news for children’s educational attainment and health, as well as for the economy.”