Theresa May branded 'lunch snatcher' over plans to drop free school meals

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A £4billion injection into English schools will be partly paid for by scrapping universal free school lunches for infants under plans set out in the Tory manifesto.

The Conservatives will commit to replacing the lunches with free school breakfasts for every pupil in every year of primary school.

Under the current system all children in the first three years of school get a hot meal at lunchtime and the Conservatives say scrapping that will save £650 million.

The policy led to critics branding Theresa May the "lunch snatcher" in a reference to the "milk snatcher" jibe aimed at Margaret Thatcher.

The Tories argue that evidence shows a free school breakfast is as effective at helping children learn as a hot meal at lunch and can be delivered at a tenth of the cost, around £60 million a year.

Children from poorer families will continue to get free breakfast and free hot lunches throughout their education.

The Conservatives have been under fire over schools funding, with the amount of money being put into the system failing to keep pace with inflation and rising pupil numbers.

The additional £4 billion pledge represents a real-terms increase for every year of the Parliament compared to current spending plans.

It means no school will see its budget cut in cash terms through the new national funding formula, which is being developed to distribute money more fairly. Pupil premiums will also be protected.

A Conservative spokesman said: "We have protected and increased school funding to the highest level on record but we accept there is more we can do.

"This extra money means no child will lose out."

The core schools budget in 2017-18 is £40.9 billion and under the Tory plans that figure would be £4 billion higher in real terms in 2021-22.

This requires an extra £1 billion a year, on top of existing spending plans.

Funding comes from the £650 million saving from scrapping universal infant free school meals, £200 million from "better systems" for the Student Loans Companies, £160 million from "departmental efficiencies" in Whitehall and £10 million from the levy on sugary drinks.

The free school meal policy was a flagship Liberal Democrat policy during the coalition era and the party condemned the decision to scrap it.

Lib Dem education spokeswoman Sarah Olney said: "Margaret Thatcher was know as the 'milk snatcher'. Theresa May will go down as the lunch snatcher.

"Children under Theresa May will go hungry: it is that stark, and that heartless. But she just doesn't care."