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School Meals

Volume 22: debated on Tuesday 20 April 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what are the latest figures available for the numbers (a) taking school meals and (b) receiving free meals; and how these compare with those for 1979.

In October 1981 the daily meals take-up in maintained schools in England was approximately 3·5 million, including 0·9 million provided free. This total figure represented about 49 per cent of pupils present. The comparable figure for 1979 was 64 per cent. For both years, the free meal take-up was about 12 per cent.

Does the Minister accept that the running down of the school meals service has serious implications for the general health of the school population? Will he seriously consider doing something to reverse that trend?

I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that the free meal take-up by those who cannot afford to pay for their meals remains at 12 per cent. However, even before the 1980 Act, the school meals service was built on the assumption that the major part of a child's needs would be provided at home. There is still more than £300 million included in the rate support grant for the purpose, and whether the money is spent on food or education, it should go where the real priority is.