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LACA chair outlines manifesto hopes
Sally Shadrack, chair of the Lead Association for CAtering in Education (LACA)
LACA
LACA chair outlines election manifesto hopes
12/05/2017 - 11:14
Sally Shadrack, chair of the Lead Association for CAtering in Education (LACA), has outlined what the association wants to see from the party manifestos in the run up to the general election. Read her full comments below.

On June 8th the country will go to the polls for the third time in two years after the Prime Minister shocked much of the country by calling for a snap General Election. This election has so far been framed as a ‘Brexit’ election, but domestic issues such as health and education will still be high priorities for most voters when deciding whom to support. Free school meals have already been at the top of the political agenda in recent weeks and as the manifesto drafting process continues, LACA would like to see both school food and childhood obesity addressed in the main parties’ pitches to the electorate.

LACA welcomed the 2014 Childrens and Family Act, which amongst other things enshrined into law the provision of free school meals to all children in Key stage 1, known as Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM). Alongside this, new nutritional standards for the industry were launched and as a result one million more children across the country have enjoyed a healthy and balanced meal every year since the policy was introduced. According to research conducted by the faculty of Public Health, those from disadvantaged backgrounds, including children, eat less fruit and vegetables and exceed recommended daily sugars and saturated fat intake more regularly compared to their better-off counterparts. Providing free school meals on a universal basis means that children, no matter their background, are receiving the nutrients they need during the school day. This is especially true given that only 1.6% of packed lunches meet the high nutritional standards that school food is held to. It is imperative that at the very least the UIFSM policy remains in place following the election, and we believe that extending this policy to children in Key Stage 2 is something that the Government should seriously consider given the benefits this could bring, particularly as these children are more likely to eat unhealthy packed lunches .

In addition to providing healthy meals during term time, UIFSM and cooking on the curriculum have also helped to educate children on how to make healthy choices outside of school. Obesity in children continues to be a significant issue facing the country and is a strong predictor of obesity in adults, which is why LACA welcomed the Childhood obesity scheme to rate health in schools, with the results being published in September. In 2014-2015, the NHS spent £5.9 billion on poor-diet related ill health in England, and this is predicted to increase by £2 billion by 2030. Tackling obesity head-on with good nutrition, food education and focussing on exercise at an early age are key weapons in the fight against this growing problem. The more children eating a healthy meal at lunch during term time, the better for everyone – children, parents, schools and society as a whole.

Providing free school meals on a universal basis allows parents from lower income families, can further their careers, without being worried that their children will go hungry at school. When surveyed in 2012 nearly half of parents whose children received free school meals as a benefit said that they were “worried” about the financial implication of the loss of free school meals if they were to move into work or take additional hours. As a consequence, by ensuring that all children are fed at school not only does it improve health and nutrition but it will also allow some families to lift themselves out of poverty by accepting work or additional hours.

Going right back to the initial free school meal pilot schemes that were run in 2009 we know that children who eat well, do better at school, with teachers reporting that they have more energy and better concentration throughout the day. It is imperative that these advantages are benefitted from by as many young people as possible.

LACA urges all parties to ensure universal infant free school meals will continue to benefit young children throughout the country and to consider extending this vital policy to other age groups.