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Islington Tribune - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Published: 4 December 2009
How free school lunches could save us all a fortune

• PARTY politics is getting in the way of children’s health (Plan to scrap free school meals for all, November 27). Certainly, Labour was sharp to take advantage of a temporary disarray in the Lib Dems to force through its plan for universal free school meals. But the Lib Dems are being petty and vengeful in threatening to scrap the scheme if they are re-elected.
Free school meals deserve the support of every political party. They are the principal weapon we have to stop the rapid rise in childhood obesity. The obesity epidemic in Britain is our Number One public health problem. It affects the vast majority of families, the affluent as well as the poor.
We have to cut obesity now before we suffer an epidemic in diabetes too – for that is coming along a few years behind. Diabetes is a very expensive disease to treat. It means amputations, blindness, kidney failure. Having millions of diabetics, needing lifelong care from childhood, would break the bank of the NHS.
Primary school meals are a cost-effective investment in future health. Spending money on children’s diet now will save us a fortune in a decade’s time. Islington Primary Care Trust should remind the council of these hard economic facts. So we need to help all Islington’s children. Universal free meals in primary schools are the most effective instrument we have to do this.
They have been a great success in Scotland, not only in increasing take-up but also in weaning kids off breakfasts of Mars bars and afternoon snacks of chips. The programme affects what children eat outside school, as well as inside. This is critical because research shows that children begin spending pocket money on junk food from age nine.
The Libs Dems are hinting they will put the scrapping of free meals into their election manifesto. I urge them to reconsider. Indeed, I hope all parties will commit themselves to continuing the plan.
But the message to parents is clear: vote for whichever party you like, so long as it promises to continue providing free school meals to all primary school children. That would not just be good for your pocket now, it would be good for children in the long term.
Prof J T Winkler
Director, Nutrition Policy Unit
London Metropolitan University

• LAST week it was confirmed that the free-school-meals-for-all scheme supported by Labour and independent councillors has been very successful; getting more children to eat a good lunch, which protects their health, improves their behaviour and helps their learning. This week, Lib Dem council leader Councillor Terry Stacy shows he is Islington’s very own Scrooge by promising to take away children’s free school meals.
 The Lib Dems’ alternative to universal free school meals is not new. They asked Islington Labour to support their scheme to give a few more children free meals and tweak food in secondary schools last year. We considered their plan and totally rejected it because it means spending lots of money on means-testing and bureaucracy instead of on good food for our children.
The Lib Dem plan will reward families who pull themselves out of poverty with a big bill for their children’s meals.
The Green Party supported this unfair and bureaucratic Lib Dem plan earlier in the year. The Greens should now come clean and tell us if they will go along with the Lib Dem plan to scrap Labour’s free-school- meals-for-all scheme.
 I am at least grateful that the Lib Dems have made the choice at next May’s election clear: vote Labour if you want all children to keep their free school meals, or vote for our opponents if you want children’s free meals to be snatched away from them.
Cllr Richard Watts
Labour shadow executive member for children and young people

• COUNCILLOR Martin Klute came to my house on Saturday to ask me to sign a petition to retain free school meals. Islington is a wealthy borough. I do not want to pay for Jemima’s and Jeremy’s lunches.
I would rather contribute more to children who need support, for good nourishment and for youth clubs, community centres and leisure activities.
Lib Dems should scrap this tokenist and expensive policy. Give the children who need it bread and social-recreational education (in abundance). Those who have the means can (and do) look after themselves.
Gordon McIntosh

Send your letters to: The Letters Editor, Islington Tribune, 40 Camden Road, London, NW1 9DR or email to Deadline for letters is midday Wednesday. The editor regrets that anonymous letters cannot be published, although names and addresses can be withheld . Please include a full name, postal address and telephone number. Letters may be edited for reasons of space.

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