No right-thinking person could disagree with Jeremy Corbyn’s firmly held view that ‘no child in the UK should go hungry at school’, but I have concerns about the Labour Party’s plans to roll out a free school meals policy for all primary school pupils, covering the estimated £1bn cost by levying VAT on private school fees.
I can also sympathise with the opinion of Angela Rayner, the Labour Party’s Shadow Education Secretary, that the proposed scheme would put an end to the stigma which often attaches to those pupils who already benefit from free school meals because of family hardship, and it would certainly be reasonable to expect general health benefits to be gained by children from the provision of a regular, nutritious lunch.
But it also has to be considered that Labour’s proposals could subsidise middle class and affluent families who really do not require financial help in this way.
Far from being the ‘bogey’ that Labour seems to regard them as, private schools nationally cater for some 600,000 children, saving the taxpayer the cost of educating them.
Many middle income parents work extremely hard and struggle to send their children to private schools in the sincere belief that they are doing their best for their offspring. Hitting such parents with an extra 20 per cent on top of already high fees would deliver a punitive and savage financial blow.
Labour’s plans would almost certainly result in heightening the exclusivity of private schools which would then become the preserve of the seriously rich, thus sharpening divisions in an already divided society.
If, as a result of this proposed scheme, private school pupils were to leave in droves, immense pressure would then be placed on state schools, many of which are already struggling. Furthermore, less fee income would be generated on which to charge VAT.
Considering Labour’s past economic incompetence, perhaps Jeremy Corbyn and his team need to go over the figures again.