HC Deb 14 February 1978 vol 944 cc233-4
18. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what estimates are available of the number of children additionally entitled to school meals following recent changes in entitlement conditions; and what proportion of these additional children is taking school meals.

Miss Margaret Jackson

About ½ million more pupils were expected to be taking free meals as a result of the recent changes in entitlement. The numbers now taking free meals will not be known until the results of the January census are available.

Mr. Roberts

Although we all approve of increasing the number of children entitled to free meals, may I ask whether my hon. Friend accepts that too small a proportion of those entitled actually take up the meals? Does she agree, therefore, that the only real answer is to keep down the prices of school meals and, if possible, in view of the very serious fall-off in the number taking them, consider decreasing again the price of these school meals?

Miss Jackson

I accept what my hon. Friend says. Until 100 per cent. of the people entitled to free meals claim them, we shall not be satisfied and shall continue to attempt to increase the number. However, although, like my hon. Friend, we are aware of the concern about the level of the cost of school meals, I cannot consider that we would contemplate going back on the increase at this stage.

Mr. McCrindle

What is the actual value of the school meal at the latest date for which figures are available?

Miss Jackson

The average cost of the school meal over the country as a whole is 49p. Its value is very considerable in that it offers children a substantial meal in the middle of the day.