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Labour launches petition to save free healthy school meals

Hull North MP Diana Johnson was today joined by fellow Hull MPs, John Prescott and Alan Johnson, and Labour councillors to launch a petition to ‘Save Free Healthy School Meals in Hull’.
Childhood obesity is emerging as one of the most serious public health issues for the 21st Century. Hull City Council has been pioneering a new approach to combating the problem of poor diet and childhood obesity – the ‘Eat Well, Do Well’ policy introduced by Labour councillors. Since the start of 2005, in Hull’s primary and special schools healthier food has been made free to all children. This replaced the traditional approach of making free school meals available only on the basis of entitlement to means-tested benefits.

Studies from Hull University have shown the ‘Eat Well, Do Well’ policy to be a resounding success, doubling the take-up of the more nutritious food to an average of 64 per cent in the first year. A second evaluation report from Hull University this week has shown that this progress has been maintained and that the benefits of the policy have already been apparent in the classroom.
Hull’s experience has contrasted to that elsewhere in the UK. A recent national BBC survey showed that the take-up of newly-introduced healthier school food had fallen in local authorities where it has been introduced without measures to encourage children to eat the school meals.

The Lib Dems, who took control of Hull City Council in May 2006, are committed to ending ‘Eat Well, Do Well’ from this year - no matter how successful the policy is demonstrated to be. This will mean bringing back charges for school food for all those not on means-tested benefits.
Diana Johnson MP said: “In recent months we have seen more news about the public health crisis of childhood obesity at the same time as evidence of falling take-up of healthy school food around the country. Meanwhile, the latest research from Hull University has shown that ‘Eat Well, Do Well’ has doubled the take-up of school meals in Hull’s primary schools, has had a positive impact on classroom performance and is judged to be a resounding success by teachers and parents. A recent survey of my own Hull North constituents also showed strong public support for the policy.

“It is therefore perverse that the Lib Dems want to bring back charges, with the costly bureaucracy that goes with it, and undermine Hull’s progress in improving the diet and health of local children.
“When Hull’s Lib Dems say they want to separate the ‘free’ from the ‘healthy’ elements of the policy, they are missing the key point. The problem of childhood obesity extends further up the income scale than the entitlement to means-tested benefits. This is a long-term public health issue, rather than just a short-term welfare one.

“The long-term costs to taxpayers of not acting against chidhood obesity now will be far greater than the present cost of initiatives such as ‘Eat Well, Do Well’. The biggest waste of tax-payers’ money would be to spend more on healthier school food ingredients, only to see fewer pupils actually eating the school meals.”
Alan Johnson, MP for Hull West and Hessle and Secretary of State for Education, said: “The ‘Eat Well, Do Well’ policy in Hull has been ahead of the game. With the 2006 Education Act local authorities have the power to continue such innovations without special permission from Whitehall.

“With all the extra funding given to each local authority in every year since 1997, Hull City Council can afford to continue with ‘Eat Well, Do Well’. It just depends on whether the long-term health of Hull children is a high enough priority for the Council leadership.”
Hull’s Opposition Labour Group Leader, Cllr Ken Branson, said: “Hull Labour councillors will be working to save the ‘Eat Well Do Well’ policy in the Council’s Budget in March. However, winning votes on the Council budget will not be enough. The Lib Dems and Tories are hell bent on bringing back charges, and they will still push ahead if they have the votes on Hull City Council in May.

“We are therefore asking people to sign Labour’s petition, get friends and family to do the same, and to make sure they are registered to vote for the local elections.”
Collecting names for this petition will be part of the Labour Party’s campaigning work over the next three months, working with trade unions, parents and teachers. It is planned that the petition will be presented to Hull City Council in April and to Parliament in the same month.

The petition is also support by the Action for School Meals campaign. . The school food policy of Hull’s Lib Dems was also criticised again this week by the Child Poverty Action Group.