Vital Signs

No Free Lunch

This summer, as U.K. schoolchildren go on vacation, their school buildings will become hives of activity.  Construction workers will descend in droves to overhaul kitchens and dining halls.  These need to be refitted for a major new purpose.  Starting in September, state primary schools will be serving free hot lunches to all pupils in their first two years.  The United Kingdom has long offered free school lunches to children of low-income parents.  But this September marks a big change: Free lunches will be offered regardless of parents’ ability to pay.

The program is the brainchild of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrat (“Lib Dem”) Party.  When David Cameron and his Conservative Party failed to win an overall majority in the 2010 election, they were forced to form a coalition government with the Lib Dems.  This is standard practice in many European countries, but an abnormality in the United Kingdom.  The partnership has not gone well for either side.  Lib Dem supporters are particularly dissatisfied, accusing Clegg of selling out his principles to the Conservatives.

Clegg hopes the free hot-lunch program will be his signature initiative.  He announced it with enormous fanfare at his party’s annual conference in September 2013.  Together with his wife, Miriam, Clegg had a sugary photo op joining students for lunch...

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