The Institute for Fiscal Studies has calculated that Labour’s pledge to extend free school meals to all primary pupils would cost around £950m each year, with upfront costs of as much as £270m.
The IFS states that the educational benefits of extending this nationwide is uncertain, as it would not directly benefit the poorest children who are already entitled to free lunches.
By taking into account the number of pupils in Years 3-6 who are not already eligible for FSM and the estimated take-up of the pilot project of 90% , the institute predicts that giving all primary children a free lunch would cost the Government around £800m per year. This rises to £950m because the Government would have to provide more money to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland due to the Barnett formula.
The IFS goes on to explain:
Although the extension of free school meals would only apply to primary school children in England, there are public finance implications for the devolved nations as well: because Labour is proposing additional spending on this policy (paid for by levying VAT on private school fees), the block grants to the three devolved nations will increase under the Barnett formula. The new spending in England would result in £150 million in additional funding for the three devolved nations each year, plus one-time additional funding of around £45 million related to the upfront costs. This brings the total cost of extending free school meals to all primary pupils to around £950 million each year, with upfront costs of as much as £270 million.
One-time investments such as renovating school kitchens and cafeterias in order to provide the additional meals will result in other upfront costs which could amount to an extra £225m. This was calculated based on the amount spent by the Government on upgrading facilities when rolling out the recent infant free school meals – £170m over two years.
Currently, the Government pays £2.30 for each meal taken under the universal infant free school meals programme introduced in 2014.