Researchers say the Conservative Party pledge of universal free school breakfasts would cost between £180m and £400m.
Education Datalab, a group of experts who produce independent, cutting-edge research, said the manifesto pledge, which aims to offer free breakfasts to all primary school children, assumes food costs of 25p per pupil and does not include staff costs.
The group of academics led by Dr Rebecca Allen found that, when including all other costs, the party’s offer would cost £400m on a 50% take-up. They also discovered the pledge was based on an evaluation by the Education Endowment Foundation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies of the Magic Breakfast charitable scheme, which relied on donated food.
The Conservative Party manifesto initially costed universal free school breakfasts at £60m. A spokesperson commented that the manifesto based its initial costing on a 25% take-up rate in free breakfasts. They added:
We’re promising to set up a free breakfast club, similar to the ones that the EEF/IFS said were as useful as universal infant free school meals, so that every child who would like a breakfast in school can have one.
These clubs didn’t have 100% uptake – only about 25% of children attended, as in a Department for Education trial of breakfast clubs – but they still had positive effects for all the children in the school.
If many more children now start eating breakfast in school, then the costs will go up – but the evidence of two large trials is that they won’t.
Dr Allen argued that if free breakfast clubs acted as a proper childcare substitute, parents would feel more inclined to opt out of childminders and providers services in favour of the free clubs.