Boris Johnson faces fury after shelving plans to extend free school meals to up to a million more poor kids.
Tory ministers have brushed aside the plea as they watered down radical plans to solve Britain’s problems with hunger, health and the environment.
The Prime Minister will unveil a Food Strategy White Paper on Monday, but has ditched a string of suggestions from his food tsar Henry Dimbleby.
It’s understood the Leon founder’s demand to expand free school meals to all children in Universal Credit households has been shelved, and will instead be kept under review.
Andrew Forsey, director of Feeding Britain, told the Mirror: “At first glance this looks like a bowl of thin gruel being served up to families who are struggling to put food on the table.
“While it is noteworthy that the free school meals threshold is to be kept under review, this strategy should have been the Prime Minister’s moment to ride to the rescue of those families – often working for low wages – who are in desperate need of that help now.”
Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson said: “With prices soaring in the shops, at the pump, and on energy bills, the Tories are showing once again that they don’t have a vision and they don’t have a plan for Britain.
“After slashing universal credit, Ministers are now faffing about while children go hungry. Our children deserve better.”
Currently, most children in Year 3 and above are ineligible for free school meals if their household income from work is more than £7,400 a year.
Mr Dimbleby had suggested extending this to all children in households receiving Universal Credit.
In his updated food strategy last summer, he acknowledged this would cost £790m so he suggested an alternative – raising the income threshold to £20,000 – that would cost £544m.
But neither of these options have been taken up in the food strategy White Paper.
Campaigners Feeding Britain said extending eligibility would have benefited hundreds of thousands of children.
Once an extension to families with “no recourse to public funds” due to immigration status was included, an estimated 1.1million more children could have benefited.
The NRPF extension has already happened, but it’s understood tomorrow’s plan will dodge calls to extend free school meals to all children on UC.
Instead it is understood to say the government “will continue to keep free school meal eligibility under review, to ensure that these meals are supporting those who most need them.
“We have already committed to continue funding the Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) Programme with a £600million investment over a three year period.”
A government source insisted free school meals could still be extended at a future date, telling the Mirror: “We’re very clear we will continue to keep free school eligibility under review.”
Mr Dimbleby’s bid for a “reformulation tax” on unhealthy foods to cut sugar and salt has also been ditched. It’s understood officials believe it is “tone deaf” during a cost-of-living crisis.
Mr Dimbleby’s suggestions to encourage Brits to eat less meat have been left out of the document too, the Mirror understands.
And the President of the National Farmers Union Minette Batters blasted the strategy as a whole for being “stripped to the bare bones”.
Ms Batters welcomed measures on food security and production as the war in Ukraine harms wheat exports.
But she told The Observer there was no plan to achieve the overall aims. She said: “It’s all very well to have words but it’s got to have really meaningful delivery and we aren’t seeing that yet in this document.”
Graham MacGregor, chairman of Action on Sugar and Action on Salt, added the government was “in the pocket of the food industry” and had “no desire to bite the hand that feeds it”.
A 27-page draft of the plan was leaked to the Guardian on Friday.
The Mirror understands it has been updated since the leaked version, and has now deleted a controversial line that had suggested hard-up Brits eat more venison.
The document – to be presented to Parliament after a joint visit by the PM and Environment Secretary George Eustice – will also outline “agri-tech innovation” to boost food production.
But in a separate development, the Sunday Times reported Boris Johnson has scaled back green plans to ‘rewild’ the countryside.
Only around £50m over three years will be handed to the landscape recovery scheme, one of three post-Brexit schemes to return peat and forests to the landscape.
A government source disputed the newspaper’s claims that it could have been worth up to £800m a year. It’s understood ministers are sticking to just 15 rewilding schemes to start with.
The fierce battle over rural policies comes as the Tories are braced to lose the rural Tiverton and Honiton by-election, sparked by Tory Neil Parish searching for a tractor and ending up watching porn in Parliament.
The Lib Dems are hoping to overturn Mr Parish’s 24,239 majority on June 23.
Labour criticised the leaked document as “nothing more than a statement of vague intentions”.
Ministers appear to be moving forward with some of Mr Dimbleby’s proposals, including by consulting on mandatory food waste reporting for businesses of a certain size.
The Government has also agreed to trial a Community Eatwell programme, as announced in the Levelling Up White Paper, supporting those on low incomes to improve their diets.
The document said ministers would “support progress on a wide range of issues, including alternative proteins”, after the review urged the Government to “nudge” consumers into changing their meat-eating habits.
But it suggested sustainable sources of protein do not have to “displace traditional sectors”.
The paper said the Government would launch a call for evidence to better understand challenges in cutting methane emissions from farm animals such as cattle.
In his review, Mr Dimbleby had set a goal of reducing meat consumption by 30% over 10 years.
Louisa Casson, head of food and forests at Greenpeace UK, accused ministers of seemingly “goading” UK farmers into producing more meat.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it did not comment on leaked documents, but a spokesperson added: “We will be setting out the contents of our ambitious new food strategy in due course.”