Tony Blair and Jamie Oliver demand No10 expands free school meals

Boris Johnson slams Jamie Oliver's criticism of obesity policy in May

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Sir Tony Blair has come out in support of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s calls for the free school meals programme to include provisions for more children in England in a fresh headache for the Tories. Mr Oliver said that under Conservative Party rule, the situation was getting “desperate” as families continue to struggle feeding their young. The Department of Education chose to snub this morning’s interview on Radio 4’s Today show, saying no one was available to appear on the instalment, guest edited by the celebrity chef.

Mr Oliver said that families, to pass a means test, have to earn less than £7,400 a year, and described a “gap” of 800,000 children that his campaign was trying to include.

“And still, if you take the average, it’s looking around 10 to £12,000 per household, not per person. So, these are still people that are really struggling,” Mr Oliver added.

The chef then asked the former PM if there was “almost more of an argument to invest in these children now” than during the Blair government years, describing the situation as getting “desperate”.

“Yes, there is.” Mr Blair replied, going on to say later, “the evidence is even clearer than it was in my day… that investment in early years matters”.

Sir Tony also discussed the challenges of being in government, discussing the difficulties of balancing time-sensitive crises with long-term structural change.

The former Prime Minister said politicians often lack the time and bandwidth to deal with significant future reforms and talked of support “across the political spectrum” being needed for substantial change.

“If you want to change a country and introduce some of these long-term structural changes (you could say the same about our healthcare system by the way) you need to make change over a period that’s minimum ten years, maybe 15, maybe 20”, he said.

He described Jamie Oliver’s remarks as an “absolute classic example” of the problem the Labour grandee said: “I honestly don’t think there is anything more important for the future of the country than to make sure we deal with this, early years education and well-being.”

The former Labour PM was in Number 10 when Jamie Oliver launched his well-known campaign against junk food in schools.

The discussion promoted a big response on social media, with one Twitter user posting: “Jamie Oliver is on @BBCr4today talking about free school meals. If you can’t afford to feed your children properly, DO NOT have children, in the first place.”

“What’s happened to common sense, in this country?”

Jamie Oliver also organised a protest outside Downing Street earlier in the year over a U-turn on the anti-obesity strategy during the Johnson-led government.

The chef not only guest-edited but also featured in the Today programme this morning alongside regular presenter Nick Robinson and interviewed several guests, including the rapper Loyle Carner.

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Others to appear on the show this morning included former Conservative Chancellor George Osborne and the former Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney.

During the programme, Nick Robinson revealed that they had invited an education minister on to discuss the issue, but that none was available.

Instead, the education department highlighted that more than a third of the pupils in England currently receive a free school mean and that the government has extended the national school breakfast programme for another year.

The Labour Party promise a free breakfast for every primary school child, should they come to power, but have yet to promise to extend the provision of free school meals.

Parents may need to receive income support, Universal Credit, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Working Tax Credit, or other state support for their children to qualify for free school meals.

However, the Gov.uk website advises anyone who thinks their child may qualify for free school meals to check with their local authority.

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