Margaret Thatcher’s first cabinet job was as Education Secretary in the Heath government 1970-74. Her first claim to notoriety was when, as a cost cutting measure she ended the universal provision of school milk. This earned her the sobriquet “Maggie Thatcher Milk Snatcher” and the reputation for being a
heartless old bag politician not afraid to take unpopular decisions.
The milk was reinstated then but here we are forty years on and guess what? One of the coalition governments wheezes for saving money is to withdraw provision of free milk from pre-school children.
Set up in 1940 (when you’d think finances may have been at an even more critical level than now), the nursery milk scheme provides free milk to every child under five who attends a public or private nursery for more than two hours a day.
Children under one are entitled to a third of a pint of free infant formula milk.
The following passage is from the Herald article on the story. I’ve highlighted the passage which really begs the “so that’s all right then” response.
The abolition of free nursery milk, which is being driven by Anne Milton, the Conservative under secretary of state for public health, could also increase tension between Tory and LibDem MPs in the Coalition.
Last week Milton wrote to her counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland setting out her proposals, saying nursery milk did not “provide value for money in difficult times and has become increasingly outdated”.
She said: “I am aware that abolition of the scheme is likely to be highly controversial, particularly as this will affect children in low-income families… [it] will be contentious and we can expect opposition from the media, parts, nurseries, childminders and the dairy sector.
“However this should not prevent us from ending an ineffective universal measure – and this would clearly be the best time to do it given the state of the public finances and the need to make savings.”
Costs are rising, from £50m in England this year to £59m in 2011-12.
In Scotland, roughly 150,000 children benefit at a cost of around £5m a year.
In her letter, Milton said: “Children in more affluent families are likely to be drinking plenty of milk at home.
“Children in very low-income families may be less likely to attend childcare, unless publicly funded places are available. If so, they will not be benefiting from the scheme anyway.”
To offset the change, Milton is “considering” raising the value of means-tested healthy start vouchers to let parents buy more milk, fruit and vegetables, although she concedes any rise may only be in line with inflation.
Nursery milk is a UK-wide scheme, created by reserved legislation, but in Scotland the costs are met by the Scottish Government.
If axed elsewhere, Scottish ministers could in theory offer their own version. However Scottish Government sources say they will be forced to “consider all options” if Westminster sweeps away the scheme’s infrastructure.
Abolition was simply “wrong”, Sturgeon said.
“It is vital that children get the best start in life and improving infant nutrition is a huge part of that – not to mention the effect better infant nutrition has on improved health and wellbeing in later life. Providing milk in nurseries is critical to this continued improvement and we believe it must continue to be an option for children aged 1 to 5 every day.”
Edit: Confused Now
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