Free school meals could be scrapped for infants at lunchtime as George Osborne turns his eye to his November spending review.
Free hot meals for all schoolchildren between four and seven, regardless of their parent's income, was a policy introduced under the coalition government by former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg. Despite promising to keep this policy, it is under threat as the Chancellor looks to reduce government expenditure across Whitehall, Sky News reports.
The suggestion has brought wide critique from a variety of sources who say that healthy school meals are essential for children's wellbeing.
Tim Farron, a Christian and leader of the Liberal Democrats, called the proposal an "insult."
"All the evidence suggests that children who have a school meal every day are two months further on in their studies than those that don't. [To take away the policy] is damaging to children, it's an insult to our schools," he said.
Chef and healthy eating campaigner Jamie Oliver said the possible decision was "a disaster", adding that Clegg's policy had been a "major step forward for children's health and academic performance."
However Lindsay Graham, school food and health policy advisor, was more measured in her criticism. She said the problem was that the impact of the policy had not been properly monitored, so no one knew whether it was worthwhile.
"I am not surprised," Graham told Christian Today. "I have been concerned about the lack of monitoring and inspection into the quality of school meals."
Graham suggested that unless proper monitoring was brought in, the policy was always likely to be scrapped because its impact was not known.
In their 2015 manifesto, the Conservatives promised to "support families by providing free meals to all infants."
However according to Sky News, the government refused to rule out cutting the scheme.
"We believe that every child, regardless of their background, should have the same opportunities," a spokesperson said.
"That is at the hear of what we are doing with school food – no child should be hindered because they are not eating a nutritious meal at lunchtime."
This more nuanced perspective may suggest that the Government will cut free school meals for infants regardless of background but keep them for disadvantaged infants.
The department for education's budget has been largely ring-fenced but £14 billion of early years education spending is subject to cuts. The universal infant free school meals programme (UIFSM), which costs between £600m and £800m every year, falls under this category.
However free school meals for disadvantaged pupils are not at risk of being cut.