The free school meals policy will start in September next year and will be worth about £437 per child to families. The full financial detail of how it will be funded is not expected to be unveiled until the Autumn Statement. It represents and investment of some £600m in this programme.
Three pilot studies were run in Islington and Newham in London and in County Durham. The Liberal Democrats argue 3-5% more children reach key stage one attainment levels as a consequence - on average putting children two months ahead of where they would otherwise have been.
So, this is great news for all pupils and parents and prepares the ground for schools to examine the potential to provide all meals for all pupils, through to Year 6 in more radical and inventive ways.
Patrick Butler in the Guardian writes that, tens of thousands of children living below the poverty line in some of the wealthiest parts of England's home counties may be unable to afford a proper lunch but fail to qualify for free school meals, according to a study by the Children's Society.
The charity urged the government to extend free school meals eligibility to more low-earning families, who may be in full-time jobs but struggle to get by.
Its report found that this "hidden" poverty, which was particularly concentrated in leafy areas of Sussex, Surrey, Essex and Buckinghamshire as well as London suburbs, may reflect the higher prevalence in those areas of low-income working families who are ineligible for free meals, worth an average £370 a year for each child.
A number of surveys over the past year back growing concerns among teachers and headteachers that austerity disproportionately hits low-income families' ability to cope with rising living costs. Increasing numbers of children are turning up to school without a lunch or the means to pay for one.
In 57 of England's 533 parliamentary constituencies, more than 60% of children living in poverty were either ineligible or failing to claim free school meals, according to the Children's Society data, with these concentrated in the south-east, London and east of England.
There were just 22 constituencies, all of them in the north of England and the Midlands, where fewer than 10% of children missed out.
An estimated 900 children living in poverty in David Cameron's constituency in Witney, West Oxfordshire, miss out on a free school meal (47%). The figure is 1,400 (57%) in the education secretary Michael Gove's Surrey Heath constituency; and 3,200 (58%) in Iain Duncan Smith's Chingford and Woodford Green seat.
Labour leader Ed Miliband's Doncaster North seat has 1,400 children missing out (33%). In the shadow chancellor Ed Balls' Morley and Outwood constituency, 200 children (11%) were affected, while according to the figures data deputy prime minister Nick Clegg's Sheffield Hallam constituency appears to have no children in poverty missing out on a free school meal.
Constituencies with the highest estimated rates of children who miss out on free school meals despite living in poverty, are: Horsham, Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (both 69%); Mitcham and Morden, Arundel and South Downs (both 68%); and Wycombe (67%).
The Children's Society wants free school meals for to be extended to all families receiving universal credit from October. This – at an estimated cost of £500m a year in England – would lift 100,000 children out of poverty and enable the government to keep child poverty targets on track.
Matthew Reed, the charity's chief executive, said: "It is shocking that huge numbers of children in poverty across the country are missing out on a free school meal. Every child in poverty should be entitled to this vital support.
"We know from the families we work with up and down the country that parents are struggling to make ends meet. Right now, the government is reconsidering which children will be entitled to get free school meals. We urge the government to take this opportunity to make sure all children in poverty can get a free school meal."
Families in England and Wales with a child at a state school are normally entitled to receive free school meals if a parent works under 16 hours a week (24 hours for couples) and if their annual income is less than £16,190.
The Children's Society estimates that of 1.2 million children living in poverty in England that miss out on a free school meal, 700,000 do so because they are ineligible. The rest are believed not to take up the offer because they suffer stigma, teasing or embarrassment or because their parents are unaware of it.
Sharon Hodgson MP, Labour's shadow children's minister, said: "David Cameron scrapped the rollout of free school meals to these families within days of taking office. Since then we have seen a decline in the number of breakfast clubs, while teachers report more children arriving at school hungry and unable to concentrate."
Linda Cregan, chief executive of the Children's Food Trust, supported the call for free school meal entitlement to be extended to all families receiving universal credits. She said: "Evidence shows that when children eat better, they do better in class. Poor diet and hunger have a marked detrimental impact on a child's ability to reach their full potential.
"Every pupil should be given the same chance to learn and achieve, and that's why it's so important that all children from families who receive universal credits should automatically qualify for free school meals. If granted, the next step would be to support schools in making sure these families register for them and take them."
The Department for Education estimates that proposals to extend free school meals to all children whose parents are in receipt of universal credit would mean that more than half of all children would receive free school meals at a cost of £1bn a year.
The DfE said: "No child should go hungry at school – 1.3 million of the most disadvantaged children currently claim a free, nutritious meal at school every day. Some schools also provide breakfast clubs which offer free or subsidised meals to pupils from poorer families.
"In addition, the pupil premium, which will increase to £900 per pupil – £2.5bn a year – in 2014-15, targets extra money to ensure schools can provide support to the most disadvantaged children." Guardian 17.9.13