Free school milk

Yes, we still have free milk for some schoolchildren in the UK, but once everyone got it.

There’s a scheme for children in nurseries which dates back to the Labour government of 1946. Ministers passed into law the School Milk Act which gave free milk to all pupils under eighteen. The idea was to give children a nutritional boost in those years when food was in short supply, and much of it was still rationed.

In 1968, Harold Wilson’s Labour government stopped free milk for secondary school pupils. In 1971, Margaret Thatcher, then education secretary, ended free milk for children over the age of seven. That act earned her everlasting opprobrium and the title “Thatcher the milk snatcher”.

More and more cuts kept coming and nowadays it is only the nurseries, children whose families are on certain benefits, and some lucky children in Wales who get the daily dairy.

The school milk I remember came in crates of small glass bottles — a third of a pint each — with shiny silver tops. The crates could turn uncomfortably warm by playtime in the summer; there was no refrigeration involved at schools. The cream would rise to the top and could start to curdle to a light yellow. In the winter, the milk could stay solidly frozen, expanding out of the glass bottle and tipping the little foil cap.

Hot or cold, I hated the stuff. I’d have gladly poured mine down the sink. I wasn’t the only one. That’s probably why they had “milk monitors”, not just to oversee the distribution and return of the bottles but to make sure you imbibed the actual contents.

The parents may have been up in arms over the milk-snatching. Several small children probably cheered.

Nice cold, ice cold milk it wasn’t.

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