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Vegans aren’t happy about the government’s free milk program

It's meant to keep young kids healthy and full, but there's no alternatives to cows milk for those with dairy-free diets.

What the economy got to do with the snacktime of preschoolers? More than you’d maybe think. Here’s the sitch: kids under five who attend some sort of certified daycare in Britain are entitled to a free ⅓ of a pint of milk, paid for by the UK government. The scheme, which has been in place since 1946, is intended to ensure that small children are getting at least some nutrition in them. Milk was chosen because it is cheapish, full of protein and calcium - especially important when you’re growing a lot - and a good source of calories for young kids.

But not everybody is a fan. One of the criticisms that has been repeatedly levelled against the scheme, which costs about £70 million a year, is that it’s not a good use of government money. This was the reason similar free-milk schemes for older kids were cut or cut back in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Some people would like to see free milk restricted to only lower-income kids, on the basis that taxpayers shouldn’t subsidise families who can afford to buy their own milk. Some would like to see the money spent on different priorities: higher teacher salaries, say, or more hospitals or tax breaks or whatever. (A popular rebuttal to this it-costs-too-much argument is that keeping kids healthy and not hungry has big economic benefits for both them and society at large.)

A more recent concern is that the milk provided is exclusively cow’s milk, which is problematic for a growing number of people. Brits who object to intensive dairy farming on environmental or animal rights grounds don’t want their tax money to be spent on it or their government to encourage it. Some families whose kids are vegan, lactose intolerant or allergic to milk are also upset about being excluded by the scheme or having to take on the financial burden of supplying non-dairy alternatives.

Read our explainer on: government spending.

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