Preschool providers want to ensure that free milk for under-5s is not stopped, as a government consultation on how to contain the costs gets under way.
The government has said it is committed to retaining the nursery milk scheme, but has announced a review of how it is funded after costs rose from #163;27 million in 2007 to #163;53 million in 2010.
The scheme has been running since the 1940s, entitling all under-5s who attend day care or school to one-third of a pint a day. But the topic has been a touchy one for Conservatives: Margaret Thatcher was dubbed the "milk snatcher" in the 1970s after stopping free milk for the over-7s. In 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron quashed the idea of cutting free milk after health minister Anne Milton wrote to her Scottish counterpart saying the move was being considered.
Under the current scheme, nurseries and schools can buy milk and claim back the cost, or use an agent. But some claims are now at 92p per pint, compared with the average retail cost of 45p.
COST OF CLAIMS PER PINT
45% - Claims above 60p
31% - Between 45p and 60p
24% - At or below 45p
1946 - Provided for all children under 18
1968 - Stopped for secondary children
1971 - Stopped for over-7s
1980 - Stopped for over-5s
1.7m - pints of milk a week are bought under the scheme
1.5m - children receive free milk
(Note: most children are not at nursery every day and so do not claim milk every day. Hence the disparity between claimants and amount of milk).