Jeremy Corbyn has a new eye-catching policy to get Labour back on the map. It isn’t quite as outlandish as giving a free owl to everyone in the country, but it’s close. Corbyn and shadow education secretary Angela Rayner have announced today that Labour would charge VAT on private school fees in order to fund free school meals for all primary school children.

Now is not the time for a debate into the ethics of private schools or a heated argument on the pros and cons of allowing them to claim tax-exempt status as charities. Needless to say it is obvious what Jeremy Corbyn (an ardent socialist who reportedly divorced his first wife over her insistence on sending their son to grammar school) feels about it all. Clearly he is not won over by the case that charitable status compels private schools to offer bursaries to low-income students, providing more options for bright children from poorer backgrounds. He wants them to be treated as for-profit businesses. Fine.

The real nonsensical stupidity of the Labour proposal comes from what the party intends to do with the revenue raised from private school VAT – estimated to be around £1.5 billion a year. Free school meals. For every primary school child. Regardless of income.

There were 4,615,170 pupils in state primary schools in 2016. Of those, 14.5 percent were eligible for free school meals. These are the children most at need – those whose parents receive income support, Jobseeker’s allowance, or other benefits.

Labour’s proposal would pay for meals for the other 3.95 million children, regardless of whether their parents can afford school meals or not. It extends a scheme of the coalition government that gives free school meals to all pupils in the first three years of school – a policy that was widely criticised at the time for the exact same reason as this one. It means parents in every income bracket – including the city fat cats Corbynistas love to demonise – receiving  free food for their kids, courtesy of the taxpayer. And while many of the wealthiest parents may still choose to send their children to private schools, even if the fees rise from the addition of VAT, that is still a massive subsidy to millions of parents who absolutely do not need it.

What could that money be spent on instead? How about better teacher training and incentives for teachers to stay in the job, especially for core subjects like STEM? Targeted assistance for pupils in the most disadvantaged areas to help them get basic qualifications? More technical education options for those who do not want to pursue the academic route? Early-years help for low-income parents to give their children a head start? (It has, after all, been documented that disparities in education begin before children even reach school, and can be extremely difficult to overcome later on.) Better training and resources for children with special educational needs?

All of these strategies would do more to combat the education attainment gap than an ill-thought-out blanket free meals policy. Of course children cannot learn if they are hungry, and the existing free school meals programme provides what can sometimes be the only hot meal disadvantaged children eat a day. But why takes resources away from those pupils who need it most to fund parents who can easily afford to feed their children?

The answer probably lies in the numbers. According to House of Commons Library research (based on figures supplied by Labour), the free primary school meals plan would cost between £700 million and £900 million. That makes it exceptionally cheap in terms of the overall education budget (£85.2 billion for 2017). It needs to be cheap, because the £1.5 billion the VAT on private schools would theoretically raise really doesn’t go very far.

So there you have it. A cheap and easy policy designed to look shiny and attractive, that would do nothing to improve education for children who need the most help while subsiding those who do not. Classic Corbynism at work. Maybe next time Labour should just promise everyone a free owl.