It`s very easy in difficult times, to batten down the hatches and look after number one. Balancing the natural determination to protect our own position, and the well-being of family and friends , against the innate need in most to support the weakest, becomes increasingly challenging. It`s easier to justify `turning our heads`. The political and media atmosphere and frequently, even the air of local conversation , are littered with caution about `wasting` even more resource . We all have to bear the pain we are reasonably told, even the poor. It`s easier for us to be anecdotal about a scrounging sub-culture, undeserving of `handouts`; benefits reforms we may nod , are essential.Logic of course dictates the need for caution. In common with much of the western world we are effectively `bust`. But the path to economic absolution requires long-sightedness that guards against even greater inequalities between people, down the line. Reforms and actions taken now, in the heat of austerity, must be fair to all.
So it`s an unpromising side-effect to the Government`s attempt to replace the over-complicated benefit system with a system of Universal Credit, that a significant number of our poorest families may lose access to Free School Meals once this reform is introduced.
The Children`s Society estimates that under current proposals due to be phased in from April 2013, an earnings threshold of £7,500 means that to be `passported` onto eligibility for Free School Meals, 120,000 families will be faced with the prospect of either cutting their working hours or taking a pay cut-ironically the very thing Universal Credit is attempting to prevent.
The alternative to this they estimate, is that 330,000 of our poorest children currently receiving Free School Meals ,will no longer do so, and that those families will become ,relatively speaking, poorer than if they were to remain on benefits. In addition, the obvious long-term health benefits accruing to those children from a guaranteed daily nutritious meal will be lost.