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.
This is a difficult issue to manage as all sides of the debate acknowledge, and there are signs that government is conscious of the need to review these presumably unintended consequences. However there is a danger that the issue could be lost under the radar of austerity fatigue, or default to the `scrounger`s charter` notion, as we all turn our heads to other `more important` matters.
For those scraping along at or near the bottom though, it`s an undeniable fact that for the vast majority access to Free School Meals and other associated benefits such as free prescriptions,dental and eye care , are critical to health, welfare and solvency. If this is you, then you`ll already know that from personal experience; if it`s not ,and I`m assuming that`s the majority of blog readers, and you remain unconvinced, then perhaps you should try to seek out someone who has first-hand experience of being in this situation, or speak to someone with first-hand knowledge of working in this area? Various views on the matter are also outlined via the links at the end of the piece.
Yes, Free School Meals are actually costly to the tax payer. But that cost is actually an investment in our future. The way we treat our poorest now, in these the hardest of times, will define our society for future generations .We must do everything that we can to ensure fairness for all in the (some would say vain ) hope that we really are all in this together.
Anything that we allow that increases the divide between the have`s and the have nots will almost certainly come back to bite us.
Some links related to this issue:
http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/fairandsquare?gclid=CLSR6763z68CFUxzfAodZVKoUQ (Children`s Society E-Petition)