Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Freeing school meals

Post by Ash

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:

1 comment:

  1. Ash,
    I couldn't agree with you more. I've been in that position in the past and it was truly a godsend. Not only that but you get added help with school uniform and school trips, that otherwise would be unavailable to your child.

    In the interests of fairness I would like to see a cooked dinner available for free to every child in the UK regardless of background. The reason for this is not only because of equality but to remove the stigma associated with having free school meals. Ideally properly equipped kitchens, with good cooks and where possible veggies grown on the school ground by the children themselves. Dinners can be made cheaply and healthily especially if 'home grown' is added in.

    Agreed our children are the future, and should be invested in. If they aren't the cost will be tremendous far outweighing the poor old 'taxpayer'. I think I can see signs of this already happening. Trouble is brewing.

    What's more, how on earth can we let children starve in this country? Not just go hungry but actually suffer malnutrition to the point of starvation? It breaks my heart. Don't believe the lies, this is a rich country, they are just spending the money in the wrong places.

    But we will see much more of this if the Governments present ideology reaches its full outcome. Worryingly Francis Maud let slip that they intend to do away with ALL state services and welfare here's the link