Image by Dino KF Wong from Pixabay
Olivia Opara reports on the UK government’s free school meals fiasco
Kickin’ off the New Year, 2021, there was a reinforcement of lockdown number three. With increased anxiety about the new Covid-19 variants and unfortunate New Year’s Eve parties, the death toll and the infection rate of the virus has risen exponentially. Now everyone is stuck at home. The NHS is at breaking point, and every school has gone online, but at what cost to disadvantaged children?
What are free school meals?
In the UK, according to the Department of Work and Pensions, free school meals (FSM), “is a statutory benefit available to school-age children from families who receive other qualifying benefits and who have been through the relevant registration process.” In essence, FSM is a scheme that is supposed to provide substantial meals for children from low income and disadvantaged families – it is meant to feed the nation’s children.
This scheme was brought into place to help tackle child hunger which coincides with child poverty in the UK. This was introduced following the Child Poverty Act 2010 which defines a child to be living in relative poverty if their household income is below 60% of the median. This was initially aimed towards infants in primary school – KS1.
The Internet saw an outcry from shocked parents and stunned carers as they shared photographs of inadequate food parcels
However, this was then extended to older children, as set out by the Department of Work and Pensions FSM 2013: “Under current rules, children who receive a qualifying benefit in their own right are also allowed to receive free school meals. Children under the compulsory school age who are in full-time education may also be entitled to receive free school meals.”
So how did such a good thing go so wrong?
Lockdown number three – free school ‘meals’
Last week, the Internet saw an outcry from shocked parents and stunned carers as they shared photographs of inadequate food parcels. In a horrible attempt to continue providing FSM for young people during this lockdown, the Tory government has made a mess of it.
The FSM parcels are supposed to replace the £30 vouchers that were given previously. However, it appeared that the food parcel suppliers, Chartwells delivered distasteful food parcels worth only £5.
Cattle receive better food, and parents and carers have the right to be absolutely gobsmacked
A recent BBC report included images of rotten fruit, expired flour and literal scraps which had been delivered as FSM to feed the nation’s children as if they are less than cattle. If anything, cattle receive better food, and parents and carers have the right to be absolutely gobsmacked.
Back in 2020, Marcus Rashford MBE, a Manchester United football player started a campaign to combat England’s growing child hunger. It was through his campaign that the UK government were pressured into providing FSM in the school holidays last year. Rashford had even commended them, in Goal.com, for having “done what is right”.
In response to the recent scandal, Rashford reprimanded Chartwells, saying that they “should do better”; they and the Tory government need to do better and be better.
Many parents can’t work as they are not considered ‘key workers’ and are on the ‘furlough scheme’ so need the support of FSM to help keep their children from starving.
Yet the Tory government seems not to care. Their repeated failure to help disadvantaged families is so perversely evident that can we be surprised anymore?
To add a further blow, the Tory government has now announced that there will be no FSM provision during half term, despite many parents being unable to work due to lockdown; even those who are able to work are struggling.
An overwhelming outcry from parents, carers, and many strong figures in society, including Marcus Rashford, have poured out an onslaught of condemnation towards the government and the likes of Matt Hancock in particular.
But from this fiasco of the FSM parcels, begs the scrutiny of whether or not this funding is even being used for its designated purposes, but I digress.
Then in December 2020 UNICEF, which aids the world’s poorest kids, had to make an emergency response to feed children in Britain. The Guardian reported that “for the first time in its more than 70-year history” UNICEF UK had “to help feed [British] children.”
Conservative MP and the Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, tried to condemn UNICEF UK aid as a “political stunt”. In response, Civil Society news reported that UNICEF had to defend their emergency actions.
If you have any food you can spare, you can always donate to your local food banks who have been operating throughout this pandemic
Since when was feeding and helping put food on the table of starving children a political thing? Why does this government reduce everything to just mere political ploys?
Tories favouring the rich
The Tories are infamous for favouring the rich and their close friends. From protecting Dominic Cummings who broke lockdown rules, to covering up Priti Patel’s lies and bullying, they have shown who they really care for. Images comparing the extravagant quality of food provided for private schools to those of the FSM food parcels only serve to expose the true malevolence of the current government.
The discrepancy between exam results at private schools and state schools, especially those in disadvantaged areas, truly reared its ugly head back in August 2020 in the form of the A-Levels and GCSE fiasco. Top grades were disproportionately given favouring students from private schools and those situated in rich areas.
Even during the pandemic, the government bailed out the rich whilst they tried to reduce the furlough scheme that most families were barely able to survive on last year.
The current government is unreliable so what can we as a community do to help each other and our disadvantaged peers?
Food banks and feeding Britain
If you have any food you can spare, you can always donate to your local food banks who have been operating throughout this pandemic to feed starving families and the homeless. Even if you donate a small amount once a week, once a fortnight or even once a month, every little truly does help. If you need help finding a food bank, click The Trussell Trust for help. You can also donate and find out more at ‘Feeding Britain’, an organisation that focuses on feeding the young across Britain.
These trying times are when our humanity should be at its peak. We should help each other in any safe way that we can.
After all, we only have each other.