I. remember going to free school dinners at my primary school on the border of Scotland. We all went outside, went down a small slope and went into a shiny basement with an unsuitable floor, where lunch was served. Huge pots and shabby stainless steel trays have revealed to us such baits as minced meat and tartlets, flow cake and custard. We sat at tables with Formica, and we also had milk, in small cardboard boxes, with little thin blue straws. At the time, I didn’t really think that lunches would be free, but I thought of school as a place that provides, a place where we are fed and cared for. I probably took it for granted – something that too many poor students can’t do today.
This week 12 school principals from pedagogical unions and trusts wrote Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Education Minister Nadhim Zahavi are calling for the extension of the free school meals scheme to all families on universal loans. It’s a good idea, but it underscores how far England lags behind its neighbors: in Scotland, free school meals are now universal for all children in primary school; Wales has been doing the same for its children since September this year.
There are more than 4 million children living in poverty in the UK, and the Sustainable Action Group on Child Poverty (CPAG) and its recent research It is estimated that about 1 million children in poverty do not receive free school meals due to restrictive, arbitrary and complex social security systems. Although in the short term CPAG supports automatic free school meals for all those who receive universal credit, equivalent benefits or do not apply to public funds, he emphasizes that in the long run free school meals should be expanded and provided to all children , without verification of material values, without stigma.
My parents were unemployed for part of my childhood and often received social benefits. I refuse to use the term “convenience” because being poor and having to go every two weeks and reporting that you’re still poor to get a basic minimum on which to try to survive is no advantage. This is the minimum that any civilized society should provide and ideally should exceed. Most people work to pay for the facts of life: bills, rent, travel and food. Hard times, failure, loss, illness, worries and parenting requirements happen to almost everyone at some point and can lead to job loss or struggle to find a flexible and sufficiently paid job to make it worthy of restrictions and obligations. The meaning of the social security system is to cover such times, to make them fit for life and not just for survival.
Society can also choose the priorities that everyone is counting on and, because they are needed, provide them for everyone – such as hospitals, schools and libraries. Providing quality essentials for all should not be ashamed and should not be stigmatized. It should be a source of national pride. Not only is it easier and cheaper to provide such services without verifying material values, it is also ethically and socially correct.
All governments love to talk about families. Political parties left and right refer to totem, often pink, references to hardworking families and normal working families. It is time to reinforce this ideology with the actual support of families and communities, as society does not exist and cannot exist in isolation. Children who lose consciousness from hunger during the school day take leftovers from school binsor alarmed and tired will not get the most out of their schooling. Their health may suffer in the long run and, as a consequence, our entire future. As Mark Drakeford, the first Minister of Wales, said, providing the necessary services to all maybe “The glue that binds the complex of modern society.”
Criticizing the universal plan for free school meals in Wales, Conservative Education Minister Laura Ann Jones – surprisingly, during the cost of living crisis – said the scheme was not working and would mean free meals to the children of millionaires. Private fee-paying schools are not included in universal free school meals in Scotland or Wales. I’m not sure how many millionaire children go to local government primary classes, but I’m happy, for example, because a small percentage of children from minority millionaire families get a quality free lunch with the rest – Tories may even want to see it as a raise.