Free School Meals and Food banks.
In the UK, during the spaces between wall to wall Covid-19 bulletins, media attention this autumn has been drawn to the question of free school meals. Whether to continue them during the holiday period or to end them has again been a bone of contention among two elite tendencies within the UK. The first elite tendency is represented by those who think free meals should be continued during the holiday period. They include some celebrities such as the football player Marcus Rashford and politicians in the Labour Party. Both of these sections are part of the more liberal wing of the UK pro-capitalist spectrum. Even some liberal leaning members of the British Conservative Party have supported this desire to feed the needy offspring of the poor during school breaks.
The second tendency are those who think these free meals should not be extended beyond the official school term. This tendency seems to think responsibility during holidays should fall back upon the parents of these children. This further round of the skirmish between those for and against this act of paternalistic charity was continued in the UK Parliament where a motion to continue with the meals was defeated by a Conservative majority. Two things struck me as bizarre and remarkable during these two episodes. First was the remark by one conservative MP to the effect that he didn’t think that the parents of children eligible for free school meals should ‘get used to the state subsidising their food requirements’.
I found this remark incredible because this member of Parliament and his colleagues are absolutely used to being subsidised by the state – to the tune of £80,000 per year in salaries. In addition his meals out (and other MPs) are reimbursed by the state. The Parliamentary restaurant and bar were they are at liberty to eat is also subsidised by the state. The sheer hypocrisy displayed in this outburst (and by the result of the vote) by privileged elites – in receipt of huge state subsidies, including pension entitlements – begrudging underprivileged school children a free school meal – defies classification outside of – unbelievable! But the fact that no one in the mainstream media pointed out this breath taking hypocrisy is also incredible.
Yet the event displayed even more self-indulgent hypocrisy than that; because these same Parliamentary and media individuals had not many months back applauded the sustained efforts of low-paid essential workers, in hospitals, transport, and commercial services during the Covid-19 March lock-down. Many of these low-paid essential workers undoubtedly will have children who are entitled to have free school meals. Yet again remarkably, neither of these two pro-capitalist tendencies or the media questioned why many parents are so poorly paid that their children are needing free school meals.
Not even Mr Rashford (on £10 million per year!!!) seems to have asked himself why he and his mates who simply kick balls around a stadium are paid in millions of pounds, while those who clean the streets and hospital wards, pick crops, pack supermarket shelves, nurse sick people, (old and young) and care for the dying, are paid a minimum-wage pittance.
It says a lot about the character and social nature of those in sport, entertainment, government, politics, media and the management levels of industry and commerce – that even when experiencing the most severe global health crisis – they cannot take time or effort to question the whole basis of an economic system which allows such poverty amid such plenty. Not one mainstream voice among the well-paid elite has drawn attention to the above contrast or seriously questioned the basis of an economic system whose elites spend billions on weapons of mass destruction, enable the enrichment of thousands of millionaire and billionaire individuals, yet turn their backs upon those children needing free school meals, parents who need to visit food banks and even old people isolated in substandard care homes.
By the way: I was born in 1941 and when of school age I was also in receipt of free school milk and free meals at lunch time. My parents, after surviving the 1930s period of mass unemployment and hardship in Britain, had been involved in the Second World War effort for the UK. My father as an aircraft fitter in the air-force, my mother as a textile worker creating cotton fabrics destined for the war effort. Despite all the fear they (and millions of others) experienced during the war and the effort they exerted during the war and post-war, they too then existed on low pay, long hours, precarious employment and struggled for years – with no bath or inside toilet – to keep us financially afloat! And incidentally we were not the poorest in our community!
How little things have changed in 79 years, when in 2020, amid a world-war against a virus, a new generation of working people are experiencing a similar and even worse situation in the UK and elsewhere to that experienced by Violet and Sydney and me their only child. And in 2020 and 2021 it is going to get worse. Many more are going to be made homeless as the lack of jobs and money bear upon the most vulnerable of our own citizens and those in other countries.
And yet what is truly amazing to me is that not one among the national or global elites or the current influential middle-classes seem embarrassed by what they have collectively created and delivered to the present generation and seem intent on passing on to future generations. As such they are part of the problem not part of a solution. Indeed, they, including the well-meaning but economically naive, Mr Rashford et al, currently stand in the way of effective solutions to poverty.
Roy Ratcliffe (November 2020)