MY SORT OF MINI ESSAY ABOUT WHY I THINK IT’S TIME TO MAKE SCHOOL MEALS FREE FOR ALL PUPILS IN ENGLAND
I truly believe that it is time for ALL UK SCHOOL CHILDREN to have the option of free school meals if they wish – the rest of England needs to follow London’s example.
The news story last year about children at Ysgol Dyffryn Nantlle in Wales potentially being refused a school meal if their ‘dinner debt’ is more than 1p has shocked people because quite simply it shouldn’t be happening in one of the richest and most-developed countries in the world.
I couldn’t personally care less about the arguments concerning ‘parents who can afford it but don’t pay’ and even the ultra-callous ‘can’t feed, don’t breed’ – the simple truth is that no child should suffer because of their parents’ financial position or attitude.
Since I was featured in The Mirror and ITV News after my serious offer to cover the £1800 debt through previous fundraising at the above school just to get children fed again, I have been inundated with messages from parents whose children have been refused meals for the following reasons:
– Straightforward financial hardship and not being entitled to free school meals due to how recently they fell upon harder times.
– Schools using sub-standard apps and services to get payments from parents that fail on a regular basis, with schools telling parents affected to ‘just send a packed lunch’ instead.
– Parents forgetting to top up their kids’ accounts – look it happens to the best of us!
– Kids losing their payment cards – we all know how much kids love losing things.
I know what you’re thinking by now – there isn’t a bottomless pit of money in this country. Now I am no ‘Chancellor Of The Exchequer,’ but I have done some basic sums.
According to government statistics, there are currently 8.9m children in school in England. The government allocates £2.30 per child, per day for free school meals, and the academic year is let’s say 195 days in total. All in all, we’re talking about £3.99bn – let’s call it a nice even £4bn for cash.
That’s a hell of a lot of money, even when you consider that our ‘world-beating’ Test and Trace system was a bargain at £37bn. At the moment, our annual ‘free school meals’ bill is around £780m (Mr Hunt – feel free to correct me if you wish), and so that extra £3.22bn is going to have to come from somewhere.
However, let’s think about the benefits of every child up to the age of 16 being able to eat at school for ‘free.’
– No more fannying around with parent payment systems.
– All pupils being fed and not being hungry, thus affecting their learning and development.
– Parents WILL spend that newfound cash elsewhere, stimulating the economy harder than the people in those films you get on the ‘900’ channels on Sky at a time when it needs that the most.
– It would be a form of ‘levelling up’ like nothing seen before.
Obviously I have concentrated on England here, but it would be great if all four UK nations could end up with a similar ‘level playing field’ for free school meals, one way or another.
I’ve rambled enough for now. At least let this reinvigorate a very important conversation and be a ‘platform’ to discuss changing the whole system for the better. It’s clearly broken after all.
Please make this happen and share if you agree with me.