The voting of 322 of our elected representatives against providing free school meals for children in England until Easter 2021 highlights how out-of-touch and uncaring this Tory government is. They claim it's to avoid 'state-dependency' and that they have a universal credit system to deal with issues like child hunger in a more sustainable and long-term fashion. But we know that the universal credit system has long waiting times, during which you receive no support. The coronavirus pandemic has worsened the situation for those living in poverty, especially with employment uncertainty for many low income and income unstable families. Surely feeding impoverished children is something we could have reasonably expected from the state.
Child poverty has always been a major issue in our society, with the lack of sufficient food ultimately causing a decrease in social mobility. When we feed impoverished children, we enable them to concentrate better at school, resulting in better learning outcomes. Through obtaining more qualifications and becoming more likely to access higher education, low SES children can go on to have better paying jobs and therefore have the ability to escape poverty. We also prevent the physical effects of poverty, as many who grow up poor go on to have issues such as chronic anaemia and asthma.
The issue of child poverty during this global pandemic centres on this fact that impoverished children need meals for survival’s sake. This current pandemic has highlighted class divides in our society, with the privileged middle class spending lockdown picking up hobbies like baking - a stark contrast to those working in key worker sectors such as hospitality and care or left in financially precarious positions. The least that can be done for struggling low-income parents during this time of global hardship is give them the certainty that their children will be fed.
This idea that impoverished children do actually need to be fed during this pandemic is something that only really came to the government’s attention after Marcus Rashford’s campaign for the government to provide free school meals to disadvantaged children over the summer holidays. The fact that it took someone from a working class background who got successful enough to have a viable platform to tackle this issue just highlights the fact that this Tory government doesn’t really care about or understand the British public. These oversights of the government have led to charities across the country being overstretched trying to tackle the increased issue of poverty over the course of the pandemic. Charities have been providing the support and care for people in the country that the government decides to neglect and avoid.
It's clear that the government just doesn’t understand the daily experiences of many of the British public. In fact, the Tory MP Ben Bradley has called Rashford’s campaign ‘celebrity virtue-signalling’ claiming that the vote on free school meals wasn’t ‘help poor kids, yes or no’, but a pledge to ‘roll out a huge expansion of long term state dependency to millions, when a large [percentage] of those on [free school meals] are not impoverished and don't want or need it’: a ridiculous point of view highlighting the fact that low SES and impoverished people don’t truly exist in the privileged realm of Tory MPs. Rather than being individuals with aspirations and difficulties, they are apparently just a liability to the state.
The British public is fully aware that those who receive state benefits and free school meals are very much a part of our society. The parents of children who receive school meals are not negligent or drug addicts as the government would like us to believe. Perpetuating the notion that it is parents who are to blame for not sufficiently providing for their children works in the favour of the Tory government, who can deflect from their own shortcomings such as cutting funding to services for low SES people and sustaining a society from which they have consistently profited. After all, MPs can claim a meal budget of £25 per day each (far more than universal credit), with some Tory MPs claiming more than £80,000 in 2019/20 in expenses alone, whilst deprived children cannot receive meals worth approximately 60p a plate.
Ultimately, when low-income children are denied free school meals, their place in society is denied and their prospects damaged. The Conservatives seem to be very apt at turning a blind eye, seeing the world through a lens of immense privilege. But the issue of child poverty is very real and needs to be tackled now. Whether we have a functioning long-term solution or not is a separate and very important issue to tackle, but the least we can do is give impoverished children free school meals until Easter 2021.