I wrote this article a few days before the election was called. It was swallowed up by the frenzy that ensued. Given the Tory Manifesto launch, it seems more apt than ever.
Ensuring every primary school child has a free decent, nutritious meal regardless of background? Seems like a wonderful idea even to the most curmudgeonly amongst us. It could even have been taken straight from a Blair- era focus group session; a vision of improving social mobility in the simplest of manners.
Now however, it’s a utopian idea that could only have been dreamt up by the loony left. At least that’s what you would have thought when it was announced by English Labour last week.
Of course, it isn’t exactly a new idea because children who are in Key Stage 1 and P1-P3 already receive a free meal in England and Scotland respectively. Although judging by the mainstream media’s reaction, you would never have assumed that. According to the naysayers and doomsayers it was an end of days declaration of class war by the dangerous Mr Corbyn.
Based on the Finnish model of all children between 7 and 18 receiving a healthy free school meal at school, I remember the SSP tabling the bill for universal school meals in Scotland. I also recall how it was voted down by Scot Lab, the Lib Dems and the Tories. Imagine a group of overweight politicians taking the food directly out of children’s mouths? Sickening when you think about it. Apparently the policy benefits the wrong children. Are we seriously suggesting that no child from a middle class background is neglected or abused and that they all receive a nutritious meal every day? How ridiculous is that?
A nation with one of the poorest diets and lowest life expectancy rates in the western world had the opportunity to make the simplest of changes to change eating habits and yet it was rejected. At the time, the Education Minister Nicol Stephen said that there just wasn’t enough money to pay for it. However, he stated that the Scottish government was looking at other alternatives to make Scottish children healthier and achieve similar outcomes to Finland. How’s that looking sixteen years on, Nicol?
Talk about lack of long term vision.
For the chattering classes in England, last week’s panic was over taxes on private schools. Imagine having the luxury of paying thousands upon thousands of pounds for your children’s education and yet being asked to contribute a minimal amount of tax to ensure our society is healthier and happier. Radio 4’s Today programme were in St. Albans, where a selection of carefully chosen people ‘on the street’ were moaning that they would have to send their children to a state school if the plans were implemented. Imagine.
The bottom line is that this is an excellent idea. If we aren’t going to get rid of private schools then let’s tax them and pull their charitable status.
A free school meal is a way to directly stop all those crisp and sweetie laden packed lunches. Parents may continue giving their weans fizzy juice, Greggs and chocolate on the way to school but at least we can give them one good meal when they are being educated. A way to control those sugar highs and dips which affect concentration in every classroom. It might just change a generation’s eating habits. With our NHS under immense strain from the numbers requiring care as a result of our obese society, surely it’s worth a shot? I wonder how many lives could have been improved if not for the narrow mindedness of Nicol and his cronies sixteen years ago?