The Government Decides Children Can Go Hungry – Liberal Article
Taiwo Owatemi MP said it best in her speech in Parliament; “I am completely saddened that we are here.” A sentiment no doubt shared by thousands of her Labour colleagues, fellow parliamentarians, and the nation. Debates about whether children should go hungry, and the subsequent decision by parliament that they should, shows how this government has no sense of duty towards its poorest constituents.
Free School Meals (FSM), which Owatemi received, have a long history stretching back to 1879. They have helped to promote the healthy development of children, improve children’s ability to learn, and help to cushion financially strained households who are forced to make unthinkable choices. Today, FSM is the only substantial meal some of the nation’s most deprived children receive. They, along with charitable food banks, are the first defence against a starving class.
The Government’s notion that child hunger ceases to exist outside of term time is baffling. Incomes are squeezed hardest during school holidays in some low-income households. Parents must secure child care while they continue to work; the assumption that children have a carer at home is a hangover from the subjugation of women. It is not a truism of modern Britain.
The harsh reality is that with schools closing and reopening in an ad hoc nature because of COVID-19, low-income households could snap under the pressure trying to ensure their children have shelter, care, and food to eat.
The common rebuttal to welfare programs which are aimed at children is that it is the parents, not the governments, responsibility to protect their child. This is incredibly misguided; probably stemming from the notion that “they just need to work harder”. Those who use this argument probably do not realise that the system is stacked against low-income families.
Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that austerity has resulted in unemployed households with children receiving between 14-21% less a month than under the 2011 welfare system; that can be up to £100.
Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that the sharpest rise in poverty has been “in-work” poverty, meaning those who have a job are still failing to provide an adequate quality of life for themselves and their children. It is the government who decides the fate of low-income families, not themselves.
The anguish that Owatemi and I share is that there are solutions to these problems. The government just refuses to implement them.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the worsening of systemic social problems as a result of COVID-19 that the government needs to tackle. One of which was child poverty. FSM are a simple, easy measure that not only prevents the loss of a basic human right, but also ensures children are able to best use the education system provided for them. The extension out of term time would be a literal lifeline for those who are teetering on the edge of poverty. COVID-19 is truly highlighting the inadequacies of our welfare system.
The most worrying thing about this is that in the academic year 2019/2020, the numbers eligible for FSM increased across the board, as it has done across most of the Conservative governments since 2010. To be eligible for FSM, a child’s parents must have received some form of income support within the last 12 months.
We only have incomplete figures from the last academic year, but these showed that almost one in four primary aged children in the North East, as well as one in five in the North West, Greater London and the West Midlands, were eligible for FSM. In the highest in the country, Newcastle upon Tyne, it was one in three. Across the country, there was a near-uniform increase of 2% in eligibility representing almost 170,000 children.
Using the above data, it is impossible to know if these statistics a) can be definitely linked to COVID-19; or b) how many children receive them. What we do know is that anecdotal evidence from Head Teachers is that the numbers applying are spiking and that Blackpool council has seen a 21% increase in registrations.
The Government should not let children in one of the world’s wealthiest countries go hungry. Especially when a child has no agency over their financial position. A child has no say if their parent was recently made redundant; is bad with money; or are trying their hardest on minimum wage.
This can’t be cut any other way. The government has made it clear that families who are struggling to feed their children are on their own.
Written by Junior Liberal Writer, Daniel Jones
Point of Information
Disappointed but not surprised – A Labour Response
My very first article for POI stated very clearly that “Marcus Rashford may have won his battle, but I’m afraid we’ll lose the war”. I made clear my fears that eventually, the government would turn their backs on schoolchildren. That there would be nothing that you or I, nor Marcus Rashford could do about it. When I drew parallels between this government and Margaret Thatcher’s, I wasn’t taken seriously. From the bottom of my heart, I’d hoped that I would be wrong.
That’s why Daniel’s article is so bitter-sweet. I commend him for his position on the matter; I’m so glad to see this level of support for schoolchildren whose parents are struggling. But at the same time, I’m sad that we’re back here in the same position as a few months ago. Only this time, there’s no sign of the government pulling a much-needed U-turn.
Food poverty has undoubtedly worsened over the last 10 years and it can no longer continue. Based on the Trussell Trust alone, since 2008, foodbank usage has soared from 26,000 people to over 1.9 million. It’s estimated that the Trussell Trust accounts for around half of the UK’s food banks so the actual figures may be considerably higher.
At this point, there can be no more excuses for the government surrounding this topic. It is awful that so many people are in such dire conditions. But it is so much worse when children become the target of these heartless, out of touch, Dickensian policies. I seriously hope that the mounting pressure that the government is facing is enough to force their hand.
Written by Senior Labour Writer, Jack Rolfe
Disappointment is an understatement – A Conservative Response
I only have admiration for Marcus Rashford’s initiative. To be quite frank, I am shocked by the government’s stance on this issue. The government may have financed the local councils to be able to provide food for those with low income. However, the money is only being tied up by local politics and incompetency which I find disturbing.
If local councils cannot be trusted with these initiatives, then their devolution powers and responsibilities should be dragged back to the central government. The government have provided £63 million to local authorities as of 11th June 2020, specifically to aid those who cannot afford food and other essentials. This is on top of £6.5 billion of extra support for the welfare system as announced by the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP).
I am not disappointed by the lack of help being given by the government, a very controversial statement I know. It is more the way the aid, that many members of the public sincerely need, is being implemented. Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of Local Government Association’s Resources Board, stated in response to the news of further funding: “Councils have responded quickly and effectively to the complex challenges faced by local communities and this funding will help them continue to provide much-needed crisis support to households who are struggling to afford food, fuel and other essentials.”
I completely disagree with this statement. If it was true, we would not have to have it debated in the House of Commons. I sincerely believe that this initiative should be controlled solely by the government. They could base it on France’s “Ticket Restaurant” scheme. Money is put on a debit card each month which can be used in most food outlets, supermarkets, restaurants, and cafés. To be clear, the money can only be spent on foodstuffs. The government can control this through the National Insurance Scheme and money can be put on people’s accounts monthly.
This is a scheme that I think the government should seriously consider. Especially given the lack of competence shown by local governments. The government have provided the financial resources but I think the scheme needs to be more accessible to the people as local councils have made things extremely difficult. I would urge the government to decentralise power for this scheme.
Written by Guest Conservative Writer, Max Jablonowski
I’m a queer loving feminist liberal, enough to make a hard-line conservative have an aneurism. I have been forced to this position having grown up witnessing and experiencing injustice first-hand. Politics sort of came to me, which it does if you are anything but a cis-white-heterosexual man. My life and the way I wanted to live it was unavoidably political, so I may as well get involved.
I am a third-year student at the University of Exeter, studying BSc Politics and International Relations. After graduating in the summer of 2020, I will be completing an MSc in Applied Social Data Science. I will also be the Treasurer of the Politics Society, as well as of the Uni Boob Team for the 2020/2021 academic year.
I am Max Jablonowski, a second year student studying French and Politics at the University of Exeter, and I am about to go on my year abroad to Paris to complete two internships. I was Academic Events Manager of the Politics Society in Exeter and I was privileged enough to organize events such as Question Time, co-host the 2019 General Election Hustings with MWEXE and host the Rt. Hon. James Brokenshire MP, the current Minister of State for Security.