Why are we arguing over feeding hungry children? – Liberal Article
Note: The following article was written before 8 November 2020. Reference to the government’s second U-turn is made in the responses.
I understand you will never entirely agree with the party you vote for; it is unrealistic. But how will conservatives justify continuing support for their party after it voted against feeding hungry children?
Striking down Labour’s extension of free school meals at a vote of 322 to 261 is nothing short of cruel and evil. It highlights how out of touch our current government actually is.
Now, I can already hear “The stimulus package handed to the local authority is meant to cover the cost!”. Forgive me for my pessimism, but food insecurity is immediate, current. It is not something that should be tied up in bureaucracy with much of the money leaking out or ill-used because the local authority is, you guessed it, overworked, understaffed, and underpaid.
In my own borough, Conservatives are offering 39p per child per day over the Christmas holidays. Furthermore, the direct provisions of providing extended free school meals deals with the problem immediately. It saves time, energy and ensures the money funded goes straight to those in need.
During a time when Johnson’s approval rating is at an all-time low, it does not make sense for the Conservative Party to actively vote against campaigns that aim to help those who’ve supported them since the 2016 referendum. Is ‘voting conservatively’ on this matter worth the public outrage and terrible media coverage? Conservatives have pledged to help those ‘left behind’ but how can they do that when they are taking away the fuel that drives the next generation?
If a child arrives at school hungry they lose one hour of teaching time a day. Furthermore, over half of teachers say it’s a significant factor for underperformance in exams. This shows the knock-on effect of hunger manifests itself mentally, emotionally, as well as physically.
The loudest support for the cut comes surprisingly from both ends of the wealth spectrum; they hold the belief that it is the parents’ responsibility to feed their children. Although this idea is agreeable in theory, it is harmful and unrealistic in practice.
Firstly, you’re allowing children to suffer the unfair consequences of their parents’ decision making. It is not the child’s fault, so why should they go hungry? Also, this rhetoric shames people into asking for help.
Secondly, during a time where food insecurity has rocketed and further job instability is imminent as the second wave hits, it is twisted to take away this lifeline.
Like with most issues it is important to amplify the voices of those it affects. This is why Marcus Rashford’s rally to end food poverty amongst children is so important. However, the responsibility of community organisation to top up the Conservatives shortcomings should not fall to a 22-year-old.
The level of hypocrisy of Matt Hancock’s words: “what we need is collaboration, people working together. I totally agree.”, is laughable. If the social safety net is not big enough to catch every hungry child, it’s failed.
For those who do not believe it is the government’s responsibility to interfere, I would like to suggest that during a pandemic, hunger is a public health issue. Those that are eating a well-rounded, nutrient-rich diet are going to be less are going to be able to prevent, fight, and recover from infections. Furthermore, free school meals have been linked to the lowering obesity levels amongst poorer pupils; something Boris Johnson has been very vocal about in his campaign to cut obesity.
Then there is the extra moral strain being placed on the public and small businesses that the conservatives are responsible for picking up from the government’s gross negligence. I am all for large conglomerates setting up charitable organisations, but this is not what’s happening.
We are all aware of the catastrophic effect COVID-19 has had on the economy. So why is Hancock guilt-tripping those already under financial stress to provide economic help to the vulnerable they promised to serve?
This is not an argument of government interference and the personal responsibility of parents. This is about the Conservatives choosing not to show up to fulfil their duty of care towards some of society’s most vulnerable: hungry children.
Written by Guest Liberal Writer, Lucy Severn
Point of Information
Free Meals Don’t Solve Bigger Problems – A Conservative Response
I’ve been vocal opposition to FSM since the whole debate has started and my position has not shifted whatsoever. I’m pleased to be able to throw in my two cents on this matter.
I’m one of the conservatives who is entirely opposed to this and rest assured, even the Conservative party was divided on this issue. So, let’s get to the heart of the matter:
- The government isn’t an extension of a parent. I’m sure that socialists would love that, yet this is purely unrealistic. If one chooses to have children, one should understand the consequences of having them. I don’t imagine people consciously allowing their kids to starve and where there’s a want, there’s a way.
- The government shouldn’t be pushed around by a random footballer and make constant U-turns. This just proves them spineless. I have absolutely no defence of this government in regards to this, I believe they should have stuck to their guns.
- It is the tendency of Labour to propose bills that will intentionally present the Conservatives as evil and the working-class parents as helpless. Often, bills are being voted down for small details that others may not be aware of. For example, Tories in the Commons know that there will be a better, more tailored support coming or the wording of the bill makes no sense. Failing to acknowledge this, unwittingly or intentionally, then puts Conservatives in a perfect trap. They’re being painted as evil and their socialist counterparts are the fighters for good, even if it’s not that clear-cut.
I’m not sure if Lucy has seen a thread on Twitter made by Marcus Rashford, but he made a list of all the charities and small businesses that have offered free meals to children regardless. Guess that charity works best, after all.
One issue that I will not shy away from is the argument that this mess was caused by the government – never-ending lockdowns and unemployment. But the resolution is simple: lift the lockdown and let the parents feed their children.
Written by Junior Conservative Writer, Dinah Kolka
We need to put political motives aside and stop arguing – A Labour Response
This is a very aptly titled article; the fact we need to be having this argument is “cruel”, and Lucy convincingly says everything that needs to be said.
This isn’t an issue that should be tied up in bureaucracy – correct. It also shouldn’t be one tied up in politics. Those MPs who chose to vote conservatively actively chose to align with their traditional party rhetoric over the compassionate, moral option: extending free school meals.
Don’t get me wrong though – the government still has a huge role to play. Food is a necessity. It’s a necessity that requires policies and packages to help those in need, without condemning the circumstances of struggling families.
While the recent U-turn can be credited to Marcus Rashford and significant public backlash, it shouldn’t have been their responsibility in the first place. The government should have been doing more. They still should be.
Finally, I’d like to reply to Dinah’s Conservative response:
- While I disagree with a lot, I am in agreement that I also don’t believe a parent would consciously allow their kid to starve. But, for me, this says a lot more about the failure of the system, and the lack of support in existence. It only betters the argument for free school meals. Struggling families and their children need these often because of circumstances beyond their control.
- Perhaps the government’s U-turn was ‘spineless’, but I hope they can put political motives and pride aside to realise it was necessary to help those in need.
- While I can’t speak for every Labour member, for me it’s not about condemning one political party or the other. How can the call for free school meals be seen as anything but good? Calling for free school meals is a moral act. And a necessary one.
Ultimately, we need to stop arguing about this. Hunger and food insecurity are issues that existed a long time before the pandemic and they will continue to exist beyond it. Extending free school meals is just one necessary step in the right direction.
Written by Co-Chief Labour Writer, Abi Clargo