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Free school meals

Lithographic of Christ's sacred heart

Posted originally on Facebook but putting here too as it’s more widely readable…

Some thoughts on free school meals…

On social media today I’ve seen all kinds of personal opinion about free school meals and why the government are right not to extend the scheme through school hols into next year. I’ve seen people talk about creating reliance on ‘the system’; it’s not the government’s responsibility; parents should budget better; parents shouldn’t spend their money on cigarettes, alcohol or drugs; parents should grow their own veg or forage what they can and cook it (yes I actually read this); people on low income being called names like ‘bludgers’, ‘lazy’, ‘layabouts’, insinuations about people’s ability to parent, these people shouldn’t be ‘allowed to have kids, and so on. Marcus Rashford (a footballer who has been campaigning for FSM) has been accused of ‘celebrity virtue signalling’ today by an MP.

Honestly I thought I’d be angry but I’m just really sad. I’m sad that so many of us form an opinion on the lives of people we largely don’t know. I’m sad that we believe in some kind of negative stereotype, often reinforced by the press, that might actually be relevant to only a tiny portion of people. I’m sad that so many simply offer an opinion or repeat someone else’s without doing our homework. How many of those commenting and posting today I wonder have actually spent any time at a foodbank? have actually met those struggling with the shame of having to ask for help to support their families? Or those who have had some bad luck – lost a job or suffered an injury. Many of those who are skilled in trades for example are self-employed and work damn hard, but break an arm or just get sick for a week and that’s time of not getting paid, of not being able to play the bills.

So many of us view things from a place of privilege or from our own experiences. We talk a lot about privilege in this day and age but how many of us actually recognise it? In my favourite book of all time ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ there is a quote from Atticus Finch, one of the main characters, who says this:

‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it’

Atticus Finch in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee

If we all did this a bit more we I am sure we would have so much more compassion and understanding for each other. It’s so easy to make assumptions. I don’t profess to be an expert here by the way, we all see things through our own experiences, me included, we all need to try harder.

Why can’t a parent budget better? – well, even if you are great at budgeting (and that’s a learned skill in itself), if your income is so tight it’s down to the last penny any tiny thing can throw it out – the washing machine breaks (and that’s assuming you could ever afford to buy one in the first place), your child has a growth spurt and suddenly needs new clothes, someone gets sick and you need the public transport fair to get to the hospital, and so on… and then if just one payment takes you overdrawn you get a charge, and then that too takes away from your finely tuned budget and then next month, you haven’t managed to make it up then you get another charge, and so on…

Why can’t people save for a rainy day event? see above…

Why can’t they forage for food? someone actually commented this! I mean really?! What about those who live in inner cities? What about those who work long hours or more than one job? Where do they find the time? What about growing your own food – because of course everyone has their own garden right? And then there’s the cost of tools/ seeds/plants etc and you know there’s only so many tomatoes or potatoes you can grow in the average semi garden…

Reliance on the system? If you’ve ever had to apply for benefits you’ll know how hard it is, the paperwork – and mostly now online – which assumes access to the internet – is endless and intrusive and difficult to complete. A number of people we helped with the food hub in the summer couldn’t fill in the hub form themselves because they didn’t have anyway to access the document digitally. There are those who moan about people on low incomes having smart phones – well what if that is your only way to get online? Or you can’t get a contract for a landline because you don’t have a good credit rating – because of those bank charges that were not your fault? And that’s assuming you can even get a bank account too. Don’t think anyone ‘wants’ to rely on this.

All of this is also to assume that there are no physical or mental health concerns that might affect how someone lives, and if they are able to find out what support they might find and how they apply for it too.

See how many assumptions there are just in those few sentences?

So, I’m sad that, again, some of the most vulnerable in our society are being let down. This isn’t a party political post but just a thought – the government were really keen to push money on food for the eat out scheme in the summer – which I’d suggest was only really helpful if you could afford to eat out in the first place. I mean let’s face it, if you’re on a low income, or on benefits, a £40 meal you can now get for £20 makes no difference – £20 could get up to a week’s worth of food! one meal at that price isn’t going to even be a consideration.

What I would love to see from any party is a demonstration of compassion and understanding. There’s nowt wrong with celebrities highlighting issues, but it would be so much better if our elected leaders were doing the same. Leaders who lead by example, helping us all to think about how others lives might be. Who might encourage us all to look out for one another. Like a version of herd immunity where we all protect each other by our love for one another and with the recognition that sometimes shit happens for no reason and no one is to blame. I’d vote for that any day.

Call me a bleeding heart lefty if you like, but you know Christ died for us, so if my heart is aching for those who are suffering, I’d say that’s a pretty good label.

Christ showing his Sacred Heart.
Colour lithograph. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

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