Poverty is a serious issue in this country; that is an undisputed fact. In 2017 and 18 the Social Metrics Commission found that 14.3 million people were in poverty in the UK, 4.6 million of them children – this number is likely to have risen significantly given the Coronavirus pandemic started.
Free school meals have been an essential lifeline for many of these children. It could be their one hot meal a day, a meal they wouldn’t have had otherwise – for all school types, 17.3% of pupils in England were eligible for free school meals in January 2020.
But there has been a surge in the number of UK children registering for free school meals, with an estimated 1 million pupils recently signing up for the first time, according to analysis by the Food Foundation think tank.
The pandemic saw the extension of free school meals (via food parcels and supermarket vouchers) through the summer holidays. However, there has been controversy due to the Government’s decision not to continue this policy through the October half term despite the ongoing pandemic.
The solution for this crisis is much debated, as has been the issue of poverty relief for centuries. Should the state be responsible or should parents who can’t cope with the financial burdens of parenthood be forced to rely on the good will of those more fortunate than them? Those who favour a free market seem to naturally prefer the latter, whereas those on the left economically support the former. The free marketers would look at footballer Marcus Rashford’s interventions in raising money for children and nod their heads; if honours like the MBE can be used to encourage charity like this, great. If charity was solving poverty then this would be a fantastic solution. But it’s not.
The sporadic and inconsistent nature of charity work, whilst doing immense good for certain people at certain times, means it will never be a consistent and effective alternative to state intervention. You must also consider that honours, accolades and ‘good press’ are poor incentives for the wealthy to part with their money. Take Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world; he could do immense good, earn many awards and become a global hero, but he hasn’t. He’d rather keep his money. So for any sort of effective and consistent poverty relief the state must play a role in incentivising the wealthy to contribute, and managing how that contribution is distributed.
Certainly, some people resent paying taxes; but it is widely accepted by most as a civic responsibility, a contribution toward making society a better place. The NHS, the police service, education; all rely on taxpayer money – and these are the bedrock of our society. Sure, you might prefer to go private if you can afford to, but it is hard to deny that we get excellent services considering that they are free at the point of use. A society like this should be the best of both worlds – we allow those who have the freedom to be successful and make money, whilst ensuring that the most vulnerable are not allowed to suffer because of their lack of economic stability. This should be the type of society that Americans see from across the Atlantic and envy.
But this is not the reality we are seeing in our country. Many members of our current Government don’t believe that the income tax we pay would be well used to feed hungry kids. Yet they can afford to waste over £100 billion on Brexit (a figure which is said to have exceeded the total paid to the EU by us since membership), and take a wage of over £80,000 per annum plus expenses, a wage which is continually rising. Think about this; would you rather the taxes you paid be given to Boris Johnson and his ministers to spend on new homes in Chelsea or would you rather it went to making sure children in poverty got a nutritious meal every day? Although there is plenty of convincing debate about whether we should tax the wealthy more, we must first consider the poor financial priorities of this Government.
So, what is the take away here? Some people in this country live in extreme poverty and the majority of the time this is not their fault. Even if it was, it’s certainly not their children’s fault, and at the end of the day it doesn’t matter who you blame (although I would definitely encourage you to blame the Government). The point is that it’s morally reprehensible for a country as rich as ours to have so many children, and adults for that matter, going hungry because of poverty. Based on our Government’s spending patterns, it’s clear where their priorities lie: evidently not in the well-being of their citizens. Charity may be a valuable lifeline for many in poverty, but it also represents a failure of the state to look after its own people.
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