Free School Meals and Universalism

"This new policy is a welcome step in the right direction however and is a well executed piece of opposition. B minus, some good ideas, room for improvement."

Universalism is a principle that has always been at the heart of Labour Party policy regardless of who the leader is.

The party's new policy to provide free school meals via a tax on private schools is therefore a welcome step in the right direction in tackling economic inequality within our education system.

Recent research (helpfully pointed out to me by shadow public health minister Sharon Hodgson) by St Mary's University has found that two thirds of children currently in poverty do not qualify for free schools meals, as the eligibility threshold is just over £16,000 per annum.

This urgently needs fixing. Critics of the policy, announced today by Jeremy Corbyn and Labour's shadow education secretary Angela Rayner, has been criticised by some as 'feeding the rich'.

Schoolsweek's Laura McInerney raised a valid point yesterday when she noted the need to spend money on families earning less than the threshold.

Labour's new policy is, make no mistake, a nod to middle income families. But to put all families earning over £16,000 in that bracket is a mistake.

What needs changing is a threshold that unfairly penalises families who are in in work poverty (the research by St Mary's also shows that of children currently in receipt of free school meals, two thirds have at least one parent in work.)
In recent years, free school meals have been overwhelmingly targeted towards those with both parents out of work and this has highlighted the flaws in the logic of successive Conservative-led governments that finding a job is the best way to address income inequality for those families.

Breakfast clubs are an excellent way of providing the first (and most important!) meal of the day to children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

Research by Child Poverty Action Group has shown a significant demand for breakfast clubs as the number of children in relative poverty has increased by 500,000 since 2010, while 1.3 million children are predicted to be living in absolute poverty by 2020.

Breakfast clubs are an important way of addressing these children going hungry and Labour should be championing them as part of a three-pronged approach including raising the threshold for free school meals and an approach to free school meals that is grounded in universalism.

This new policy is a welcome step in the right direction however and is a well executed piece of opposition. B minus, some good ideas, room for improvement.

 

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