Child hunger is not a new problem created by Covid-19. Unfortunately, children have been going hungry for decades. Marcus Rashford’s campaign helped thousands of children over the Summer, but the call for it to return has seen politicians divided as well as the general public, as we continue to tackle living with covid-19.
The March lockdown saw businesses shut, reduced household incomes and lost jobs. This made more people seeking support from an already broken welfare system. As the Summer holidays approached, everyone was made more aware of the child hunger issue. The government supported Marcus Rashford’s campaign and created the ‘Summer food fund’. This scheme successfully supported families of over 102,000 children who were already eligible for free school meals before the pandemic struck or who recently became eligible due to loss of job. Families were given an allowance which began at £62.10 for the month of July and £56.70 for the month of August. These payments over the two month period gave families an extra £14.85 on average each week. This extra money came in the form of food vouchers which could work across 8 different supermarket chains. At this point, many major food suppliers or other companies were not supporting the government with the task of feeding these children.
The recent push for free school meals hoped to support these vulnerable children up until at least Easter. A vote in parliament said no to this request from Labour. Thousands showed their outrage and many businesses and individuals are now contributing and supporting Marcus Rashford’s campaign. However, the reporting on this controversial decision has not clearly explained why the free school meals will not continue for future holidays. Instead, the people who voted against it have been demonised and verbally abused. The government did not abandon the children like Labour and the media will have you believe even if the plan they did go with ends up being less effective than the proposed ‘free school meals’.
Why did politicians vote against free school meals?
Something which has not been widely reported or forced on our screens are the reasons why members of parliament voted against free school meals. The government had a different plan to support these struggling families. A £9 billion fund was used to tackle the issue. To put that into a recognisable figure, that would give every single household (even those not on universal credit) an extra £300. Thus, families on universal credit would receive an extra £20 a week to help pay for food; this is almost £6 more per week than what was being given over the Summer. Moreover, £63 million was given to local councils so that they could tackle the issue on a local level, which logically would be easier to manage. Instead of the general public being given the reasons why they voted against free school meals, they were instead spoon fed articles such as the articles you see below.
This bias coverage makes the issues surrounding child hunger, more political and less in the interest of the actual children. This is not to say that the government’s alternative plan will be more or less effective, but Labour and the media should be dissecting the government’s plan and looking at ways to alter it to make it more efficient, not playing political games because it is a conservative idea rather than the ‘desired’ Labour plan.
What further supports the idea of this being a political game rather than any intention to help vulnerable children, is the inclusion of certain facts which are irrelevant to the initial debate. The main figures being widely distributed are to do with MPs food allowance. Tweets such as the one below tried to claim that taxpayer’s money is being wasted feeding the rich people who voted no for feeding vulnerable children.
This claim is almost completely false. Yes, MPs do get a £25 food allowance and they do earn at least £80,000 a year, but the allowance can only be used when an MP has to stay overnight somewhere outside of their constituency as part of their parliamentary activities; it does not include alcohol. With this being said, MPs rarely stay overnight in London for their parliamentary activities. They all visit once or twice a week, but do not always stay overnight. This claim that more than £800,000 of taxpayers’ money is being wasted, has been tremendously exaggerated and misrepresented. MPs should not get a food allowance in the first place, but it further supports the fact that hungry children are being used for political games. None of the MPs who voted ‘for’ free school meals gave up their allowance in support. It is all very disingenuous and only negatively impacts the support these children need. By not acknowledging what government have decided to put in place, people are unaware of the support that is available to them. The less effective the governments plan can be made by slandering and masking the support, the better the political opposition appears. Here’s another tweet making false claims.
Who’s responsible for feeding children?
It is somewhat controversial to state that responsibility falls to the parents to feed their children. This truth does not mean that when a parent can not feed their child it is their fault. There are circumstances where the cause is completely out of the parents’ hands. It is here where welfare should be stepping in to support these households and support them to get their lives back on track. This is why we have working tax credits, job seekers allowance and free dental care etc. (More can be found here). However, there are people who’s bad choices have resulted in their children going hungry. This is where the controversy lies.
What constitutes as basic standards of living seems to vary. A shared definition of basic human rights from the UN does not state that TV, broadband or mobile phones etc. are basic human rights. These are assumed rights brought about through decades of technological advances that have made technology more widely accessible. The commonality of such products makes it seem as though they should be human rights; they unarguably make life easier. But people do live without these and have done since they were created. The fundamental flaw in technology as a human right is that we have a postal service. You can still live in today’s society and use post rather than emails. Until we move to emails and no post, that is when the argument should be made for wifi etc to be considered a human right. This dispute led to posts such as the one below being created as emotional blackmail on people’s opinions and morals.
It deliberately aims to move the line responsibility further away from the individual. If you are struggling with money to feed your children and you pay for a more elaborate TV subscription, have a phone contract exceeding £20 and/or get your nails, eyebrows or lips done, then the issue is with the prioritisation of that individual’s money. Logically, deciding between watching TV and going hungry, or no TV and eating should be an easy decision. But the line has been moved away from the individual and closer to the establishment (government). This is made more obvious by responses to this post such as the one below.
What do younger members of society think people did in the past before the common privileges we have now existed? What did their grandparents do? They played outside, went on adventures around their neighbourhoods and imagined creative games that some children still play today. Most of the people trying to move the line of responsibility will remember games such as stuck in the mud, curby and 40/40 in etc. People have forgotten or have no idea what life was like before their lives were consumed by technology.
All of this in mind, there are people who, through no fault of their own, can not afford to feed themselves or their children. This is where the welfare was intended to support people. It is not intended to support individuals who make bad choices and prioritise money incorrectly. Thus, a flawed welfare system has unfortunately allowed many people to live beyond their means and create a group of people less self motivated and accountable for their actions.
What is wrong with the current welfare system?
Everyone has a right in the UK to have social security, to live at a minimum agreed standard. The UK government try to meet these needs through the welfare system. Almost all forms of benefits are for those living at a disposition – below that agreed minimum standard or to cover expenses that were out of their control such as job loss through covid in today’s current pandemic. The benefit in particular which is the source of the most controversy is the different types of credits individuals can receive, to top up their earnings and for some, their only source of income. You can receive these types of credit for a variety of situations such as low earnings, single parent and unemployment etc.
There are many people that need this support from the government. It is supposed to help you through the hard times. No one should wish to be on these benefits forever. These benefits should cushion you so that you can get everything in order and individually better your own circumstances. Some people live quite comfortably on these types of benefits and therefore lose the incentive to try and better their circumstances. On top of this, many who do try to better themselves find that if they work too many hours or earn slightly more than the cap, they end each month with less money than they would have had if they had remained on benefits. A system which supports you, but traps you simultaneously. No wonder there are many people moving that line of responsibility. The more the government has to do for them, the less responsibility they hold on their circumstances.
People on these forms of credit do not pay taxes. So it is understandable when taxpayers see examples of where someone is claiming taxpayer’s money and living more comfortably than others who contribute to the system that pays them. Something needs to be done to incentivise people to better their own circumstances rather than throwing money at it with no real direction. A possible suggestions to support the responsibility and accountability of each individual person would be to create a minimum cost of living for all regions. This would keep people living within their means and provide incentive to do something to better their circumstances. Poverty is not comfortable and should not be made comfortable, this incentivises people to fall into it.