Labour’s Free School Meals: A Step in the Right Direction?

“Tax, tax, tax, spend, spend, spend”, say the right in criticism of the Labour party’s new policy, evidently shocked by the absurd prospect that sooner or later the Tories are going to have to pay up for what they ought to have been paying over the last seven years: more tax for the welfare of this rapidly declining country. The UK’s current state of affairs are embarrassing; the NHS is dying, slowly and painfully, as we realise Brexit is doing very little to aid the situation in spite of what that bus once upon a time promised us, Scotland are more eager than ever to abandon ship, and our recent concerns have diverted on a tangent so equivocally off-topic as the looming threat of UKIP and immigration policies have regressed into playground bickering over the ‘embarrassing’ colour of our passports and that lump of rock, Gibraltar. The latest ‘scandal’, however, is Jeremy Corbyn’s strategy to implement free school meals for all children in primary education, a policy even the right are struggling to critique reasonably.

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Currently, all pupils in the first three years of primary school and those from low-income families receive free school meals. However, the Labour party propose to extend the free school meals to all children throughout primary school by charging a 20% VAT on private schools, who so-far have got by tax-free on the basis that private schools are registered as charitable beneficiaries for society, which is a little outdated to say the least. The Independent Schools Council claim the average cost of private education is a little over £16,000 per child a year, whereas boarding schools rake in over £30,000 and the best-of-the-best claiming a whopping £40,000 – a significant rise above the average salary of most Britons which lie somewhere between £25,000 to £30,000 a year. Mike Buchanan, the head of HMC (Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference) on Radio 4’s Today indirectly revealed that 4 in 5 households that provide private education for their children earn £50,000 or more a year as only 1 in 5 earned less. This begs the question: what’s another £3,000 a year to them? Well, a lot, according to those belonging to the 1 in 5 bracket who have “worked and saved really hard”, already sacrificing summertime holiday’s and scraping back on other luxuries in order to fund their children’s education. Along this vein, the Independent Schools Council have argued that the increase will bury the smaller private schools, leading to a rise in closures and putting more pressure on state schools. Furthermore, they argue that this will perpetuate the gap between the wealthy elites and, well, everyone else. The cycle will continue as the closures ironically place the children back into tax-funded and state reliant education, while those that remain standing appeal to only the very, very, financially privileged. Ultimately, the narrow percentage of upper middle-classes are the ones who will suffer; a particularly slender market in the grand scheme of the upper echelons of society that breeze through at what – shockingly – former conservative Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has described as an “effective 20 per cent discount” in the “prestige service that secures their children permanent positional edge in society.”

For the sake of a balanced argument, the step does seem to teeter on the edge of petty punishment for the financially affluent. Free school meals are already in place for children who desperately need it and whose parent’s income have been means tested. It also raises concerns over whether the free school meals will make any substantial difference or benefit to families falling on or below the breadline, especially in light of Theresa May’s recent welfare cuts. But at least it’s a start, and it demonstrates what the Labour party are fundamentally rooted and allianced to: ensuring a fair and equal society against privileged minorities.

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It’s a promising move for Labour, and refreshing, too, when article after article disseminate the same old drivel about Corbyn’s poor leadership, his rumoured resignation, or his stance on Brexit. Child Poverty Action Group are in favour of the new policy, and free school meals encourage an increase in better nutrition with inspiring health benefits. Angela Rayner argues that the provision will end the social stigma in which children are anxious to claim their free meals in case of bullying, and Corbyn claims that it will inspire a sense of community between the children who will no longer be separated from those eating sandwiches and those eating hot meals. Economically, the policy stands strong as well, as the VAT will raise around 1.5 billion, well above the policy that is estimated to cost between 700 to 900 million. The right dwell in the ideology that families ought to take care of their own without placing a burden on the tax payer, hollering that ol’ familiar twaddle that those who ‘work hard’ deserve more – forgetting the fact that not all those who ‘work hard’ correlate with monetary success, and not all those who fall into poverty are ‘benefit scroungers’. In Labour’s eyes, it’s a small price to pay, and why should the elites bathe in an undeserved tax break when there are families struggling to provide the basics for their children? When children are literally starving, it is our moral duty as a democratic society to put an end to such astounding poverty.

The welfare cuts the Tories have implemented this week are particularly disconcerting for already struggling parents, and after seven long years of Tory rule that has barraged us with so many cuts – making the poor, poorer, and the rich, richer – the second the tax-axe is hovering on the other side, the right are up in arms about it. At what point did pushing further cuts to the poor and feeding school children become unacceptable socialist lunacy? The crux of the argument remains: if you can afford to send your child to private school, you can afford to pay VAT. You can take this one comparatively minor hit. You can make some sacrifices, because the poor don’t have anything left to sacrifice. These are hard times for everyone, and you can take it because the poor cannot take even one more cut. You can take it because starving children in 21st century Britain is not a prospect we should come to terms with.

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One thought on “Labour’s Free School Meals: A Step in the Right Direction?

  1. My pet human is an idealist, I am a realist. The human would love to see a world where every child was getting a meal at school, society could be filled with joy that from the very poorest to the richest child had a meal once a day, with their peers, which was nutritional & no child at school would feel different from any other.
    Unfortunately since coming from mars to earth, I really like the idea, & yes it would be nice, but I think this is a pipe dream. It is not something that will happen. My pet human would like me to add that we both agree with you though, that at least it is showing Jeremy Corbyns mettle.

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