Free school meals failure 'shameful and shameless' - Kenny MacAskill

Some aspects of free school meals are complicated but last week’s proposal in Westminster was not.

A child helps a member of staff to carry food donations.
A child helps a member of staff to carry food donations.

It was simply to support an extension of provision, and only for those qualifying, over the coming school holidays and until next April.

A no brainer you’d think. We’re in the midst of a pandemic, unemployment’s rising, poverty increasing and life for all kids is challenging. Let’s help those most in need and anyone who saw the child interviewed about hunger on a TV programme cannot help but have been moved to action, indeed if not to tears, so poignant was it.

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None of the challenges in arguments over universal free school meals existed. Now that latter concept’s something I support but agree with the strategy of building up capacity and extending eligibility by age as children grow up in the system and in fact culture.

Demands years ago, in Holyrood, that universal free school meals be brought in immediately and for all were impractical. School dinner halls weren’t big enough, staff weren’t there to supervise and most importantly many kids railed against it.

My own two teenage boys at the time flatly refused to countenance it, preferring to go outwith school at lunchtime with their pals. But with primary one to three growing up in it, it’s time to extend it and hopefully end up where Finland is, where it is free for all and is just a relaxed part of the school day. But that’s another debate.

Last week was simply about helping the most vulnerable and at a critical time. Rather than reaching out to assist, it instead it brought out the worst in the Tories, with backbenchers unleashed, if not actively encouraged to let rip. The feckless poor portrayed by some and a dependency culture denounced by those ironically most entitled.

Some of the comments bordered on the ridiculous with suggestions of free school meal vouchers being a currency for drug deals, traded by addicted parents. Truly desperate and no wonder it’s forced some to back track, as well as bringing forth a huge backlash. Scum’s not the word, shameful and shameless are.

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