Morning Star | 07 April, 2017
FREE school meals for every primary school child would be a godsend to millions of families across the country.
Labour is absolutely right to be championing such a policy — and right too in proposing to pay for it by slapping VAT on private school fees.
This immediately gives the lie to Theresa May’s tired riposte that Labour, as usual, was planning to “bankrupt Britain.”
The value of the school meals initiative launched by Jeremy Corbyn and shadow education secretary Angela Rayner in Lancashire goes beyond the cost of a kid’s lunch because it strikes at the heart of the austerity myth the Tories — with willing accomplices in the monopoly media — have been trying to dupe us with for seven years.
If anybody doubts that free school meals are needed, they should check the stats.
Last month the government’s own figures showed the number of children living in poverty grew by 100,000 in 2015-16 to hit four million, the highest figure for a decade.
This shocking total — nearly a third of all children in one of the richest countries in the world — is set to rise further under the Conservatives’ vicious child benefit cap, which came into force yesterday.
This limits child tax credit to the first two children in a family, a brazenly discriminatory move which punishes children in larger families who are already most likely to live in poverty and one which is expected to push another 200,000 below the poverty line.
Teachers have consistently reported the worsening effects of Tory austerity on children’s health and education.
At its conference last year, teachers’ union NASUWT unveiled research showing that the number of children who are so hungry they cannot concentrate during lessons had risen for the third year running.
As we again approach the teachers’ conference season there is nothing to suggest the situation has become any less bleak — which is why Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, has emphatically welcomed Labour’s new policy, pointing out that for many children in poor families a school lunch “may well be their main meal of the day.”
Grouches like Denis MacShane might whinge about a handout for the middle classes (as a former MP who went to prison for expenses fraud, he knows something about handouts) but the current means-tested system is deeply problematic.
The stigma felt by children publicly identified as poor is real, and children have even been known to go without food rather than be “shamed” by their peers.
More predictable is the self-righteous fury of the private schools brigade — but Rayner has told these leeches where to get off.
Confronted on Radio 4 with the usual sob-story about hard-working parents foregoing “luxuries” to send their little darlings off to private school, her rejoinder — that the vast majority of parents could not afford to do so whatever sacrifices they make — was the right one.
“I want to see a really good state system that is comprehensive,” Rayner explained. This is a far more important concern for a potential education secretary than conceding to private school representatives who moan that they might go out of business — which might count as scaremongering if anyone cared.
Corbyn has also suggested that private schools could be deprived of their tax-reducing charitable status, a long overdue move for institutions which merely stack the odds further in favour of the rich.
This is a Labour policy through and through, and one which exposes a truth the Tories want to keep hidden.
There’s plenty of money in this country to pay for world-class public services. It’s just in the wrong hands.