Feeding hungry kids: the English public strikes back

After the government voted to deny £15 vouchers to low income families in England so that their kids wouldn’t go hungry during the school holidays, a local pub banned the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, from its premises.

For life.

It did the same to three other local MPs who voted against the vouchers with him.  Pubs can do that here, but they usually reserve it for the kind of customer who sets off fireworks on the bar or pulls the plumbing out of the men’s room. But I guess it’s a question of who does more damage in the long run.

The ban was posted on the pub’s Facebook page, which also reproduced a menu from one of the House of Commons’ many restaurants, where steak and chips are going for £11.77–a price subsidized by the taxpayer.

Don’t usually do politics but here goes,” the Facebook page said. “I have never known a Government which is consistently the wrong end of every argument.”

*

Irrelevant photo: The Cornish coastline.

In tweeting about against the vouchers, Conservative MP Ben Bradley wrote, “At one school in Mansfield 75% of kids have a social worker, 25% of parents are illiterate. Their estate is the centre of the area’s crime.

“One kid lives in a crack den, another in a brothel. These are the kids that most need our help, extending FSM doesn’t reach these kids.”

FSM being free school meals. This is shorthand for the voucher program. Which is also shorthand.

Don’t worry about it.

When he started catching flak for that and a few other tweets, he complained that they’d been taken out of context. I’m still trying to figure out how to squeeze any context at all into 280 characters. Short of writing in Japanese, Chinese, or Korean, where a single character can be a whole word. 

*

In the meantime, players from Leeds United donated £25,000 for kids’ meals over the school break, and the club they play for has announced that it will match that.  

Businesses, restaurants, and local governments (including at least a few led by the Conservative Party–the party that voted against the £15 vouchers) have also stepped up with offers to help, and Conservatives are beginning to say that the government misjudged the feelings of the country. Not that kids need to eat and they want to do the right thing, but that people are mad at them.

They don’t even know how to say, “Ooops,” right.

All of it goes a good distance toward restoring my battered faith in humanity, but it’s worth remembering that whether kids get fed will depend on where they live. In some places there’ll be multiple offers and in others there’ll be none.

*

This morning, I listened to Matt Hancock, the secretary of state for health and social care, interviewed on the radio. I was driving and it was him or nothing. We eventually realized that nothing was much better, but before we did I was interested to hear that he’s not singing Ben Bradley’s tune. I doubt even Ben Bradley’s singing Ben Bradley’s tune anymore. It didn’t go over well. What he said was that of course the government’s making sure every child gets fed, but local governments are better at that than central government and we’ve given them money for it.

But, the interviewer said, that was way back when and it was spent long ago.

We’ve given them money, he said in seventeen different ways.

It’s an approach I’ve heard a lot in the last few years. Ask a government minister why the NHS / social care / the schools / fill in the blank is so short of money and they’ll tell you how much money they already spent on the NHS / social care / the schools / fill in the blank. It doesn’t answer the question, and sometimes they’re talking about money that was allocated before William the Conqueror’s boat first touched England’s southern shores, but it sounds like an answer and can usually be counted on to derail the conversation.

*

Since as a nation we’re not handing low-income parents £15 to waste on feeding their kids, let’s review another spending program. No one tweeted that the £12.7 billion program to help the self-employed through the pandemic was pouring spaghetti sauce into crack dens, but a study from the Resolution Foundation says it gave £1.3 billion to workers who hadn’t lost any income while successfully missing 500,000 who did. The study blames a combination of strict eligibility rules and weak assessment. Basically, they excluded lots of categories of the self-employed and then didn’t ask people in the categories they accepted to document their losses. 

The  study also said that the self-employed were hit even harder in the first six months of the pandemic than employees were. Three out of ten stopped working during the worst of the crisis, and one in six is still out of work. 

About 5 million people count as self-employed in Britain, although some of them, inevitably, will be the mythically self-employed. It pays for corporations to offload the expenses of employing people by calling them freelancers, and people are desperate enough to accept that.

Do you remember when life was going to get endlessly better? 

*

The lockdown in Wales is tighter than England’s, and it’s closed shops that sell nonessential goods, which has had the odd consequence of restricting supermarket sales of the same items. They’ve had to have had to cover shelves to hide the socks, the decorative hair thingies, the–

Actually, it’s hard to decide where to draw the line. The cake decorations? They’re edible, so maybe they can stay. The birthday candles? Non-edible but on the same shelves as the cake decorations. The mugs that say, “You’re the best”? The ones that say, “I changed my mind. You’re a cockwomble”?

Let’s turn to the experts: Nonessentials include electrical goods, telephones, clothes, toys and games, garden products, and homewares, and the decision on individual items depends on what part of the supermarket they’re in rather than their inherent essentialness. So forget the cups, but you can probably buy birthday candles.

Supplies for the “essential upkeep, maintenance and functioning of the household,” such as batteries, light bulbs, and rubber gloves, are okay. Because who could function without rubber gloves?

It’s easy to make fun of, and I’m having a hard time holding myself back, but there is a logic to it. To slow the virus, you need to shut down everything you can, but they don’t want to hand supermarkets the business they’ve denied to small shops. Yes, it’s crazy. And yes, it makes sense anyway.

*

While we’re talking about the odd places that rules lead us into, England’s rule of six limits gatherings–indoor, outdoor, underground, and hallucinated–to six people unless they’re all from a single household (it’s slightly more complicated than that, but close enough for our purposes). But some of London’s fancier restaurants have discovered that if people are talking business they can gather in groups of thirty.

Wheee. Take your foot off the brake and don’t be such a scaredy cat. 

One of the restaurants emailed its client list to let them know that “when the topic is business you can still meet over a fabulous working lunch or dinner without the restriction of the ‘single household rule.’ ” 

You will, however, need to employ at least one overcooked adjective and a full set of quotation marks, however unnecessary and aesthetically offensive they may be. 

At one expensive restaurant, the Sexy Fish, caviar sushi sells for £42 a piece, and you can buy a £16,000 Armand de Brignac champagne if you really need to. The reporter who scouted the place and asked diners if they were discussing business got himself thrown out. Which was lucky, because I doubt the Guardian’s budget stretches as far as the sushi, never mind the champagne. 

54 thoughts on “Feeding hungry kids: the English public strikes back

  1. Question:

    All of it goes a good distance toward restoring my battered faith in humanity, but it’s worth remembering that whether kids get fed will depend on where they live. In some places there’ll be multiple offers and in others there’ll be none.

    Maybe I’m reading the Bradley quote wrong, but isn’t this what he was saying, that the FSM money isn’t reaching all of the kids who need it?

    Second question, under FSM do they actually get food, or is it a “check” that they then take somewhere to get food? And, if the latter, is there anything that assures the “check” is being used only on food, and only for the kids?

    Liked by 2 people

    • FSM is free school meals–meals served in schools. The vouchers went only to families eligible for them, and they were just that–vouchers that could be spent only on food. No one stands around to see whose mouth the food goes into, but I don’t think you’re advocating that. You could pick the voucher scheme apart, but to refuse to do it because it’s imperfect without coming up with a better system? That’s obscene. They’re using it as political cover, not looking for a better way to make sure kids are fed. As for Bradley’s claims about crack dens and brothels, I wouldn’t trust him as far as the door. He also claimed that the head teacher in a local school agreed with his assessment of the families there, and the head teacher was publicly horrified by what he’d said.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Okay, thanks. We have what is called Free School Lunch (no abbreviations, sorry), some even provide a free breakfast. Since most schools are closed (using distance learning) the lunch program is being handled differently by each district.

        One here has given each student a 4-digit code. If you want the week’s lunches you provide the code the week prior, on Monday someone comes in, provides the code, then goes home with the lunches for the week.

        Even though 70% of the school qualifies only around 15% are taking advantage of it. Apparently the lunches aren’t worth driving to school.

        Liked by 1 person

        • They might not be worth it, but when people are living on the edge, believe me, life gets complicated. I can think of many reasons why the meals might not get picked up–everything from lack of gas money or a car breaking down to a family crisis. Don’t be quick to dismiss people who don’t do what, from the outside, looks simple and right and obvious.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I wasn’t being dismissive, simply providing the information. I deliver food for the regional food bank. Many local food pantries are closed, so to get the food to the people the regional bank provides free door delivery. The only caveat over the local food banks is that there is no choice of what you get, the box gets packed and we delvier one box per person per week. I’ve had people complain because they don’t like everything in the box, other people are so greatful that it takes effort to get back into the car to continue deliveries. Everyone is different.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Apologies.

              Friends of ours got a food box during the first lockdown–they’re extremely vulnerable–and households where they live had a regular trade in things from the boxes. What one household couldn’t use, another loved. It not only put everything to use, it also strengthened their sense of community.

              This evening’s news followed a pub owner who was delivering food to families. One mother was a singer who’s had no work since the pandemic hit. Another didn’t say what her story was, she just said that people have no idea what happens in other people’s lives, which is the truth. The pub owner had meant to set a limit of fifty families, but he already had eighty and couldn’t say no. A very decent guy. I hope he’s able to stay in business himself.

              Liked by 1 person

              • I can’t–he’s much too far away. I’m going to have to hope local people will take him to their hearts.

                The last several years have been terrible for pubs, though. Prices went up, and I’m sorry to say I’ve forgotten what all went into that, but it became much, much cheaper to drink at home. Business went down. Some people who still wanted the camaraderie of the pub had a few pints at home first, so they’d spend less at the pub but still come home properly sloshed. Pubs around the country have closed in great numbers. Some have become gastro-pubs, serving either high-end food or middle-end food with high-end names and descriptions, all of which shifts things away from what’s lovely about the British pub, which is that it serves as a local living room. So it didn’t go into this as a robust industry.

                Liked by 1 person

  2. Seeing the Cornish coast was a nice change of pace—I usually see the Dorset landscape from a different blog I follow.
    Isn’t there some other sort of voucher program or food support through the general welfare system?

    Liked by 1 person

    • There is–a complicated one. It was recently–god help us–simplified and they made a predictable hash of it. Not only isn’t it enough to live on, they built in a waiting time before any applicant gets the first bit of money, which is just what a person broke enough to apply can’t survive. But basically, it’s not enough money, so you find people who are getting universal credit but can’t make ends meet.

      The Cornish coast is gorgeous. No slur on Dorset, of course–I’m close enough that they could come get me.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The thing we’ve seen in the Black community, which is mostly Democrat,” he (Jared Kushner) said, “is that President Trump’s policies are the policies that can help people break out of the problems that they’re complaining about, but he can’t want them to be successful more than they want to be successful.”
    Is it possible to ban this guy not only from restaurants and bars in DC but also from the White House?
    If only those people would stop complaining.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I can’t manage without rubber gloves. Well, I could, but only for a short time. I won’t go into the details, but I have a skin condition on my hands and wrists which is kept under control, in part, by wearing gloves when I’m washing up and doing housework. It’s in other places as well, but rubber gloves can’t help everywhere.

    I’m glad I don’t have to decide what’s essential and what isn’t. Chocolate would be on my list of non-essentials, but decent loose leaf tea would be an essential.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The rich get more and the poor get shafted. Again.
    If I was in London, I’d round up 30 pals, say, some Yardies, East European migrants, some Polish plumbers and Pakistani cooks and and a few single mums and a savvy journalist and hold a business meeting.I am assuming the flash restaurant would have a decent creche?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The Senate is recessing again as soon as they confirm the new judge who will do away with health care in the middle of the pandemic, and will not have time to approve any money for the people effected by being out of work all this time.
    One difference seems to be that, over here, remarks are being made that it will effect the states with Democratic governors more. Britain seems not to have decided that any shire ending in “sex” gets $$ but not the others, or some other such arbitrary standard – other than “they’re poor over there/”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, during the ten years of pre-Covid austerity, Conservative areas were hit with much lighter cuts than poorer, Labour-voting areas. Purely by accident, I’m sure. But compared to the US, the efforts here to support people through the pandemic have been–

      Okay, badly flawed but a hell of a lot better, I think.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I saw that post re the meals and the prices of menu and food etc. I also heard of one poor woman who went to buy tampons etc and was told “not essential” Tesco said it was a mistake. I have also heard that Wales government are in cohorts with Amazon. If thats true I dont like that one bit.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. In the Australian State of Victoria, they were hit by a vicious second wave generated by free enterprise (i.e. it was generated by nitpickers who saw using private security companies to monitor quarantine hotels as being far superior (and more profitable) compared to the police or the armed forces doing that job and that using them was probably closet socialism/fascism anyway). Their Premier, Daniel Andrews, locked down the State, fronted a daily press conference for months, and suffered the slings and arrows of the sovereign righters and the condemnation of anyone slightly to the right of Genghis Khan. Victoria has now entered a new phase of zero new infections (just in case you missed that, that is zero new infections). It’s called leadership.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Reporting from the Welsh lockdown, I haven’t been into a shop yet but I did notice lots of “older” people taking exercise (on the one day it wasnt pouring with rain here). I had read somewhere that the over 65s physical activity levels had gone up during lockdown. Possibly one of the few up sides to this thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As Doug Jacquier’s comment says, a fierce lockdown in part of Australia got them to zero cases. Whether they’ll be able to maintain that, since they’re in contact with the rest of the country, is another question, but the point still stands: Fierce lockdowns are miserable but they work. But we–or at least our governments–seem to be doing everything short of what’s needed, guaranteeing that any real response will have to be even fiercer, and for all I know longer.

      Arghhhhhhhh.

      Like

  10. Pingback: Feeding hungry kids: the English public strikes back – Maxinfo24

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