How Boris Johnson fucks up a free lunch. Again.

In case anyone suffers from the delusion that Boris Johnson’s government learns from its mistakes, it’s proving them wrong by screwing up free school meals. Again.


The free school lunch saga

When schools are in session, the poorest kids are supposed to get a free lunch. Last year, though, when schools were locked down and what would normally have been a school holiday rolled around, the government announced that it’d be fine if the kids missed lunch for a few days. They weren’t the government’s problem during the holiday.

It held that position until a football player, Marcus Rashford, who grew up poor and hungry, kicked the issue squarely into social media and made the government back down. 

Now, with schools locked down again, a mother posted a picture of the sorry collection of food that was delivered for her kid. It had about £5 worth of food, although the company that’s contracted to deliver it swears it cost £10.50 to buy, package, and deliver. 

And profit from, of course. All hail the great god of privatization. 

Irrelevant photo: cotoneaster, pronounced ka-tone-ee-aster. The birds plant them.

The food was either supposed to last five or ten days, depending on who’s right about this, but either way it hasn’t impressed nutritionists or parents or the public at large. I don’t imagine it did much for kids either. 

Rashford waded in again, at which point Boris Johnson condemned the parcels and the company apologized, saying it would toss in a free breakfast starting on January 25. 

Yes, folks, it was a miracle.

Parents and campaigners are asking, Why not just give the parents a voucher? That way they can buy what their kids like, what they’re able to prepare, and what suits the family’s preferences and diet. And guess what, if you do that, nobody has to pack, deliver, and profit from it.

Last I checked, the government was ignoring the suggestion. Because what’s the point of feeding kids if no one can make a buck out of it? Or a quid, since I’m supposed to be, at least marginally, writing British here.

Has the government learned anything? Don’t be silly. When the next school holidays come up in February,  England plans to suspend the free school lunches again

But the final word on this has to go to Conservative MP Pauline Latham, who said, “It’s only their lunch, it’s not all meals every day.”

We’ll give her this week’s compassion award, okay?

And having nothing to do with free lunches but on the subject of MPs so clueless they sound like something I made up, her fellow Conservative MP, the Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, greeted the mess that Brexit’s unleashed on the fishing industry by saying, “They’re now British fish and they’re better and happier fish for it.”

He’ll have to wait for gets next week’s compassion award, since I lost last week’s and, um, last week’s over. But I award him next week’s not just to honor his sympathy for dead and dying fish but also his sympathy for the fishing industry, which is losing £1 million a day because they can’t get their catch to the European markets. 

Fish are reported to be rotting on the docks. Happily and Britishly.


We need a shift in tone here, don’t we?

Scotland’s schools run under different rules than England’s, but even without the spur of England’s mean spiritedness, a group of chefs and hospitality workers in Edinburgh have delivered a quarter of a million meals to families during the pandemic. It’s all cost 50 p. per meal. (The p. stands for pence.) Each meal includes a main course, soup, bread, and a snack, and it’s free to anyone who asks. 

And it’s for the whole family, not just kids. Because you know what? Adults need to eat too. And while more affluent people have saved money during lockdown (no night at the pub, no meals out, no cappuccino on the way to work), the poorest people don’t have those small luxuries to give up and have had to spend more on food, gas, utilities, and the costs that go with home schooling. 

The Edinburgh program is organized by run by Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts and funded by donations, and it’s run by Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts.


The numbers

By now, over a hundred thousand people have died of Covid in Britain since the start of the pandemic. That’s almost one in every 660 people. Or to put that another way, one in every six deaths in the country can be traced back to Covid. 

Of course, whether those numbers are right depends on what you count as a Covid death. The government started out by counting everyone who’d had Covid (as far as was known) and later died, then it switched to a system that only counts people who die within 28 days of a positive test. Both are inaccurate. There’s no perfect system, but the government’s system, conveniently, gives us a lower inaccurate number.

If I was cynical, I’d think that was why they bought it in that color.

Even using the lower figures, though, Britain’s death rate per hundred thousand people is ahead of the United States’. That surprised me enough that I checked it with a second source, which confirmed it. I thought Britain was doing better than the US. Maybe that’s because the British government gives some semblance of sanity. It recognizes that the disease is real and makes noises about fighting it. Even if it gets it wrong almost every time.  

A member of the government’s science advisory group, SAGE, said, “The UK ranks seventh in the world in terms of numbers of deaths per million population through the pandemic. During the last week, our rate is the second highest in the world–a record that is ‘world-beating’ in all the wrong ways.”

Which not only confirms that we’re in deep shit but that the government’s own advisors can’t pass up a chance to whack Johnson over the head for bragging about the world-beating ways Britain was going to respond to the virus.


Whatever the numbers, intensive care patients are being moved from overloaded London hospitals to others as far as 300 miles away. But lockdown does seem to be working. The R number, a measure of how many people each infected person gives the disease to, seems to be going down.


Since we were talking about kids a minute ago, let’s talk check in on their parents. Over 70% of the women who ask to be furloughed from their jobs because the schools are closed have been turned down, or so says a survey of 50,000 working women. 

Nowhere near as many men asked for furloughs because of childcare (167 compared to 3,100) but 75% of them were turned down.

How are any of them managing? Some are taking any leave they’ve accumulated. Some are cutting back their working hours. Others (I’m extrapolating here) are managing it all and either quietly or noisily losing their minds.

The difference between furlough and any of the other alternatives is that people are paid 80% of their wages or salary if they’re furloughed. The government kicks in most of that, but the employer kicks in part, and that’s where the reluctance comes from.


Vaccine updates

Britain’s drive to vaccinate as many people as possible is being slowed down by an inconsistent supply of vaccine. Doctors’ offices aren’t able to schedule patients more than a few days in advance because they don’t have enough notice of when the vaccine will show up.

That’s called a push model: Doctors can’t order the vaccine. Instead they have to be ready to jump in and use what appears. 

Although having said that, our local GPs are almost through vaccinating the over-80 group and are scheduling the 75- to 80-year-olds. How those two pieces of information fit together is anyone’s guess.


Internationally, 95% of the vaccine doses that have been punched through human skin have gone to people in just ten countries: the US, China, the UK, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Italy, Russia, Germany, Spain, and Canada. 

It will be March before Africa gets its first vaccine doses from COVAX, an international effort to be sure vaccines reach the poorest countries. More doses are expected in June, but doses from COVAX are expected to cover just 20% of the population–by what point I can’t say.

The continent has about 30,000 new cases per day now. During the first surge, it had 18,000.


Back in Britain, there’s talk of the second vaccine dose being postponed even further than originally planned, depending on whether the first group to be vaccinated, the over-80s, turns out to be well protected by the initial dose. Public Health England says it’ll be reviewing infection data weekly to track how well the first dose works.

Some evidence is surfacing that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine may get more effective with a longer time between the two doses, but you’ll have to follow the link if you want more information on that. It involved too many numbers. I fled.

But I can tell you what the rationale is behind vaccinating the elderly before younger people: According to Professor Wei Shen Lim, for every 25 to 40 people vaccinated in a care home, one life is saved. For every 250 over-80s vaccinated, ditto: one life. You’d have to vaccinate thousands of train operators to save that one life. 

To make sense of that, though, we’d have to understand the definition of a train operator. Are we talking about the person sealed into the booth at the front who drives the train–what Americans call the engineer and the British call the train driver? Or does it mean people working with and sharing air with the public? 

Does that number hold true for bus drivers or does there have to be a train involved? What about people working in supermarkets and warehouses and meatpacking plants? People working in hospitals? I have no idea. I’m passing it along because it’s an insight into how these decisions get made. 

59 thoughts on “How Boris Johnson fucks up a free lunch. Again.

  1. I know they say ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’ but Boris appears to view that as actual policy. Even the term time provision only met one of the two essential tests of a free lunch. I’m seen some examples in real life and the media storm is not overestimating how woeful they are. Nothing much resembling ‘lunch’ that I could see.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Coincidentally I scheduled a post yesterday for Monday regarding the school lunches and what an observant friend of mine saw when watching the 10pm news bulletin. It seems the kids are losing out to money-grabbing company directors. It’s a good thing some mothers complained and brought the problem out in the open.


  3. Maybe Tory politicians could donate their expenses to funding lunches for needy kids. Even for just one day. But they are so far removed from reality that they seem to have lost any shred of human compassion for anyone less fortunate than themselves (and that’s a hell of a lot of people.)

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hey, for once you make us look good! By us I mean my local school, not US. One of our local schools looked at the cost of running the “free” lunch program (hey, someone has to pay for a free lunch) and determined that the cost of tracking the number of kids receivng the “free” lunch (including making sure their parents meet the govt requirements and that those not receiving it don’t qualify) , plus making sure the “free” lunch met all of the appropriate requirements, and all the paperwork was filled out, was actually more than the cost of the “free” lunch they were providing, so they decided just to make lunch free for everyone. It actually costs less than all of that government overhead, so they’re not participating in the govt program. Now they’re looking at the “free” breakfast program.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There is a theory which I’ve never tried to document the truth of but believe anyway, and that’s that when you limit a benefit to the poor, it either starts out or quickly becomes a poor service. When you make it universal, it’s of much better quality. So yes, making sure everyone qualifies (god forbid we should feed someone who doesn’t!) and all the paperwork to document it and keep up with the changing definitions of who’s poor enough–. Hell, just feed the kids and be done with it. What a great outcome.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m more of the “teach them how to fish” variety. You can feed them all you want, but you’re doing nothing but creating a dependent class. It’s better to find out why they can’t/aren’t getting a good meal at home and fix it at the source. My father passed when I was 9, my mother kept two kids well fed and clothed on Soc. Sec. survivors pension (about $100) and a barmaid’s income. Of course, we didn’t have to have the “right” clothing, most modern iPhone, top-level cable TV, etc.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I know that throughout history people have managed–and that many haven’t. I also know that rents are proportionately higher, that many kids don’t come close to having the right clothes or any of the rest of that. Let’s not conflate some people’s spending choices with those of others who make very different ones. That some parents are working multiple jobs and the ends still aren’t meeting, and that wages haven’t kept up with inflation–especially minimum wage. My feeling is, when we start seeing a pattern, we need to look not just at individual choices but at systemic ones.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Sort of what I said, but you can’t do it on a nationwide basis, you have to be more granular. The situation in Los Angeles is different from that in Chicago, New York, Atlanta. Which is why a national program will never work. Each community has to address the needs of their community. Like with the school I mentioned, even other schools in the area might not be able to reach the same decision, and blindly dumping money into a problem never solves it.

            Liked by 2 people

              • I agree, and disagree. The problem I have with raising the minimum wage is that prices then don’t remain stable. From what I have seen, shortly after the minimum goes up prices follow and people are back in the same situation, except for people who are on a fixed income, and they just become more screwed. Carter tried wage and price freezes, that was even worse.

                I honestly don’t think that a solution will arise until politicians (including kings and queens) are forced to live on a fixed income. I would suggest a median of the people they govern, with no additional benefits or perks. Same with their healthcare, force them to used the same system that they pass for their people. Obama would never have passed the ACA if he had to use it. Perhaps time for a worldwide French Revolution, I’m going to my woodshop to start building guillotines. Wonder if I can sell them on eBay?

                Liked by 1 person

  5. All of the issues with free school meals are absolutely disgraceful. If the government had an ounce of empathy, then they simply wouldn’t have made the number of mistakes which they did. It is also true that one of the people at chartells had something to do with Cameron’s government, which says it all really :'(

    Liked by 1 person

  6. For everything that every government decides to spend money on, there are a bunch of people asking “how can I get in on that?” Back when we couldn’t find enough PPE for hospital workers, the US government gave a ____load of money to a company that had just been created. The poeple from that company then went looking for PPE. Why couldn’t the government ask its employees to look for PPE? Dunno. It’s not what they do. They spend money (your money).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I suspect, although I can’t demonstrate, that it has to do with downsizing government so that there’s money to fork out on contracts but not enough person power to do the job in house, and also the religion of privatization. We’ve been told a thousand times that paying private industry is more efficient and cheaper than having the government do it. By people who, I suspect, haven’t added up the numbers anymore than I have–and who carefully ignore all evidence to the contrary. I don’t know what it’s going to take to put a different record on the turntable.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re probably right, but the US CDC has over 50,000 employees. This new PPE company was founded by two guys. You would think there had to be two guys among the 50,000 employees who weren’t swamped with work. Hell, maybe they could find 6 or 8 guys who could make a few phone calls. Instead, we pay people to find what we could have found, buy it for the price we could have paid and them mark it up to make an obscene profit.

        Then, we take credit for delivering the goods!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. If the government wanted, it could eradicate child hunger overnight. The amount of wasted money, not merely on helping fatcat corporate friends, but on bloated military budgets and pointless programs, could help end many of the inequalities in the country. But then who’d stand to earn a few quid out of that eh?

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Oh my … I loved your intro. Don’t worry, hardly anybody counted on learning from mistakes. That’s what kids do in kindy. After that it’s all a big blurr …
    Sorry to hear the news. It’s looking a bit scarry where you are … (It won’t take long to come to mainland Europe.) Happy New Year dear

    Liked by 1 person

    • And to you, my friend.

      A lot of the blame for our increased numbers is being put on the new Covid variant, but I’m still waiting to hear that from the lab people, not the statistical modeling people. We do need to act as if it’s more contagious, and whether that’s true or not maybe it’ll make us a bit more stupid about it all, which can’t help but be a good thing. That’s a long-winded way of saying I don’t know that it matters that we’ve snuck the new variant across your borders. I hope it doesn’t.

      May we all get through this. I suppose it’d be too much to hope that we’ll learn something, wouldn’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, Ellen, I wish I could say something reassuring … Our teacher had Corona, so Little One was in Quarantine as first contact, but not us. No mail from school or health people, so really up to us to stay put out of good will … For living in rather rich countries by now I am lost for words, too.
        I really do hope we learn something from this! Small fraction that does may not change the world.
        We may have to accept there is more coming.

        Liked by 1 person

        • This may be the comment you thought disappeared. I hadn’t gotten to it yet, that’s all.

          I’d thought Germany had a better handle on contact tracing than that, although I admit I’ve barely followed what’s happening there. Sounds like I was wrong.


  9. The reluctance to furlough people doesn’t come from the fact that employers have to pay: it comes from the fact that small firms can’t manage if a large proportion of their workforce is furloughed. If you’ve got a team of ten people, and you furlough three of them because their children are off school, that leaves the other seven trying to do one and a half times the work. That’s assuming that they can do it at all: in a small firm, a lot of people have very specific jobs and there’s no-one to cover for them because no-one has the same skill set. Even if firms can take on temp staff, it tends to be expensive because of agency fees, and it’s very difficult to train anyone in using your systems when you aren’t supposed to get within six feet of them (I tried doing this with a new colleague earlier in the year, and it wasn’t great!).

    It’s all very well for trade unions to say that firms should “do the right thing” and furlough working parents, but that could lead to a lot of small firms being unable to operate. It’s a horrible situation and I haven’t got any answers, and I feel so sorry for friends who are trying to work from home and look after kids at the same time, but it’s not necessarily about employers being unkind.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The whole school meals thing is just unfathomably cruel to me. It is clearly a policy established by a group of people who have not only never experienced food insecurity but have never bothered their backside’s to engage in the thought exercise of how families might best manage to feed their household in periods of either chronic or acute poverty. I have a very visceral and emotional reaction to such actions (or inactions) because I grew up with food insecurity and was very reliant on school dinners for nutrition for several periods in my childhood. As a child, I queued at proto food banks with my mother and siblings so that we could receive a lunch during the summer break. It might be a good idea for government officials to actually meet with and listen to people who have direct personal experience of food poverty and people who are operating food banks in order to figure out a better solution than allowing some company to simultaneously rip the government off and fail to fulfil the brief of its contract in actually providing adequate food to children. It makes me so upset and angry that they are essentially just handwaving the problem. It’s so utterly callous.

    On the subject of the gender gap when it comes to furloughs and job losses, I am sure you saw the report that the US economy lost 140,000 jobs last month and every single one of those lost jobs had been held by a woman. I don’t have the right expertise to propose a solution to this but I don’t think you need any kind of professional competency to identify that this is a problem that absolutely needs to be addressed not just in these pandemic times but going forwards.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been seeing articles about the pandemic hitting women harder than men, economically speaking, and keep meaning to include them but somehow they never end up being part of the posts. Maybe because I can”t quite hit the right tone with them. And as I remind myself regularly, I’m not a newspaper. I can’t include the full range of the news. But yes, it matters.

      And here, in both the US and the UK, we have this cultural obsession with the image of people ripping off the system, getting 20 cents that they’re not entitled to and living high on the hog off it, when the folks ripping off the system are the Chartwells and all their friends and relations.

      Yeah. It makes me want to throw things as well.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. “Pict from PA” said it all on free school lunches.

    In further news, when Pres Elect said to begin getting out all the available vaccines to get shots out more quickly it turned out that – SU-Prise!- There were NO VACCINNES IN RESERVE. Golly gosh darn. Now what ? Apparently somebody lied about how many doses were available, Tsk Tsk.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. It’s the double stupidity that makes me despair, not just the original stinginess but the tin-eared obliviousness to the all-too-foreseeable public reaction.

    In fact, Marcus Rashford’s interventions on this one issue have forced the government into U-turns time and again, on the November half-term break, the Christmas holidays and now the Chartwell’s nonsense.

    You’d have thought that even the most malign politician would at some point have got their people to consider how to “Rashford-proof” their policies in advance. But not this shower.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting question. In the British system, you don’t vote for the prime minister. You vote for your representative in parliament, and the party with the most (I’m generalizing, but never mind that) makes its leader the prime minister. But since there are multiple parties (two main ones in England, and a third smaller one and a variety of very small ones) the vote in each constituency is split, so although Johnson’s party has a massive majority in parliament, it didn’t have a massive majority vote. In fact, if memory serves, it had a large minority.


      • So all the people living in the country side and home owners voted him in to protect their pretty little villages from the poor immigrants and also to keep the mortgage rates super low so that our British savings account have No high interest rates to offset the property inflation bubble! Middle-Class people will regret it one day when their homes are worth nothing!

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m not sure about their homes being worth nothing. Right now, a lot of them (depending where they live) are worth a fortune. Except that’s no help at all since if you sell it you have to live someplace else. If you plan to die, you can make a lot of money but they say you can’t take it with you, so we’re back to square one.

          Sorry if I blithered on about stuff you already knew about the election system. The blog has a fair number of readers from overseas and I don’t take anything for granted.


            • Thanks. I’ll give it some thought. I’m not a YouTube native (I’m roughly a thousand years old and there’s only so much adaptation to the 21st century that I can be bothered with), but I will take a look at what you’re doing.


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