Free school meals: feeding the hungry should not be up for debate

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media

Image courtesy of Ishikawa Ken on Flickr

Children in Kent and across the country have been let down by their government. In Kent alone, over 52,000 children are eligible for free school meals. Out of the 322 MPs who voted against extending free school meals over the holidays, 14 of those were conservative MPs who represent Kent. Rosie Duffield (Labour) was the only Kent MP to vote in favour.

Those who voted against the extension have since defended their positions, citing the £9bn invested in the welfare system as well as the hardship fund for local councils as enough to tackle the issue. Others barely veiled their prejudice, arguing that “generous benefits” “trap people in dependency on the state and rightly enrage people who are working hard for themselves”. Such entitled children! Expecting to have lunch without first contributing to the British economy. Tut, tut.

What was decided can be branded as evil. The harm of not eating a balanced diet throughout the day can be devastating for children, as it impacts their development, both physical and mental. Surely, being so well-educated, these politicians should know this by now. Or maybe it's just not a priority.

I was particularly appalled to see my hometown’s MP, Damian Collins, vote against the extension. It certainly weighs on my conscience that members of my own community may have suffered because of this vote. Despite this, many businesses have sided with Marcus Rashford, providing free meals for those eligible, including Big Boys Fine Burger Co in Folkestone, Kent who have gone as far as banning Damian Collins from the restaurant.

Although it’s heart-warming to see local people coming together to feed those in need, the responsibility shouldn’t have to lie with small independent businesses. The shifted responsibility is an embarrassment to the British government: it is their job to meet the needs of the people. The most disadvantaged seem to always be left at the mercy of the benevolent public.

Access to food should be considered a human right, given how key nutrition is to staying alive, it is ludicrous that anyone at all should go hungry. There can be no debate: children, the least to blame for inherited disadvantage among us, deserve to eat well.

The government must ensure this level of negligence doesn't happen with the upcoming school holidays; they will be hardly able to justify kids going hungry over Christmas.

Yes, we should be celebrating the reaction of local communities in this “debate” but more importantly, we should be holding accountable the 14 Kent MPs who decided that feeding school children was a frivolous issue.

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