free school meals and universalism

There has been a lot of talk in the last few days about free school meals thanks to Nick Clegg’s announcement at his “party” conference as reported here.

Now lots of people, not least Libdem councillors and MPs in places like Islington and Southwark have vehemently opposed the idea of universal free school meals on the basis that they shouldn’t be given to “rich kids” (as if private schools would be involved in the scheme).

The fact is that free school meals and breakfast clubs are an important part of ensuring that kids from all backgrounds are able to concentrate and fully participate in school life. However it is a sad truth that not all children who are entitled to free school meals will claim them due to the stigma attached to them, with some schools making them have seperate queues for instance. Universal free school dinners and breakfasts would allow those who need to access them to do so without identifying themselves as somehow ‘other’, which is really important at school.

A second important argument in favour of a universalist approach to any form of benefits is that anyone who participates in society and contributes in some form should be entitled to get something back, why shouldn’t higher rate taxpayers be entitled to the full range of child benefits, including if introduced nationally free school meals?

If we are to defend and improve the welfare state and create one which everyone feels they have a stake in, like the NHS – then we need to allow people to access the benefits they are paying for, and that includes so called “rich people”.

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