Zoe Williams: Free school meals should be for those who need them, not those who don’t

Writing in the Guardian, Zoe Williams says this £1bn universal benefit is a punch in the face for the million people who need food banks…

How much does it save, the kids getting free school meals? I know a fair amount about what it costs – £2.30 a pupil, a day, plus £150m to make changes to the school – and I know that, in schools that didn’t already have a kitchen and dining room, that’s not going to be enough. But it wasn’t until this morning, when my year one daughter and year two son actually went to school, that it occurred to me: that’s £800 a year, straight to me.

This puts me in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with the former Gove special adviser Dominic Cummings – that this is one of the most ill-considered policies to emerge from this government to date, and not for want of competition – while simultaneously agreeing strongly with the civil servant who said to Cummings: “You’re a mutant virus, I’m the immune system and it’s my job to expel you from the organism.”

I object to the policy for reasons of profligacy: when you have parents who can’t afford uniforms at the start of term, kids so sure their parents can’t afford school trips that they don’t even take the letters home, to drop over £1bn on a universal benefit that excludes by child’s age rather than parent’s means is just preposterous.

…And yet I’m coming to realise the sad undertow of this story, which is that things have become so bad I wouldn’t make a defence for any universal benefit at the moment. The solidarity argument of universalism used to be heartwarming. But now all it does is emphasise the erosion of security at the bottom, the erosion of the social promise that nobody has to starve and everybody deserves a roof over their head – and how fast and brutal it has been…

More at: Free school meals should be for those who need them, not those who don’t


See also: Lunch ‘more effective than many lessons’ says Nick Clegg


Do you, like Zoe Williams, think the money being spent on universal free meals would have been better used if targeted specifically at those who most need it? Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter and take part in our poll…


Would the universal free school meals budget have been better used if targeted at those most in need?


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  1. Dawntal

    rather than free school meals for all under 7, no matter what their families financial situation, it should be solely based on financial need and extend the qualifying income from £16190 and below to say £18,000 and below.  I know someone who’s family income is 16450 and they do not qualify for FSM and yet they are struggling financially and FSM would help them.

  2. Flutterbiesltd

    artmadnana SchoolsImprove I think ALL children need a hot, nutritious dinner each day, many go without #childpoverty

  3. artmadnana

    greencatherine Dianne_Khan SchoolsImprove So, where will the line of ‘Greatest need’ be drawn? By a civil servant deciding the level?

  4. Dianne_Khan

    artmadnana greencatherine SchoolsImprove In an ideal situation we would feed all kids a good meal free of charge in NZ schools.

  5. TheRodCooper

    SchoolsImprove Fine piece on wicked waste of £1bn (for Clegg’s absurd vanity) on free school meals for all as people queue at food banks.

  6. alasdairghill

    TheRodCooper SchoolsImprove proper nutrition 4all kids is great leveller4progress. I teach, kids in PM w/o lunch really lack engagement

  7. TheRodCooper

    alasdairghill SchoolsImprove I don’t dispute those points and you wd know far better than I, but mad to subsidise high income parents.

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