E Jane Dickson Doesn’t Understand TANSTAAFL

Universal free school meals are an excellent idea; pilot schemes in the UK and tested policies in other countries have shown that the provision of a hot lunch for all significantly improves the educational chances of poorer children.

That’s nice, but they ain’t free.

The problem, however, with Clegg’s meal deal is …

That they ain’t free..?

… that it is not in fact universal; it is offered only to children in their first three years of schooling.

*sighs* Of course. It’s that they don’t go far enough

Clegg’s pledge is undoubtedly a vote-catcher, encapsulating the Lib Dem position on social policy; it helps the poor, but throws in a sweetener (approximately £500 a year per child) for the more affluent. In light of restricted and, it now seems, uncertain funding, I’d rather feed poorer children for longer than subsidise all families for a limited period.

I’d rather not do either!

And lest we think this is just a case of the progressives being generous with our money, there’s an ulterior mortive:

As it stands, four out of 10 children in poverty do not receive the subsidy, either because they are ineligible (not quite poor enough to meet current criteria) or because they do not take up the benefit. Under-registration is a problem not just for families in need, but for schools who use free school meals as the metric for calculating the pupil premium, a top-up educational services fund targeted at children from low-income households.

Extra povvy kiddies in the school means extra cash for the school! With incentives like these, it’s no wonder ‘the poor will always be with us’, isn’t it?

Social stigma is perceived as a major factor in under-registration. With a properly thought-through system this should not be an insurmountable problem.

Cashless payment systems and confidential management can help. More radically, school dinners could be made mandatory and free, with costs claimed back, through taxation, from more affluent parents (if tax breaks for private education can be administered, I don’t see why this would be any more unwieldy).

Yes! Let the State (i.e. me) feed everyone’s kids! In fact, force-feed everyone’s kids. What could go wrong?

The adequate nourishment of our poorest children is an urgent and complicated challenge.

Yes. And it’s one for their parents.

14 comments for “E Jane Dickson Doesn’t Understand TANSTAAFL

  1. john in cheshire
    December 14, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    If we went into the Soylent Green business, we could feed the world. Maybe that’s their ultimate goal.

  2. theonlygoodeuisadeadeu
    December 14, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    Forgive my ignorance. I understand that There is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch but what does the first ‘A’ stand for?


    • Ed P
      December 15, 2013 at 5:19 pm


  3. Errol
    December 14, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    Is their rabid desperation to control more important than the welbeing of the child?

    Every time the state takes something form the parent the parental role gets weaker, the family gts weaker and society suffers (lower acadmeic attainment, higher crime, more welfare). This is a known fact. Why does big government continue to think that 2 and 2 make 5?

  4. December 14, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    I have a better idea. The parents of pupils at Haverstock Hill (where Miliband went) and other exclusive, oik-free comprehensives should subsidise school meals in the other comprehensives.

    A nice little incentive to bring back inclusive, class-irrelevant grammars, which would be exempt from this scheme, as they celebrate pupil diversity 😈

  5. December 14, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    I think free school dinners makes good sense, actually. Shared hardship and all that.

    • December 14, 2013 at 5:41 pm

      As if they were all at Eton in the 1930s…..

  6. Mudplugger
    December 14, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    Although it should be parental responsibility to fund all nourishment for the offspring they have chosen to bring into the world (it is entirely optional these days, after all), I could even condone universal free school meals, but only if they replicated those (paid for) when I was at school – i.e. no choice. One menu, eat it or go hungry: no options for finicky brats, imaginery allergies or religious zealots, take it or leave it.

    That could be provided at minimal cost, maximum efficiency and guaranteed nutritional value, rather than the current high-cost option of replicating multi-choice food-courts for undeveloped minds, most of whom will choose the worst option. They’re kids, they shouldn’t be given any choice other than eat it or don’t: they’re hungry or they’re not hungry enough.

    And if parents don’t like that for any reason, it’s their problem to find another way to feed their optional brood, not mine.

  7. December 14, 2013 at 11:40 pm

    And here I thought that E Jane Dickson wrote exclusively for the Radio Times … seriously.

  8. Monty
    December 15, 2013 at 12:09 am

    I would rather provide free breakfast and free lunch for schoolchildren all the year round, and end child benefit.

  9. Furor Teutonicus
    December 15, 2013 at 8:39 am

    XX it’s no wonder ‘the poor will always be with us’, isn’t it? XX

    IS it. NOT “isn’t it.”

    “it’s no wonder ‘the poor will always be with us’, is it?”

    JULIA! I thought better of you!

  10. Rightwinggit
    December 15, 2013 at 10:16 pm

    “Forgive my ignorance. I understand that There is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch but what does the first ‘A’ stand for?”


    • December 15, 2013 at 11:36 pm

      Thanks, I always wondered about that, too.

      Just looked it up (sometime later): the first ‘A’ stands for ‘ain’t’.

      (Tempted to add ‘innit?’)


    • theonlygoodeuisadeadeu
      December 16, 2013 at 8:08 pm

      Thanks for that, Mr git. Now I’ll have to run along and find out who invented the phrase!


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