“It is fatal to look hungry. It makes people want to kick you.”
George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London
Back in October, I wrote an article about how British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his party refused to feed children dependent on free school meals over the school holidays in the midst of the UK’s second national lockdown. It wasn’t until footballer Marcus Rashford challenged them that they made a U-turn. Now in our third national lockdown (because of the failure of this government to make definitive and quick decisions in regards to coronavirus, but that’s another story), they are failing to feed the children…again!
Initially, the Tories provided those dependent on free school meals with £30 food vouchers through their corporate service provider Edenred. Indeed, it seemed Edenred would come back for the third lockdown, with schools closed once again. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson stated in Parliament that “extra funding” would be provided to support children eligible for free school meals. Williamson told MPs, “Where schools cannot offer food parcels or use local solutions, we will ensure a national voucher scheme is in place so every eligible child can access free school meals while their school remains closed”. However, this seemed to be another lie from our Government, only a week on from that announcement, and children eligible for free school meals aren't receiving £30 food vouchers, but sub-par food boxes.
The boxes were meant to provide 10 days worth of lunches during lockdown school closures, but parents have shared the contents on social media and the results are woeful. Take the above example, 2 jacket potatoes, 1 can of beans, 2 carrots, 3 apples. 2 fruit bars, 3 yoghurts, and 8 single cheese sandwiches (the pasta and tomato pictured are spares the mother had from a previous shop). To quote Marcus Rashford, “If families are entitled to £30 worth of food, why is there delivery only equating to just over £5?!”. This is one of the better examples, with others receiving half a pepper or a random piece of carrot, or food that has reached or is close to its expiration date. If I were to provide you with £30 and asked you to buy food for some hungry kids, would this be what you came back with? Certainly not, nobody would…except our Government. I’m hardly surprised that Boris Johnson, a serial adulterer, with The Independent reporting “the exact number of offspring the prime minister has remains unclear,” doesn’t properly know how to feed a child. But what is more shocking is that Health Secretary Matt Hancock got on to Good Morning Britain this Wednesday and said he was “really glad that we can send out free school meals when schools are out,” to which Piers Morgan grilled him on why he voted against providing said meals during the second lockdown, and whether he now regretted voting that way … Mr Hancock refused to answer, repeating that he was just “glad” they were now providing the insufficient meals. Surely the Health Security is aware that these provisions are not good enough for the healthy growth of a child…oh I forgot, he doesn’t care.
This is neoliberalism at its finest. ‘Neoliberalism’ is the idea that the government should step away from the market and only craft policies that allow the free flow of goods and protect corporate interests. Neoliberalism breeds a ‘Politics of disposability’, the working class are merely a superfluous tool used for the preservation of corporate interests and the the upper class elite. Philosophers Brad Evans and Henry Giroux argued that people become disposable under an economic system that is characterized by privatization of things like healthcare, the deregulation of banks, and the erosure of government safety nets like social security and welfare (all ideas that have been floating around the Tory government for decades). This idea of disposability is by no means a new concept, having found its formation in Reverend Thomas Malthus’ 1798 ‘Essay on the Principle of Population’. In it Malthus argues that because production wouldn’t be able to keep up with demand, a growing population would create massive food shortages. The solution: employ laws that keep birth rates low and death rates high (i.e. famine, diseases and wars). We cannot exist, at least in Malthus’ view, in a world where everyone has everything he needs because demand is constantly growing with a growing population and supply simply cannot match it. However, Malthus was rebuked by Friedrich Engels (a famous collaborator of Karl Marx) who claimed Malthus misjudged the issue; it wasn’t an increasing population, but an economic system that doesn’t value workers that was the problem. Malthus’ model was putting economics above people and in Engels’ opinion was simply an excuse for the rich elite to mistreat the poor. I have shown how this ‘Politics of disposability’ was evident in the proceedings of the Grenfell fire, and were seeing it again in how the Tories are refusing to sufficiently feed children.
This is what privatisation looks like: starving kids. It seems at the moment that Edenred are not involved in this debacle, but Chartwells, a subsidiary of Compass Group, the world’s largest catering provider. Compass’s former Chairman was Paul Walsh, a Tory donor and member of David Cameron’s business advisory group. This Cronyism isn’t anything new, given Serco won the very lucrative £12bn contract for Test-and-Trace all because Serco’s CEO is the brother of a former Tory MP, his partner is a Tory Party donor, and Matt Hancock formerly worked for them. And look at that, another outsourced shamble, Serco had no experience and very little training in a central tracing service, has admitted to fraud and false accounting, and test-and-trace doesn’t even work! Outsourcing to private companies without any checks or balances to ensure value is being provided is simply mugging the taxpayer, the government, and most importantly, those in need. Vouchers weren’t provided because then the Tories would have to treat the working classes like actual human beings worthy of respect and dignity, not the scum they believe them to be. For initiatives like this, if vouchers are deemed inappropriate (Tory MP Ben Bradley believes food vouchers were used in brothels and crack dens without any evidence), then give the contracts to local charities or non-profit organisations already involved in food banks. Then if there is a surplus it will at least be used for something useful, not creaming off profits for large corporate organisations or shareholders.
The Prime Minister tweeted that, “these food parcels do not meet the standards we set out”, but, according to MP Zarah Sultana, £30 free school meal government guidance (seen above) doesn’t differ that much from what was provided. To be honest, Boris Johnson shouldn’t need Marcus Rashford to alert him to this failure, he should know it because he agreed to it. I doubt Mr Johnson or any other member of his cabinet would be able to live off these provisions, because they have never had to struggle for anything, they’ve never fought to feed their children, and they’ve never gone hungry for their children’s sake. Scotland aren’t providing these shambolic food “hampers”, they are providing the food vouchers — because they are aware that those who rely upon them are human beings, like you and I. Marcus Rashford claims that the PM has “assured [him] … that he is committed to correcting the issue with the food hampers and that a full review of the supply chain is taking place.” But this should have been done anyway, private contracts should always have their effectiveness evaluated, and the fact this wasn’t happening just highlights the obvious cronyism and corruption of the party. It is being reported that Williamson plans to bring back the food vouchers as of next week, but this failure should be seared into the minds of citizens: these are the people the nation elected, and this is how they served us, that is how much they care. No one should ever try to profit off of starving children, especially not our elected officials. Where the children of this nation hunger for food, the Tories hunger for power — to quote Frances Moose Lappe, “ Hunger is not caused by scarcity of food, but by scarcity of democracy.”