Hungry Children

It’s not often the ‘eternal optimist’ in me takes a knock, however this week it’s taken a battering.

In a week when climate change and terrorism topped the news lists, it’s a head teacher who has pushed me over the edge.

This ‘protector’ of the next generation wrote to families, refusing to serve their children lunch if they were 1p in debt. He tried to justify this monstrous decision by saying the school was owed £1,800 by a ‘handful of pupils’.

Is it too obvious for me to suggest, if there were only a ‘handful’ then it shouldn’t be that difficult to work with a few families rather than against them all.

I felt like I’d time hopped into a scene from Oliver Twist and visualised kitchen staff being instructed not only to refuse second helpings but refuse any food at all.

Just picturing the scene made me sick to my stomach and no child should ever be treated like this.

Was he really expecting staff to turn away hungry children?

As expected, there was an avalanche of social media outrage, with one generous Dad offering to pay off the whole debt if the school changed its policy on feeding (or not feeding) vulnerable children.

Thankfully the school has agreed to review its approach.

However, supporters of this ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut’ approach will still argue ‘irresponsible’ parents are spending their money on other things. But please let’s put the ridiculous notion to bed that it’s ever okay for children to be made to suffer for the actions of their parents.

The contentious subject of Free School Meals also raised its head, with some people naively claiming the most vulnerable children receive a free lunch, thus branding every other parent ‘feckless’.

We know the Free School Meals system is not foolproof, and although it provides a vital safety net, it’s certainly not catching all the children who are falling – many still slip though. This will come as no surprise to anyone in the Third Sector.

For 18 years Bath Rugby Foundation has worked with vulnerable children and young people, and we know first-hand the financial challenges families are facing.

Limited social housing, job insecurity, un-subsidised childcare costs and Universal Credit changes have forced more and more families into debt and desperation. Add a pandemic to the mix and we have all the makings of a social crisis that’s unfolding before our eyes.

Our country is facing many challenges, most of them are complex and there’ll be arguments for and against whatever solution is put forward. But please could we all agree on just one thing?

Whatever the problems we have in the UK the solution is never to make a child go hungry.