You’re on free school meals – you can’t have that

Frustrations are ten a penny in politics at the moment as Parliament blunders its way through Brexit.

Few things are as heartbreaking, though, as some of the experiences outlined in this Guardian article at the weekend.

In the fifth richest country in the world, children describe the pain and embarrassment of being poor. This should not happen.

Maddy, 16, described her embarrassment at being identified as being on FSM. “When she [lunchtime staff at the checkout] was like ‘You can’t get that, you’re free school meals’, like I was really embarrassed ’cos people were waiting behind me, I was kind of like “Oh my God”. And it’s like you’re really restricted to what you can eat with free school meals. So now I just get what I know I’m safe with … so a small baguette and carton of juice.”

The whole point of free school meals is that those who are poorest should be able to have a hot meal once a day.

Have you ever had the experience of there not being enough food in your house to go round everybody? How awful must that be?

Parents often go without food to ensure their children eat. Bryony, 13, said: “If there isn’t enough food, we’ll get it and sometimes mum will go hungry and starve and stuff. Even if it’s not that much food for me and [brother], it’s enough that we’ve actually had something, whereas mum hasn’t, and it gets a bit to the point where we’ll start feeling guilty because mum hasn’t had anything and we’ve had it.”

Time and again the cruel and inhumane policy of “no recourse to public funds” comes up. This is  a policy Lib Dems intend to reverse. It means that some people subject to immigration control cannot get emergency state help even when they need it. That means that if they lose their jobs, they can’t get help with the basics. Earlier this year the Scottish Parliament’s Equality and Human Rights Committee where horrified to discover from Shakti Women’s Aid’s evidence that some women were using pillowcases as nappies because they were destitute. No wonder that the Committee called for a destitution fund to stop things like that.

We Lib Dems often talk about education being the route out of poverty.

We are right to do so, because good education means that people gain the skills to get decent jobs. But it’s really difficult to learn if you are hungry or if you are in poor, overcrowded housing with no space to study. We need a much more holistic approach to eradicate poverty and inequality.

And no way should we ever tolerate children being told that they can’t have certain food items because they are too poor.




* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in News.


  • Agree completely with this. We need to face the reality that poverty has increased in this country while wealth has increased. There are many children going to school hungry. The first job must be to feed them. There are schools were this is done, perhaps using the food that supermarkets give away.
    We know the results of poverty on children. However thanks to the developments in the study of epigentics we are starting to understand the mon term results of poverty in terms of the different expression of the genes in the children of people in poverty. We do need to start trying to spread the truth. We might then be able to face the problem of poverty in a very rich country. We might then be able to think about what to do about the fact our our consumption in unsustainable.

  • Tony Greaves 9th Apr '19 - 2:42pm

    I’ve put down a question about these things.

  • nigel hunter 9th Apr '19 - 3:30pm

    Maybe raising taxes and redirecting some to the Education budget of specific schools to solve this problem. I say raising taxes for I remember when we were the 4th largest economy. Now we are 5th money has to be found from somewhere for such a project to go ahead.

  • Whatever school Maddy goes to should be investigated for this incident. How did the lunchtime staff person know she was on FSM anyway??

  • wow, this is quite upsetting to read. I had hoped things had moved on since my days in school.
    I still remember vividly 30 years ago and being on fsm, having to line up in a separate Que first to mark our names of a register to receive a big fat fake coin that stuck out like a sore thumb, it was like one of those fake chocolate coins that you would hang on a xmas tree, only silver and twice as big. We used to call it the line of shame, as you stood there being ridiculed by other students.
    I seem to recall the coin only being worth 40p which meant you could only ever get
    sausage a chips and a drink or the most disgusting cheese and potato pie served in individual tiny bowls which only the fsm kids would get as thats all they could afford with their token.
    I remember vividly being so embarrassed about it I started skipping school lunches and using my wages instead to go to the chippy at lunch times as I wanted to avoid the humiliation of the fsm line, Only for the school to notice that i was not attending lunch, so was then order to attend the head of years office each lunch time, so I could be escorted to the dining hall to collect my fsm. I think the school thought I was anorexic and skipping food, when in reality, I just did not want to face the humiliation of that line

    Like I said, that was 30 years ago and one would hope that, that sort of thing has changed now, but after reading this, sadly it is clear it has not. Very upsetting.
    Children go through hard enough times as it is, without having this kind of stigma thrown at them every day

  • In Junior school pupils tend to have set school meals that cost the same, hence disguising those in receipt of free school meals. In High Schools the choice of food is more expansive but the amount we credit free schools is inadequete to give those in receipt of free school meals a choice of anything but the basics. The solution is of cause to either increase the amount of money allocated to free school meals or to make all school meals free. Personally I’d support free school meals for all, but then I’m happy for my taxes to tick up. If we continue this race to the bottom and demonising the poor the fate of us all is grim.

  • There is a widespread belief that the poor deserve to be wretched. If they are to be helped at all, it is less for their own sake than to demonstrate the munificence of the wealthy. However, lest the poor somehow be led to believe that they deserve the small largesse disposed to them by their “betters”, they must be continuously ritually humiliated by way of compensation. If we didn’t humiliate them, they’d have no reason not to just go on being awkwardly poor.

    Many more people actually believe this than would be willing to spell it out.

  • Olly Craven 10th Apr '19 - 1:04am

    Why are we so obsessed with treating the symptoms of a problem rather than solving the problem itself?

    It’s time we had a guaranteed minimum income and an economy that gives everybody a stake and a fair wage.

  • Tony Harris 10th Apr '19 - 8:03am

    This deserves an ‘urgent question’ in parliament. The school and local authority in question should be censured. Being poor when you are at school is embarrassing enough but having it pointed out in a public way is reprehensible. In my junior school the dinner money was taken at morning register and i can still remember the pain and embarrassment at being singled out as ‘on FSM’. Let’s put a stop to this now!

  • Sue Sutherland 10th Apr '19 - 1:28pm

    Matt, thank you for your moving personal account. I am not sure whether this stigmatising of the poor is intentional or whether it’s the result of designing a system with total insensitivity, but either way it needs to stop.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 11th Apr '19 - 1:17am

    A very good piece, welcome constructive initiative shown by Lord Greaves, terrific to see Matt, as ever personal and Liberal. As usual of course our superb Sue Sutherland reveals her nature as amongst the finest we have in politics.

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