Comment

Free school meals campaign showed the best of us – from footballers to nurses

Starving children belong in Dickensian novels, not modern-day Britain

Starving children belong in Dickensian novels, not modern-day Britain

Even though I didnt vote for my MP, I have always found him pleasant and approachable.

Retirement means I have more time to pester him, but I was annoyed that my most recent plea for the government to provide free school meals over the winter holidays appeared to go unanswered.

School nurses see the poverty trap first-hand

I finally got a response, just as I saw the headline: Government U-turn on free school meals. Result! This was better than I had hoped, an early Christmas present.

Recollecting my experience as a school

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Starving children belong in Dickensian novels, not modern-day Britain

Hospitality staff prepare free lunch bags for collection over the half-term holidays Picture: PA

Even though I didn’t vote for my MP, I have always found him pleasant and approachable.

Retirement means I have more time to pester him, but I was annoyed that my most recent plea – for the government to provide free school meals over the winter holidays – appeared to go unanswered.

School nurses see the poverty trap first-hand

I finally got a response, just as I saw the headline: ‘Government U-turn on free school meals.’ Result! This was better than I had hoped, an early Christmas present.

Recollecting my experience as a school nurse prompted the petition to our honourable member. The year I spent in the educational establishments of one of the most deprived areas of the country was the most fulfilling of my career.

It was gobsmacking and challenging, and even though it was depressing at times, I loved it. I will never forget the people I met.

Lack of money is only part of the food poverty problem

As I explained to my MP, financial benefits for those in need don’t necessarily cure the problem of food poverty.

One family under our umbrella of support made me weep. There was little doubt that the children, who were thin and pale, were neglected. One sibling, just two years old, had died of ‘failure to thrive’, which brought the family to our attention.

‘Their plight would not have been out of place in a Dickens novel. Thank goodness the older children had free school meals – the only reasonable sustenance they received’

When I met the parents, it all made sense. They loved each other, they loved their children, but after experiencing cruelty and neglect and having been in and out of the care system throughout their own childhoods, they didn’t have a clue about a child’s basic needs.

Their plight would not have been out of place in a Dickens novel. Thank goodness the older children had free school meals – the only reasonable sustenance they received.

Free school meals are a lifeline for many children

There were other families suffering from hardship because of mental or physical illness, loss of livelihood and/or domestic abuse – desperate parents and their children left to go without.

My school nurse days are history, but things are no better now for those caught in the poverty trap. Given the austerity of the past decade or so, I would imagine they are even worse.

Footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign for free school meals during the holidays has brought out the best in us as a society. Footballers and food outlets have stepped up and kept the issue at the top of the public agenda, even though there were enough national and international crises to fill the newspapers several times over.

I like to think that those of us who harassed our MPs also added to the drip feed of pressure on the government that caused them to relent.


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