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Oh the stigma of school dinners

Apparently, according to twitterati who know, the reason why poor families don’t take up school dinners is ‘stigma’. Ending charging for school dinners will, apparently,  take away the stigma.

Really? How does that work? Will it end stigma, or will it start a new teenaged arms race of ‘who’s got the best packed lunch’ or the most exotic smoothie lovingly prepared at home by mum, the au pair or granny?

School dinners has become a proxy for ending inequality, and like all proxies it conceals more than it achieves.

What’s the goal of giving free school lunches to every one? Go on, tell me. If it’s about ensuring good nutrition for all kids, then that goal could be better achieved by compulsory food diaries and eating support; in the process you might tackle issues around food problems as well. Free school dinners for everyone, without monitoring to ensure kids actually eat all the food, and don’t rely on snacks bought elsewhere to fill the gap left by not eating their broccoli and mash, or without monitoring of the utter shite that turns up in some packed lunches, will not deliver good nutrition for every kid.

Yes, I know schools with higher take up of school dinners have better results. Correlation is not causation. Maybe they have better school cultures, less bullying, more inclusive policies, and a between lessons culture that encourages positive attitudes and co-operation. I’d actually suggest between lessons culture is one of the research areas that deserves more attention than twitterati’s feelz about stigma; call it whole of school education, and do some fucking research into whether the gap between fee-paying schools and the state sector is because fee-paying schools have more time with their pupils (through longer school days and out of school activities) and a more consistent set of expectations  and attitudes.

Let’s go back to stigma though. Apparently parents don’t fill in the forms for free school dinners because of stigma. Bollocks. Unresearched, unevidenced bollocks. Here’s my hypothesis. People don’t fill in complex, unnecessary forms because

a)They have a functional reading age that means the first explanatory note leaves them confused.

b)They resent telling the state the same things multiple times and don’t understand why the bureaucrats who pay them their benefits just can’t toss in the school meals voucher in the same way Tesco Clubcard knows they have kids (from the nappy purchases and the baby food) and sends them vouchers for Sunny Delight.

c)  The bloke in the Post Office didn’t have any forms and was more interested in selling them some cut price dogfood, since he runs a 7-11 convenience store that has a post office on the side, not a public service.

d) The council have responded to cutbacks by reducing the number of trained staff they have, and the woman in the customer service point inside the library was busy monitoring the bloke she thinks is a child sex offender who’s using his brother’s library card to access email via the public computers.

Middle class people who talk about the poor not claiming benefits they’re entitled to because of stigma are explaining how they would feel, not how real people live. Since the very beginning of the welfare state in the UK complex entry tests have been used as gatekeepers to keep the cost of welfare down, and to ensure that those who receive benefits are morally acceptable to the middle classes. The astonishing ‘tell us many times, and know what you’re entitled to’ bureaucratic culture of the welfare state is deeply implanted in the UK, but rather than tackle that the chattering classes would rather talk about stigma.

There’s a word for that. Bollocks. Or two words. Condescending bollocks.


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This entry was posted on April 7, 2017 by in Uncategorized.

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