British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that schoolchildren from low-income families who receive free meals during the school year will be provided with them during the summer holidays. Earlier, the prime minister did not plan to extend this program.
The official reconsidered his decision only after Manchester United football player Marcus Rashford launched a campaign to support free meals for underprivileged children. Why are free meals so important for low-income families?
In mid-June, footballer Marcus Rashford wrote an open letter to Boris Johnson asking him to provide children with free meals during the holidays. Then there were reports in the British press that Johnson was still not going to renew the program, but would talk to Rashford and tell him what the government was doing to help low-income families. To this, the football player tweeted that he would continue to campaign for free meals, and the very next day the government announced the creation of a new £ 120 million “Cozy Summer Food Fund” for 1.3 million schoolchildren receiving free meals in England. Children will be provided with vouchers worth £ 15 per week.
In a letter to the premier, the footballer, writes The Guardian, recalled his childhood and admitted that his parents relied heavily on these free meals, as there was not enough money for food. He was even often called to visit by neighbors to treat him to something and make sure he was not hungry. Marcus Rashford also drew Boris Johnson’s attention to the fact that many families in the country live from paycheck to paycheck and do not have the means to pay their bills, and in order to save money, they even have to turn off the water during the lockdown.
For many families, free meals are significant government assistance. When schools were quarantined, the UK government gave schoolchildren from low-income families special vouchers to get groceries in supermarkets.
The UK is the first country in the world to introduce a public school feeding system. In 1906, the British passed the world’s first government decree recommending that municipal authorities provide schoolchildren with free meals.
In 1939, many schoolchildren, incl from poor families, began to receive free breakfast at the expense of the national budget.
Since 1940, the government of the United Kingdom began to consider school meals as one of the mandatory components of mobilization measures in preparing the country in case of military conflicts. As a result, by the end of World War II, more than 1.6 million schoolchildren were receiving free breakfast every day (10 times more than in 1939). Of this number, 15% of breakfasts were completely free: all expenses were paid by the state.
By 1951, 49% of schoolchildren were getting a free breakfast, and 84% of schoolchildren were getting a free glass of milk. In the early 1970s, the UK developed a full-fledged school feeding system, in which meals for children from low-income families were completely free.
However, in 1979, after the Conservative government led by Margaret Thatcher came to power, the attitude towards school meals changed dramatically. Government involvement in organizing school meals was considered a bureaucratic and costly undertaking. As a result, over the next 10 years, thousands of British schoolchildren were deprived of free breakfast and lunch.
What are the consequences of this? Schoolchildren began to eat cheap and unhealthy food. An analysis of the diet of adolescents in 1997 showed that sugar consumption increased by 30% compared to 1980. Two-thirds of children began to regularly and in significant quantities eat white bread, chips, sweets, sugary carbonated drinks and eat less fresh vegetables and fruits (50% of the recommended amount).
By January 2000, only 44% of English children were receiving school meals (almost 25% less than in 1979). Of 3.76 million children from low-income families, only 1 out of 3 received a free lunch at that time. At the same time, the food of schoolchildren turned out to be deficient in many micro- and macronutrients. Among children, the number of diseases of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems has sharply increased, the risk of developing osteoporosis and oncology has increased.
In recent years, the British authorities have sought to revive the tradition of providing local schoolchildren with hot and healthy food.
School meals in Warwickshire County caterers
Children from underprivileged families regularly receive free meals, but until recently, school lunches in England were not considered useful. The menu included semi-finished products, french fries and various sweets. Famous chef Jamie Oliver began to promote the idea of schoolchildren’s transition to healthy eating. With his initiatives and appeals, he achieved that the equipment in schools was replaced with the most modern, the cooks were sent for retraining, the soda machines were removed, and in general, the menu was made diverse and useful. Now healthy eating in schools is actively promoted, involving parents: they are given brochures and even offered to check their snacks for usefulness using a special application.