Free School Meals

What are your thoughts on what Katie Hopkins has had to say about free school meals? (See the link below). Personally I think she is generalising. There are people claiming free school meals because they have found themselves in a situation, through no fault of their own, whether it be due to death, divorce, unexpected unemployment or abuse. Katie does not seem to acknowledge this but lumps everyone in the same boat. Of course there are some people who abuse the system but there are many others who have found themselves in unfortunate circumstances.

When I was six years old, my parents separated. My father was a violent alcoholic, who abused my mother and, one time, tried to burn the house down while we were both asleep in bed. My mother tried her best to rectify her situation. She tried to stay with family, but she was given the good old 70’s mantra of “you’ve made your bed now lie in it”. She went to the council, who refused to help her find a place to live because she wasn’t homeless. Therefore, she lived in this situation for more years than she should have done. When it became clear that her child was not safe, she left. She was a single mother, working part-time and money was scarce. We were eligible for a school uniform grant and free school meals. I remember every Monday the teacher would call our names out to collect our dinner money. Even though she knew I received free school meals, she would still call out my name. I remember feeling mortified. I was too embarrassed to say out loud that I had free school dinners. So, every Monday, when my name was called, I would walk up to the front (all eyes on me) and whisper to the teacher that I had free dinners. I don’t know why she insisted on doing this every week, perhaps with a class of thirty she simply couldn’t remember who had what. Fortunately, my classmates never commented. I think they must have realised, by how red my cheeks were, how embarrassed I was and they were kind enough not to add to it. Was my mother a scrounger who took advantage of the system? Absolutely not. Her only other option would have been to stay with an abusive man, putting her child in danger.

Many years later, with children of my own, The Husband found himself out of work. He had worked since he was a teenager and anyone who knows him, knows that he is a workaholic. He has forgone family holidays, celebrations and weekends, to be able to work. He was adopted at a young age and knew what it was like to have absolutely nothing. Something that he did not ever want his children to experience. So it was, that when he found himself out of work for six months, he refused to claim benefits. He felt that by claiming benefits, he would have become a failure and would be letting his family down. We soon started to accrue debt and we had no choice but to ask for help and sign up for benefits, causing The Husband to sink into a depression. At this point, we could have claimed for free school meals. However, my own experience prevented me from doing this and we continued to provide for our children, ourselves. It was a difficult situation and was one of the worst periods in our marriage. Fortunately, after six months, The Husband found work and we then spent the next few years doing our best to pay off the debt, while still trying to provide the best for our children.

What Katie Hopkins has failed to acknowledge, is that there are people in a situation of needing to claim tax payers help, through no fault of their own. There are people desperately trying to rectify their situations and people who have worked for many years and have paid into the tax system themselves, before needing help. Yes there will always be people who take advantage, my own cousin was age thirty before he ever worked a day in is life. However, this is the problem with generalising, you are putting people who are genuinely in an unfortunate situation, in the same category as people who have no intention of working or contributing to the welfare state. It isn’t fair Katie and you have ended up coming across as small-minded and bigoted. I do see what you are trying to say, however, ‘Brian, who works down the Co-op’ did not pay for The Husbands unemployment benefit. We have both paid into the tax system, myself at that point for at least sixteen years. Neither did ‘Brian, who works down the Co-op’ pay for my free school meals. My mother, who worked every hour she could to provide for me, paid for my school meals, via the taxes that she had paid into the system. Katie, I would like to pass on to you, my current favourite phrase. We may be in the same storm but we are not all in the same boat. Be kind.

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