Did you see last week’s episode of political spoof The Thick of It? Rebecca Front’s character, now promoted to Opposition Leader, is haplessly trying to obey the advice of her spin doctor – so much more important than staying true to her election promises – and finds herself supporting the government’s radical cuts to schoolchildren’s breakfast clubs. At the same time, the government itself does a U-turn and decides to leave the funding in place. This leaves Rebecca and the Opposition looking like the kind of children-hating monsters who would run off with an orphan’s bowl of Frosties.
The very next day, I picked up the newspaper, and found that the cuts are actually happening in real life. At a time when more people than ever are being thrown out of work, with shops closing down left right and centre, and benefits being slashed, the government thinks it’s excellent timing to stop subsidising children’s breakfast clubs. I suppose Eton/Oxford-educated David Cameron can’t get his head around the fact that there are a lot of children in the UK who simply won’t, now, eat until lunchtime. And then they will only get lunch if the government keeps providing free school meals, and Eton/Oxford-educated George Osbourne doesn’t decide to slash them as well.
Children do a lot less well at school if they are not fed. Imagine starting your working day on an empty stomach. Could you keep going until midday? Child One’s lunchtime has changed from 12 to 1pm at her new school and she said that, for the first few days, despite having breakfast, she was too hungry to think in her pre-prandial lesson (she’s taking a snack now). It just isn’t the way to get the best out of anyone, especially a child. And breakfast cereals, in particular, have long been stuffed with extra vitamins and minerals so that children have a fighting chance of getting their daily allowance – as long as they actually eat breakfast, of course. That’s not forgetting that breakfast cereals and bread routinely contain folic acid, which cuts the risk of life-threatening birth defects like spina bifida. This may not be a consideration for the vast majority of schoolchildren – but the number of shows on Channel 4 called ‘teenage pregnant dropouts’ etc suggests there are plenty of young girls out there who definitely need to be taking it.
It does make me cross that the government is doing this. Our children are the last people who should suffer for the economic catastrophe brought on us by a bunch of greedy bankers. And, if we don’t nourish and educate the next generation, the likelihood of making more stupid mistakes grows, surely?
At least there are still some people out there making sure children who need it get fed, even if it’s not our government. Kellogg’s are just about to launch the second year of their ‘Give a Child A Breakfast’ campaign, which last year raised £230,000 and was able to give grants of £450 to 500 breakfast clubs.
“We used to get one or two calls each month enquiring about setting up a new breakfast club. We now get around 30 enquiries a month to ask for food or funding for existing breakfast clubs. We carried out some research amongst teachers this time last year and discovered that one in eight breakfast clubs had closed. Half of them cited budgetary constraints as the reason. A further 45% were at risk of closure because of budget cuts,” says Kate Prince.
Kelloggs’s is not the only company with an interest in breakfast clubs. Greggs also provides breakfast for about 9,000 school pupils a day, while local companies and schools themselves run many more. The School Food Trust has published research on the benefits of breakfast clubs , and school teachers are usually quick to say that either a good breakfast at home or a school breakfast club give a good start to the day. Parents, too, praise the benefits of the communal side of breakfast clubs, teaching manners and socialisation at the crack of dawn – something I am sure I have not quite got the hang of yet myself.
Honestly, this posh-boy government. It really comes to something when a merciless spoof of political life holds back from snatching food from children’s mouths – only for real politicians to do it for real in real life.
Incidentally, for those, like me, who love The Thick of It but miss half the lines due to the sheer pace, have a look at this helpful Guardian blog. But remember, that Malcolm Tucker is a terrible pottymouth.