Guest Blog: Me and free school meals

(Last Updated On: November 17, 2020)

This blog is not a political one and not meaning promote any one side or support any sort of political argument, its merely viewpoint of an adult who was once a child who received free school meals.

When I was 4 years old I started school and my family was a ‘benefit family’ (that is the nicest term for what I was called due to my family receiving government funds to live off, I mean it was the 80’s, 90’s).

I clearly remember me and a handful of other children being called to the heads office at around 10 am every day at which point Mrs Canty, the heads PA would produce a jar of peanut butter, marmite and jam and ask us which we would like in our sandwiches. She would then sit at her desk and prepare our chosen sandwich. We could then take an apple from a box, a kwik save no-frills yoghurt and carton of milk, this was then all put in a clear bag and off we went with our free lunch, as a 4-year-old I didn’t know to feel shame or embarrassment and although I knew we were different to the other children for me I felt special and loved, the only time I would feel like this on any given day.

There were lots of other ‘perks’ to being a free school mealer for me it meant that my parents didn’t have to pay for trips, which didn’t really impact them as they wouldn’t have paid for it anyway and would not have been affected by not doing so, but for me, it meant I got to go on such trips like the one where I went to Brownsea Island with my friends in the rain. If my parents had had to pay then I would have stayed behind and done extra schoolwork that day. The 38-year-old me would like to thank all those who paid tax so that I could be with my friends that day.

Fast forward to secondary school, and yep you guessed it we were still a family being provided for by the government however the free school meal set up was very different from my primary school experience.

The system in place at the time was ticket-based, all children whose parents paid for lunches had to line up in one queue where a blue ticket would be handed to them once ripped from a perforated strip, anyone who’s parents were in receipt of benefits would line in a different queue parallel to the blue ticket holders and receive a pink ticket thus making it starkly obvious for all to see, the divide between us.

I very rarely collected by pink ticket, only on days where I was so hungry, it hurt, as the stigma attached to it, especially having to queue in what was effectively a queue that identified you as a ‘benefit’ family was too much for me.

I didn’t want to be bullied and embarrassed by other children in the class, so on the days where I really needed to, I would watch the queue from a distance and nip in at the very last minute hoping no-one saw me.

There were quite a few other children in that queue for whom on a daily basis they were reminded that they were not like everyone else and with other students ready to remind them of this, however they queued and went through this to ensure they got something to eat.

I received (or rather didn’t at secondary) free school meals throughout my school life due to the choices of my parents and other adults living with me throughout my life.

My mum chose to not work and provide for us, 4-year-old me did not.
My Mum chose to not educate herself to ensure she was better placed to support us, 5-year-old me did not make that choice.
My mum chose to spend all of her family allowances during half terms and holidays on luxuries like wine and cigarettes instead of milk and bread 10-year-old me had no say in the spending decisions of the adults I lived with.

As a 38-year-old woman who now has a family of her own I would not have got anywhere in life or have survived some of the things I did without the handouts and generosity of others, I promise your taxes weren’t wasted on me, quite the opposite and I now work hard to provide not only for my own children but also for all those children living as I did.

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