I’m just as shocked as you are. Turns out that this government’s generosity does have a limit after all!
But this does, of course, come as something of a major surprise, given how “in touch with the common man” our government is. I mean, just take a look at their London Mayoral candidate, Shaun Bailey, finding an innovative, practical and compassionate solution to the homelessness problem based on his own experience:
Of course! Why didn’t anyone else think of that?! Now I can rest easy, knowing that I shouldn’t bother donating to charities that provide safe accommodation, medical and psychological care and paid work for the homeless. I’ll just bung ’em 20p, and after 250,000 people have done the same thing they can buy themselves a luxury loft conversion in Hackney Wick.
For Christ’s sake.
Now look, it’s worth noting at this point that the government is not directly responsible for the paltry food packages that have been sent out. This responsibility lies at the feet of the company responsible for sourcing and distributing the food, Chartwells. But we’ll dive into why this government, not so much a cabinet of all the talents so much as an IKEA cabinet with far too many screws missing, still deserves the blame for yet another fiasco.
And yes, it’s our old friend cronyism once again.
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD PARCELS
It’s a pretty sad indictment of where we are as a country that any of our citizens rely on food banks and food parcels to survive, but that’s where we are.
And by the way, if you’re one of those people who says “Oh, well if we hand them food vouchers, then those deadbeat parents will probably spend it all on the marry-jü-ahnah and crack cocaine,” then you can get in the sea. I’m not even going to deny that yes, this probably has happened in some cases and will continue to happen, and it’s desperately sad for those children who are mistreated this way.
But if you are really one of those people who believes that one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel then I pray that you find some sort of joy in your miserable little life.
Because even this bunch of particularly free-market Tories concede that ensuring children aren’t sodding malnourished is a human right. Which is why the free school meals system existed in the first place – during term time, kids that couldn’t bring in food from home were given access to food provided by the state. And if you’re asking, “What kind of terrible parents can’t even afford to feed their kids?”, I would just like to remind you of something.
The average salary in the UK is £35,000. The average. This means that there is a significant number of people earning far, far less than this, especially as salaries of over £200,000 distort the average to be even higher. When you take into consideration that living in major cities is extremely expensive, none of us are taught about proper nutrition (unless you have the luxury of having the time and money to read about and buy healthy produce), and saving money is almost impossible when you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck, it’s no wonder that so many kids have to be fed by the state.
So maybe don’t blame the parents from your ivory towers. The fact that you’re able to choose what you have for dinner is a luxury that millions of people in this country, the 5th richest in the world, don’t have.
Where were we? Sorry, today’s post is quite a rambling one. I get very, very angry about this. Can you tell?
Ah yes, free school meals. You’ll probably remember the furore last year when the government said it wouldn’t extend the programme outside of term time, despite, y’know, the pandemic causing untold economic misery on those worst off.
Enter Manchester United and England winger-cum-striker, Marcus Rashford.
I will admit that I am now such a cynical, miserable bastard myself that when I heard about the campaign, I immediately thought, “PR stunt.” But no matter how savvy the team around him, it’s clear that this is Rashford’s personal mission. His MBE is well-deserved, although there is more than a hint of irony in the fact that the Queen gave him an award for combatting her own government’s ineptitude/callousness.
I wonder what Queenie makes of Boris Johnson. She’s probably used to dealing with bounding, furry cretins having had the corgis for so long. Feed him a biscuit and he’ll usually stop humping.
So anyway, Marcus Rashford campaigned that the free school meals delivered in term time be extended to the holidays, too, and won. Hurrah, children won’t go hungry.
Now, supposedly 75% of schools use a voucher system, where parents are given £30 to go and spend in a supermarket, choosing things themselves, and catering to their childrens’ specific needs. But 25% are sent food parcels, courtesy of Chartwells, a private company that the government have outsourced to deliver them.
Let’s have a look at a £30 supermarket shop vs what Chartwells have delivered:
Beans, cheese, carrots, potatos, Soreen, bread, apples, one tomato, and three Frubes. That, my friends, is what I call a snack.
And it’s meant to last for DAYS.
As Green Party MP for Brighton Caroline Lucas has stated here, Chartwells has apologised and is now investigating. Boris Johnson has called the parcels a disgrace, and the government’s official recommendation has now switched in favour of food vouchers.
Chartwells have said that the issue was with rapid scalability, and there is obviously truth in that. While they are now the UK’s largest distributor of school meals, they have to hugely increase their output in a short amount of time.
But then that begs the question, why didn’t they say that they might struggle? Why were they only able to put £5.22’s worth of food into the package when their budget was £30? Why weren’t more firms outsourced to, ensuring above all else that children’s nutrition was the top priority?
Well, I have a reason. Ten thousand, actually. Paul Walsh, outgoing chairman of Compass Group, which owns Chartwell, is a Tory party donor, having given £10,000 to them.
Good Lord. Surely I can’t be saying that this government hands out contracts, paid for by taxpayers’ money, to friends and donors without even allowing competitors to get a look in? Surely that would be an egregious way to use the money that we pay the government to, oh, I don’t know, reinvest in the country and look after our most vulnerable citizens?
Look, according to a “local source” that used to work for a government minister in the 1970s, this happens all the time. And I get that you have trusted suppliers, businesses you have a good rapport with, and so on.
But handing out billions of pounds of our money to Tory donors, appointing peerages to allies and sycophants, and bypassing the Civil Service in favour of spending yet more hundreds of millions of pounds on private management consultants is almost criminal. It’s certainly desperately immoral.
The Tories are supposed to be champions of the free market, allowing competition and innovation to drive rapid growth. How is that supposed to happen when they’re the ones doling out lucrative contracts to people purely by virtue of the fact that they’ve shot grouse together?
And the people who suffer are the consumers. Look at those food parcels. £5.22’s worth of food instead of £30 – a considerable amount of the missing £24.78 presumably going straight into Chartwells’ coffers. Look at the frontline NHS staff forced to wear binbags because their PPE, made by companies that previously made plastic cups, isn’t up to code. This cronyism not only undermines trust in the government, but means that the quality of goods suffers, too. And it’s always those who need the most help who end up getting shafted.
It’s against almost any political, economic and moral code that I can think of.
And one final thought, just a reminder that Boris feels poor.
These people won an 80-seat majority.
I’m moving to the Cayman Islands. At least they’re open about stealing taxes.