A fiduciary duty to provide free school meals - GulfToday

A fiduciary duty to provide free school meals

Birjees Hussain

She has more than 10 years of experience in writing articles on a range of topics including health, beauty, lifestyle, finance, management and Quality Management.

She has more than 10 years of experience in writing articles on a range of topics including health, beauty, lifestyle, finance, management and Quality Management.

Schoolchildren

Many children in the West go to school on an empty stomach and their parents hope that their school will provide them breakfast free of charge.

I’ve always been surprised by how developed nations like America and Britain still have the level of poverty that’s usually seen in developing countries like the subcontinent and Africa. For decades we’ve seen horrific pictures of babies and young children with bloated stomachs and skeletal bodies because their parents had nothing to feed them.

Apparently poverty has its many levels. Whilst children in some developed countries do get a meal, I suppose it’s noteworthy that in some families there is only one meal and that is usually in the evening. Many children in the West go to school on an empty stomach and their parents hope that their school will provide them breakfast and lunch free of charge. In some countries there are school breakfast programmes but they last for only as long as they are funded.

In England there is no such thing as breakfast being served to children first thing and if you’ve ever heard the phrase, ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’ well that is true of most schools around the world. When I was at school in England, there was a small payment for lunch. It was popularly known as ‘lunch money’ which was collected by the ‘dinner lady’ as we lined up to get our lunch. I recall that sometimes my parents couldn’t afford the coins for us to buy school lunch and often gave us sandwiches. School lunch was something to look forward to but it wasn’t possible every day.

But on the day money was available, it was great not just because the food was hot and tasty but because it also gave our mum a much needed break from having to make and pack our lunches.

The world’s been in a state of recession for a very long time now and many families have been struggling to put food on the table even though a parent might be working multiple jobs. This situation has been exacerbated by COVID-19 as a result of which many employees across the world have been made redundant. Consequently, in some families no one’s working at all and that’s when not only does paying bills become a problem but so does putting basic food on the table.

The situation is so bad that many UK firms in the hospitality industry have begun an initiative whereby they donate food parcels to hungry families.

Now there is an ongoing debate in the UK about providing free meals to children from low-income families across the country. The free lunch is not meant to be permanent but only to cover Christmas, some preferring that it also be extended to cover the pandemic period.

The British government has been hugely criticised for reversing a decision that would have provided free meals during the holiday period.

The criticism has escalated further after some Conservative MPs made some pretty unpleasant comments on social media. Some of the comments were without proof whilst others seem just cruel towards children who likely have to forgo at least one meal a day.

One MP claimed that food parcels were being exchanged for drugs. Who’s heard of a drug pusher expecting payment in food instead of money?

A second MP insinuated that companies that handed out free food to feed children would not be given any financial support should the pandemic cause more mayhem in the country. It was clear in her mind that they obviously had so much money that they could give away food. Clearly the concept of giving is lost on her!

Unpleasant and unsubstantiated comments aside, the question is, is it incumbent on local school authorities to feed their pupils for free, even if it’s for a short period of time? Incumbent might be the wrong word. That being said, some countries, like Estonia, Finland, Sweden and India provide a permanent free lunch to children in compulsory school education regardless of whether or not they can pay. That is very commendable.

To be honest, the government has a fiduciary duty to look after young children. The reason being threefold. Firstly, surveys show that children who are given a free meal at school show better attendance because parents make sure they go to school for a meal that they can’t provide.

Secondly when they do attend, they are far better disciplined in class than they would be, were they hungry. And thirdly, I thought the children of any country were supposed to be the future of the nation.

They will go on to earn money and pay their taxes. They will also have fond memories of their country that helped them when times were hard for their families. Are governments now allowing their future to starve rather than nurture it?

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