I wrote a month or so ago about the new policy for free school meals for early primary children in England. I am still wondering how Mr Gove went along with the universalist nature of this, but no matter. The case for school meals free at the point of consumption was well put in the Telegraph a while back, alongside references to the other, more economically-liberal, points of view. These are not hard to find. Indeed, I have one myself which wonders whether this is just going to absolve many families from what little responsibility they feel for feeding their children properly. It's certainly hard to see how the policy in practice will persuade those that need persuading that cooking decent food for their children is a good idea.
Of course, just because the food becomes free doesn't mean it will get eaten. The pilot study where school meals became free, and which led to this policy shift, saw an increase in take up from 50 to 85% in Durham, and from 50% to 72% in London's Newham. Thus, in Newham, where social depreciation is not unknown, over a quarter of families turned down the free meals. Something like this will always be the case, and the many possible reasons are easy to identify. My favourite was told to me by a Yorkshire hill farmer whose son took a packed lunch to a school with a fine reputation for its meals. When I asked why, she said that he ate all-organic food at home, and as the school could not guarantee this, he took a lunch box – a happy co-incidence of parental responsibility and good food.