Seasoned observers of the political scene will note that the Guardian’s pages are packed the gunwhales with stories about how this or that family, this or that group, are being cruelly oppressed by Tory Austerity. Dawn Foster and Frances Ryan seem to be making careers out of these sorts of pieces. The worry is that upon close examination their numbers never really do add up. We’d all actually be interested in any one of their detailed claims that do stand up. Perhaps the best from Frances was a claim that a bloke didn’t buy his daughter a birthday present because he was worried about the costs of his multiple prescriptions. Which is capped at £110 a year and the NHS will even finance that for you, interest free, at a rate of £10 a month for not all the months of the year. No, we do not think that £10 a month is something that even those on benefits unduly worry about.
So it is with Dawn Foster today. The story is that poor peeps get free school lunches. But it’s the school holidays, so the free food won’t appear. This means that children will starve, thus something must be one. State lunches for all. At which point we get:
Yet for thousands of families, the six-week school break is characterised not by play schemes and day trips in the sun, but acute financial stress, hunger and malnourishment, due to the absence of free school meals for children on low incomes that costs a family £30-£40 a week.
Agreed, £30 to £40 a week is a substantial sum to the poorer among us. But quite how are we reaching that figure? It’s distinctly difficult to think that it costs £40 a week to feed lunch, at home, to a child. Especially when the average household food bill is under £60 a week. No, not per person, per household. So, there’s obviously something dodgy here.
If we take the modal family arrangement, 2 kids, this would imply that it’s £3 a day for lunch – or so – for each child. Or perhaps we should take the actual cost of school lunches? The average appearing to be about £2 per day. £400 and change a year according to the Government itself.
So, to get to that £30 to £40 a week cost of feeding the kids lunch we would need to have 3 or 4 kids in the household. That’s not an average familial set up these days, is it?
But it gets much, much, worse than this. The price of a school lunch includes the staff, the space, the equipment, to make it. All of which aren’t costs at home – or are subsumed into the more general household overheads anyway. They’re certainly not valid marginal costs of making lunch for the kiddies. But that is what Dawn is telling us, isn’t it?
It costs £2 or so to make lunch at school. Poor people get this free. Therefore if they have to make lunch at home they’re losing £2 per child per day. Which is total and absolute nonsense.
But then, you know, numbers in The Guardian, why should they matter? As long as we can shout about Tory Austerity all is copacetic, no?