No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

We’re out of the woods, folks! We’ve finally turned the corner on the road to recovery. We’ve seen the green shoots of recovery. We’ve reached our Costa Concordia moment (according to Boris Johnson). We’ve a load more of clich├ęs where they came from.

Yes, the government’s harsh austerity programme is apparently working well enough for both parties to come to an agreement on offering the electorate a couple of nice sweeteners, thanks to the generosity of the taxpayer.

The Liberal Democrats’ sweetener is free school lunches for all children in their first three years of primary school, with a possible eye to extending this for the whole of primary school in the future,

Using taxpayer money to fund free school lunches for the first three years of primary school on a universal basis has to be one of the silliest ideas yet.

What about those of us who send our children to school with healthy lunches? Why should our children be obliged to have a cooked lunch at school when we eat together as a family in the evening? Are they supposed to have two cooked meals a day or are we not supposed to eat and talk together as a family in the evening? Is it really right that people who have no children should fund others who do have children?

The test areas where the universal provision of school meals have been trialled have shown no causal link between provision of the meals and improved academic performance. Poverty campaign groups have voiced their opposition to the scheme.

For similar reasons as those raised by the poverty campaign groups, I’ve never been a fan of universal benefits, despite benefiting from them as a parent of three children. The concept of universal benefits outside healthcare is strange to me. Benefits should be used to help the poorest in society and not as a general sweetener for the whole population.

It is bizarre that wealthy pensioners still receive the heating allowance, and yes, it is bizarre that all parents receive child allowance, although this situation has finally been changed, albeit in a clumsy and unfair way for couples with a stay-at-home parent.

The original purpose of the welfare state was to help out those genuinely in need in times of desperation. If we were to remove the universality of benefits and return to the concept of caring for those in genuine need, we could free up a great deal more money to help such people and at the same time lower the tax bill, thereby providing a fairer ‘universal benefit’ by effectively leaving more money in people’s pockets to put back into the economy.

The Conservatives, for their part of the bargain, will be offering the tax break for married couples they thrashed out in the 2010 coalition agreement. Do we have any evidence that this is likely to have people rushing to the registry office or to keep couples together who would otherwise be heading for divorce?

To single people out for financial advantage based on their marital status in the 21st century is poor. It discriminates against widowed parents, single parents, and cohabiting parents, for purely ideological reasons.

In all the above cases, I stand to benefit personally, but I’m afraid I’m not easily swayed by governments buying me drinks when it’s ultimately me who picks up the tab in my taxes.

Ultimately, I’d rather those in need were given more, most of us managed with fewer state handouts (for which we pay anyway), and the overall tax burden were reduced.

Those of us who have children should be making the decision to do so with the financial consequences in the forefront of our minds; that includes clothing and feeding the children until they are adults. It is utterly unfair for those with no children to be further funding others’ children, when they already pay for the latter’s healthcare services and schools through their taxes.