Friday 7 October 2022

Breakfast and lunch at school

apparently now needs to be provided to seventy-five thousand in this state. This is of course what the media is saying - and we all know they love to exaggerate any issue.

It is likely however that it is an issue for too many. It has been an issue for a long time too.

My mother was the head of the first "junior primary" school in this state to provide breakfast for some children on a permanent basis. The children concerned were provided with "weet-bix" (similar to Weetabix to those of you in the UK and then bread and Vegemite (similar to Marmite) and milk.  Not only did it provide the children with some nutrition it got them to school. 

The school secretary and the woman who ran the school canteen were responsible for most of the work involved. Somehow they found the money to buy an extra loaf of the cheap bread used to quietly give the children involved a sandwich at lunch time as well.

That was more than forty years ago. The school secretary and my mother became good friends. After my mother died I maintained the friendship and M... and I would ourselves meet for "breakfast" a couple of times a year. We talked about those school breakfasts. M...had brought up four boys on her own - boys who all did very well indeed. Money was extraordinarily tight at times but she fed them well, clothed them well and made sure they not just attended school but did well there.  She knew, from experience, that it was very hard work but it could be done. 

M...however had no great expectations that the breakfast program or "club" as they called it would change anything.  I have no doubt she was right. At least some of the children who needed breakfast then would have had children and now grandchildren who need breakfast now. They need lunch too.

Of course there are some of these children whose parents are in situations outside their control. If illness hits a family or one of the children has special needs then they may well need extra help - help they would never consider asking for in the normal way. But there are others who "expect" to be given these things.

M... could be extraordinarily outspoken. More than one parent who smoked was told "Not in here. Cigarettes cost money and we don't want children seeing money spent on that sort of thing."

She longed to take charge of their finances, to prevent them from spending money on cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, entertainment, fast food and much more.  M... clashed with social workers who took the attitude "we can't tell them what to do" and "they have the right to spend their money in whatever way they wish". M... was of the opinion they did not have that right. They had a responsibility first to their children and the needs of their children.

I am inclined to agree with M... There is no excuse for the vast majority of children to go hungry in this country. We have a wildly expensive and very generous social security system. No, it isn't easy even with that - but it can be done. It is why I supported the cashless welfare card. That card may have its many problems but the problems of those without it are even greater.

If children are coming to school without breakfast and without lunch then we need to be asking why this is so. We need to ensure that the money coming in is being spent on what it needs to be spent on. If some people need extra help then we need to make sure they are getting it - and that others are not getting it in place of those who need it most.


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