A government-commissioned review into food and healthy eating by the National Food Strategy warns that the country's eating habits are a "slow-motion disaster". It warns of the toxic connection between poor diet and child poverty. It calls for many more children to be eligible for a free meal at school, as "only 1% of packed lunches meet the nutritional standards of a school meal".
The review says they should be available to a further 1.5 million children, in addition to the 1.3 million already eligible - so almost one in three children would get free meals. The extension of free school meals, at a cost of £670m per year, would bring them in reach of all children in families claiming universal credit. Such a move would aim to stop pupils being hungry at school. It also proposes making a long-term commitment to feeding more families over the summer holidays, by making another 1.1 million children in England eligible for the "holiday activity and food programme". Included as well is the expansion of the Healthy Start fresh fruit, milk and vegetables voucher scheme for pregnant mothers, increasing its value and encouraging supermarkets to supplement the voucher with free fresh produce.
The review issued warnings about "misleading packaging" of unhealthy products and the report challenges the "false virtue" of how the food industry presents itself. Behind the ethical ambitions, the report suggests there is still a culture of "unhealthy multi-buy offers". Report author Henry Dimbleby said a nutritious diet was the "foundation of equality of opportunity". He spoke of some apparently healthy fruit snacks that are "clothed in a veneer of goodness and might not be better for you than a Mars bar". Dimbleby was scathing of brands and supermarkets that mislabelled sugar-filled products as healthy sweets. This practice was rampant, he said, though he singled out popular M&S sweets for particular criticism, saying: “I have had a bugbear about Percy Pigs for a while. Percy Pigs are a sweet that is marketed on the front with all-natural fruit juice and it’s right by your kids’ little fingers, and on the back [of the packet], if you understand calorie labelling, the first four ingredients are forms of sugar. I just think that is not right.”
There are serious consequences, says the review, with one in seven deaths in the UK attributable to poor diets.
"A nutritionally poor-quality diet is the leading risk factor for ill-health in the UK, yet we do not treat it with the same seriousness afforded to other risk factors. That has to change," said Susan Jebb, Oxford University professor of diet and population health, who worked on the report.
The Socialist Party does not oppose reformism because it is against improvements in workers’ lives. The current proposal to introduce increased free school dinners is a more noble aspiration than could scarcely be imagined – an attempt to eradicate poor diets and consequent poor health of children.
However, any subsidised services that falls into our laps becomes an opportunity for those that live off our labour to lower their costs, and increase their profits. Free school dinners would be an example of this process in action. Working people with children would be relieved of the cost of providing those meals to their children. This would result in a decline in the monetary cost of maintaining themselves and their family, and thus a decrease in the upwards pressure on wages. The typical wage would then tend to fall towards something nearer to living costs of those of a childless worker. This would thus benefit the employing class, both through cutting the overall direct cost of wages, but also through ending the situation in which childless workers were paid unnecessarily from the point of view of the employers. The employer could be prevented from gaining from this process by an increase in taxation – whether nominally on the workers’ wages or directly on employers’ profits; this would serve to cream off the difference between the old and the new prices of labour power. In this way, the free school dinners scheme could be made to pay for itself. This would, though, merely represent a redistribution of poverty for the working class, the intervention by the state into the labour market to ensure a more efficient allocation of the workers’ ration, so that children get a protected share.
Our criticism is, then, that by ignoring the essence of class, it throws blood, sweat and tears into battles that will be undermined by the workings of the wages system. All that effort, skill, energy, all those tools could be turned against class society, to create a society of common interest where we can make changes for our common mutual benefit.