I might be a little late to the party on this one, but better late than never.
Recently the Executive agreed to extend the free school meals program over the summer period. Now obviously they aren’t going to personally deliver a meal every day to almost 100,000 kids, so instead parents who are eligible will receive £27 every two weeks per child who is entitled.
First of all, as someone who has been on free school meals my entire life, this is a welcome gesture. These are difficult times, and understandably, we can all use a little extra help. If that’s all this decision is, that being a helping hand through a health (and financial) crisis, then fair enough. End of discussion. No further comment needed.
If, however, the reality is what I think it is, that the left plan on using this pandemic to further their own agenda in the future, then I think this is potentially one of the worst things that the Executive could do if their goal is to help working class families with financial difficulties.
I fully believe that come next summer, the growing number of middle-class socialists that are being produced by the universities will demand that there is no good reason to go back to the old ways of cutting off free meal entitlements throughout the summer. I fully believe that they will pursue yet another extension of the free meals program, only this time the goal will be to make it a permanent arrangement throughout all months of the year.
Before I continue, I have to mention the enjoyment I get out of a popular leftist Facebook page called Progressive Politics NI. I believe that the views expressed by the page are full of bigotry and hypocrisy, and I love pointing this bigotry and hypocrisy out in the comments and watching as the ‘progressive’ revolutionaries come storming in to attack me and my views. When I mentioned that doing things like giving families £27 every fortnight can actually harm working class families more than help them, I, of course, was greeted by PPNI’s followers with the strawman argument that I want to see children go hungry and they insisted that I had no idea what I was talking about. Because obviously no one understands the struggles of the working-class more than a bunch of educated middle-class socialists.
Anyway, the point of me saying this is to dispel the argument before it is even made. I do not want to see kids go hungry. I want to see families prosper. I want to help bring wealth to the working class. I want to see every child being given the best chance of success and happiness as is possible. The way to go about this, however, is not offering handouts. Sure, handouts can sometimes help out in the short term, and there are likely many families who rely heavily on handouts, and I fully support giving these out when needed. What I would challenge is this belief that throwing a little bit of cash at families like mine every week is going to eradicate world hunger.
The issue is that in the long term, these things never help. You’d be genuinely shocked at the amount of families who could probably make up double the amount of cash every week that this program is offering simply by cutting down on luxury items such as cigarettes, alcohol, and, a lot of the time, even drugs.
Now, I don’t blame these parents for being in the situation they are in. They live in a system where instead of helping them solve their alcohol addictions, stop smoking, treating their drug habits, and managing their finances, we look at them and say “no no no, you don’t need to make any changes to your behaviour. Here, take this cash and don’t worry about it.”
It’s not victim blaming to propose that a lot of parents in this country are irresponsible with their money and need to get their finances in order. And I don’t think it’s their faults at all! We are never taught these things throughout our 14 years or fewer of school. How can we expect these folks to manage their money if we never teach them how? How can we expect parents to fight drug addictions when the law threatens to lock them up if caught? How can we expect people to even want to improve their financial situations if we are just going to get the government to step in and fund people’s irresponsible lifestyles?
Now of course, not all parents are like this. A lot of people genuinely need this cash, and to those folks I have no issues with helping them out in any way we can. The unfortunate reality is, I’d argue, that the vast majority of people in these situations need help, not handouts. Help to manage their finances. Help to battle drug and alcohol addictions. Help to lead a responsible lifestyle, resulting in a happier, healthier, and wealthier working class.
Again, I’d like to reiterate that the free school meals extension over summer is a welcome gesture to help those families who struggle the most through this crisis. My issue isn’t with the present decision. My issue is with the future decisions that I feel will be demanded.
To summarise, I’d like to make these two statements;
1. This extension is a welcome gesture.
2. It is not a permanent solution.
The working-class people of Northern Ireland are some of the brightest, most intelligent, decent, and hard-working people I know. We are filled with potential and all we need is a little help reaching it. It’s unfortunate that I feel the self-described ‘progressive’ students that have saturated the political discourse are only interested in virtue-signalling and giving themselves some sort of moral high by guilting us into accepting someone else’s money. If we object, and say that we need guidance rather than less than £15 a week, we are accused of wanting to watch kids starve.
The working-class needs help, not handouts. We have an unbelievable amount of potential, we just need help achieving it.
Joel Keys is an 18 year old unionist activist studying A-Levels at Sixth Form. His goal is to politicise young unionists who currently don’t care about politics.