Jamie Oliver’s television programme has highlighted the scandal of junk food school meals being served up to our children by private firms. In some cases a pathetic 37p is being spent per child. This is the inevitable consequence of allowing profit hungry privateers anywhere near our children’s health and education.
Private firms now provide 40 percent of school dinners, while catering staff are paid an average of just £82 a week. Schools at the bottom of a new meal league table, compiled by the Soil Association, have less than 40p allocated to ingredients for dinners, while those at the top get up to 70p.
Local education authorities for Rotherham, Greenwich, Redcar and Cleveland, Birmingham and Stockton-on-Tees all spend less than 40p per child for a meal, while the more affluent London boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea and Wandsworth come top with spending of 65p and 70p respectively. This is an absolute disgrace.
The appalling quality of the food being dished up to our children is directly linked to the growth of obesity, ill health in general, and affects the ability to learn, which, in turn, is directly linked to the mounting problem of illiteracy.
More than a million children have been failed by Labour’s national literacy strategy, which has left them unable to meet basic standards of English, according to a new report from the Centre for Policy Studies. The right wing think-tank blames education methods, but fails to draw the obvious link with the lack of nutrition.
The profit motive is undermining our children’s health in school and even in hospital. The privatisation of hospital cleaning is directly linked to the spread of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and other infections.
At least nine pre-school children have died after contracting the superbug MRSA since Labour came to power.
Between 1993 and 1996 no children under five died from bloodstream MRSA, the most serious kind of hospital-acquired infection, but at least one has died in almost every year since 1997.
The spread of the MRSA hospital ‘superbug’ is clearly linked to the 45% cut in cleaning staff since the NHS allowed the private sector to compete for contracts. UNISON has published independent research showing there were 55,000 cleaners in the NHS in 2003-04, compared with 100,000 20 years ago.
Private firms exist to make money not to provide services. The market is not capable of providing school meals for our children, nor cleaning our hospital wards, any more than it is of running the railways. The consequence of penny pinching, profit hungry firms being able to leech money from our children’s health is as much a disaster as the train crashes that have resulted from rail privatisation.
Feeling the pressure over the school meals disaster, Blair and co have attempted to jump on the bandwagon. There have been plenty of sound bites but no concrete action. The government’s response has been pathetic.
They have failed to commit any new money to improving our children’s dinners. The proposed new Schools Meals Trust is to include representatives from big food companies – the same companies that make profits from serving up rubbish to school children at present.
Catering in our schools, cleaning in our hospitals, and all our public services must be taken back into public ownership.
For a massive programme of investment in school meals.
Serve our children healthy food and pay school meals staff living wages!
End Competitive Tendering and clean up our hospitals!
Kick Private Profit out of Public Services!