Thursday 25 September 2014

Breakfast clubs

You might think that poverty was an absence of sufficient money, but not according to government departments and NGOs.  For several years in the 90s, The Beloved worked in the area of Fuel Poverty, but could never understand why Fuel should be privileged over other items of the budget.  If you live on the edge you have to make brutal hard choices every week. Should I buy a half sack of coal or woolly hats and gloves for my two toddlers? I stopped trying to grasp the subtlety (too stupid) and stopped asking. Here's a definition that sort of makes sense, which hinges on the definition of poverty. Part of me believed that Fuel Poverty was created by the Fuel Poverty Agency as a way of ensuring some salaries were available for people who knew about double-glazing, kilowatt-hours, condensation and gas-boilers . . . and cared about the dispossessed.  Some sort of explanation comes from the observation that by changing the definition you can stop 800,000 poor Brits from being "fuel poor".  I bet their children are still cold and miserable.

This week I heard another term: "Food Poverty" in the context of a new report from Better Food For All. This is not to be confused with the FSAI Food Safety Authority of Ireland, which I've had a skeptical look at in February. BFFA is well-enough funded to employ 3 healthy looking young women with Master's degrees who have presumably been processing and analysing the data from a study funded by Kellogg's to see if feeding poor kids before school improves the educational outcomes.  The website is heavy or assertion and light on statistics but their bottom line is that €1.8 million will go a long way if divided into 70c breakfasts every day to feed up children in DEIS schools.  The hope is that thereby they attend school more regularly and pay attention while there. Deis means 'opportunity' in Irish and the DEIS scheme encompasses 850 schools across the country which need extra attention because of the high proportion of disadvantaged kids.

€1.8m sounds like shirt-buttons in the scale of the annual budget and it seems to be a super-efficient and elegant plan for achieving a desirable outcome - giving kids who have nothing a chance to get full benefit from an education and perhaps escape the poverty trap in which their parents find themselves.  But, to put it in context, BFFA are asking for more money on top of €38 million already allocated for school meals. hmmmm?  Less clear that we should spend tax-payers money on such a paternalistic way of forcing the poor to do what we consider the correct thing?  And are Kellogg's "Funders" Cornflakes or Cheerios the best way of starting the day?  A vat of oatmeal porridge is cheaper, has a lower glycaemic index and isn't supplied by a multi-national for their own fell purposes.  If the ethical, social and economic issues were easy, I wouldn't have time for them on The Blob.

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