Free School Meal vouchers over the summer will not deal with the problem of poverty

Well done to Marcus Rashford, his campaign seems to have encouraged the government to extend provision of free school meal vouchers through the official 6 weeks holiday. If that means the result is that a number of children are properly fed over the summer then that is a good thing.

However, this is not going to provide real and long-term improvement in terms of childhood and food poverty.

I understand that things have changed quite a bit since the 1980s when I went to school and those receiving school dinners had to cue up for their tokens (which they usually tried to sell on to other pupils before heading off to the chippy or the pie shop).  Greater effort is taken to make the process discreet and to avoid stigmatisation. And yet this is still a piece-meal system that works on the basis of giving fragmented handouts, the kind of thing that Universal Benefit if properly and failt implemented should presumably have eliminated.

I’ve been reflecting this week on work, rest and play. Again, I’ve been reminded of the value of work. The Bible starts with God commissioning Adam and Eve to work in the Garden and in subduing creation, God models rest and commands rest (Exodus 20) in the light of 6 days work. Gleaning meant both that the poor had a share in the work of harvesting and in the fruits of the harvest Paul links our right to eat to our responsibility to work.  Work is seen as a good thing.

We have a tendency to see work as a necessary evil. The Bible sees it as a blessing, even if that blessing has been hindered by The Fall.

The Old Testament Law and the practices of the early church also encourage an attitude to poverty and riches that seems light years away from the political options on the table today.  Wealth is something that those who create it can enjoy. It is not in and of itself a negative thing. There is no forcible redistribution by the State. Yet there is an understand in the shared meals at festivals, the gleaning provisions, the Sabbaths and Jubilees, and the willingness of disciples to put into a common pot that we hold wealth lightly and on trust.  All of God’s people are meant to share in God’s goodness.

I believe that the Bible encourages a different attitude among God’s people to wealth and poverty. However, it does not propose a specific system. There are Christians who have tried to get the Bible to endorse socialism and there are other Christians who see in its pages a free-market utopia. I guess we see what we want to see. So, I don’t think it is helpful when Christians seek the support of Scripture for their pet policies and their chosen political party. What the Bible will do is challenge by heart attitudes towards work, rest and the needs of my brothers and sisters.

I think it is good to have ideas about how we could address issues to do with poverty. For my part I’d be interested in seeing the following looked at.

  • The benefits of universal basic income and living way policies
  • Understanding the causes of debt and helping families to take steps out of it.
  • Seeing work as a good thing rather than labour being dispensable so that laying people off our cutting ways is a first resort response to economic turbulence.[1]

I’m sure that whilst I might have lots of ideas about how to do this that my solutions will be quickly knocked down by experts in this area. However, I would encourage us not to simply forget about this issue for another year and accept short term solutions. We should pray for those who wrestle with policy decisions like this who need God’s wisdom to resolve challenging issues. Finally, we should pray that our own hearts would be open to God so that he can route out materialistic idolatry from our lives.

[1] I like the idea of learning from the furlough scheme and either through Governments setting revenue aside or employers developing insurance schemes seeking to provide a similar cushion for future economic downturns.

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