I see people arguing that Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM) is a policy worth pursuing “because it ends the stigma for children on Free school meals” (FSM).

Firstly this ignores the fact that infant aged pupils rarely, if ever, pick on each other because a child receives FSM. At 4,5 and 6 they are too young to understand the relevance of FSM. If you want to address stigma, target the age groups who it impacts.

Secondly things are very different in education these days, almost all schools have moved on and use recommended best practice in this area. Great efforts are made to not identify pupils being given FSM, things like cashless cards, wristbands and biometric systems are common place these days

This isn’t to say children aren’t still stigmatised for being poor, especially in secondary, but we should acknowledge that the issue is poverty, address that and not pretend feeding wealthier infants is in any way some panacea.

The problem that does exist and is actually compounded by people using the stigma argument, is that some parents are put off applying because they still think children will be identified by the school. Correcting this perception rather than encouraging it, will improve take up and help those children receive the meal they are entitled to.

If people really, truly want to end stigma, we need to address the poverty! Address the fact that there are children officially living in poverty, whose parents are on WTC, who are not entitled to FSM. Don’t just mess about targeting one age group, change the criteria for FSM and help the poorest in society whatever school year they are in.

A couple of further points, in my experience the biggest sign of poverty picked on by children, is shoes. If you want to see who is poor in a school, look down, look at the state of a childs shoes. I have also seen children notice the extra support coming through PP, it’s a bizarre unintended consequence, but PP may be a cause for signalling children out. (Please dot use that as an excuse to cut PP).

UIFSM is a phenomenally expensive way to solve a problem that exists mainly in the mind of people who have run out of other ideas, those desperate to justify the policy, because the other evidence for UIFSM doesn’t stack up.

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