A free lunch in the age of austerity

Local Government is expected to find £1.166bn in savings in 2010/11. Islington’s new Old Labour council is demonstrating precisely the wrong way to deal with this austerity – taking the axe to core services while paying out election bribes to the wealthy and saving their councillors’ pet projects.

Islington’s Labour councillors introduced Free School Meals for all children in the borough’s primary schools and nurseries. Helping low-income families with a free school lunch is a good Government intervention, but Labour councillors in Islington believe that this benefit should be universal. What this means is that the poorest council tax payers are buying meals for the sons and daughters of Highbury millionaires, including Boris Johnson. It’s an incredibly expensive project, with £3.5 million being spent on this handout to the rich and middle-classes at a time where serious budget cuts are being made.

The Islington Tribune reports that £3 million of cuts are being made to school services in Islington: 49 people laid off from the education department, including 17 teachers, truancy officers, specialist schools advisors, visiting music teachers, and an educational therapist.

Teachers are being fired so that middle class parents can receive benefits that were designed to help the poor.

The Islington Gazette reports on further cuts that Islington Labour is making across the council: cancelling improvements to Highbury Fields budgeted for by the previous Lib Dem administration, letting the roof fall in on a local heritage building, hiking the cost of council services, and, the cruellest cut of all, slashing the flower budget (actually pretty important to make inner-London life more bearable, and good luck to Rhodri Jamieson-Ball’s campaign to save them!)

If Labour weren’t giving handouts to middle-class and rich parents, all cuts to the education budget could be avoided, with money left over to save other services as well.

The thinktank Reform has shown that under the last Labour Government welfare entitlements expanded to groups not in need, with £30.9 billion spent on providing benefits to the UK’s middle classes. Reform argued that:

“Responsibility has drained away from the British welfare state, leaving a poisonous blend of entitlement and apathy. Middle and high earners, who could and should be independent of public welfare, instead use their political weight to extract ‘their fair share’ from government, through universal benefits.”

On the face of it, Islington’s ‘Meals for millionaires’ policy was a simple election bribe aimed at the well-off in the borough – give us your vote and we’ll give you more free money. That’s the Gordon Brown strategy of governance in operation locally: promising lovely things that you can’t actually afford. The difference is that Gordon knew he wouldn’t be in power to have to cash the cheques.

The project in Islington also continues for no better reason than because it was the pet project of an influential Labour councillor. The councillor behind the project also happened to be a professional lobbyist for Sustain, a fake charity which campaigns for universal free school meals across the country.

I’d also suggest that the Labour councillors (a rum bunch of unreformed loony-lefties) are following the old Jesuit proverb, “Give me the child until he is seven and I’ll give you the man”. Islington Labour are trying to get children hooked on welfare from nursery: suckling on the state’s teat in a horrifically almost-literal way.

Published in: on July 27, 2010 at 3:43 pm  Comments (1)