In 2005 Jamie Oliver shocked the nation when he highlighted the poor nutritional quality of food served to children in many schools. Basically they were eating junk food, loaded with fat and salt and he reasoned that this was not good for them. In an online petition over 270,000 people agreed and after much hard work by Jamie and his team of originally sceptical dinner ladies, the Government of the day set up the School Food Trust. The purpose of the Trust was to replicate Jamie’s work in schools across the country.
The importance of this work can not be understated. The most up to date figures published by the Department of Health for obesity in children are for 2010, when 30% of children [2-15 years] were either over weight or obese, and 16% of all children were obese. These figures have doubled over a decade, so we can presume that the true figure for child obesity is now much higher. Unfortunately the Department of Health either doesn’t know or isn’t telling us about more up-to-date data. This is a health time bomb. Already obesity related illness, including type 2 diabetes and heart conditions are costing the NHS £1billion a year. An international team reporting in the Lancet estimated that by 2030, 40% of the UK population would be obese, accounting for 2% of the NHS budget. If the Government really wanted to get NHS spending under control it would take these statistics seriously and work to get the nation’s weight under control, starting with the kids.
Unfortunately the Government is not taking this seriously, its only answer to NHS spiralling costs is to privatise it. Its response to the poor state of young peoples’ diets is to stop funding the School Food Trust in order to save £15 million. Since 2006, the Trust has been asked to survey school meals to determine progress to healthier, low fat and low salt meals. This year the survey will not take place. Instead, Ministers have commissioned the founders of the Leon chain of fast food restaurants in London to report on school food.
There is no need for such a report, the Trust has that information and, working with Local Authorities and all interested parties, it has a programme to improve the food that young people eat and also to engage them in food preparation and production. So what is the true purpose of the Leon ‘report’? We can presume it is about providing private catering to Michael Gove’s de facto privatised Academies. They won’t want to be burdened with nutritional standards for school meals any more than they want to be burdened with a national curriculum or national standards of employment for staff. When it comes to a competition between profit and quality, for school dinners at least we might suspect that it is quality that will lose
The Government will as usual argue that it must get public spending under control, yet it can find money when one of its pet projects is in need. To put that £15 million saving in to perspective: the Government is funding a major up-grade at the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment in preparation for fabricating the warheads of a new generation Trident missiles. This up-grade is costing £5 Billion. Wouldn’t you think that the Government might be able to trim just £150 million of this ridiculous and immoral expenditure, in order to secure the funding of the School Food Trust for 10 years – an organisation dedicated to improving the lives of our children, at the cost to an organisation dedicated to Weapons of Mass Destruction?
By Mike Shipley, EMGP.