School meals – an ’emotive subject’

Sally-Ann Hart

A reader has asked us to post this response received from a senior caseworker in Sally-Ann Hart’s office in response to enquiries about not providing free meals to schoolchildren during school holidays.

A different view, and local initiatives, are reported separately – as is some of the  factual background.

Thank you for your email.

Yet again the press has a lot to answer for in stirring up emotions with little attention given to the facts and even less accuracy.

Sally-Ann is an extremely principled and honest person who has always stood up for what she believes in and has voted against the government on a number of occasions in the short time she has been in post.

Free school meals is an emotive subject and Sally-Ann voted with the government because she believes residents should be helped to look after their children, not have that responsibility taken away.

Sally-Ann prioritises the needs of children on every level – financially, educationally & emotionally.

As a magistrate on Hastings Family Court for 15 years and a former Rother councillor, she is painfully aware of the circumstances of many young people in this constituency.

She has also seen first-hand that, sadly, many parents in this constituency cannot or will not prioritise the needs of their own children.

As recently as this summer, numerous constituents wrote to us complaining that school meal vouchers were being openly sold in Hastings and this office has seen evidence of a significant rise in local cases of child neglect and abuse by their own parents.

The facts under this government:

  • free school meal eligibility has been increased to a further 50,000 children
  • £9 billion has been added to the welfare system
  • £180 million has been added to help those struggling with rent
  • £63 million has been given to councils for local welfare

In summary: Labour believes in state decisions and state responsibility and Conservatives believe in personal freedom and responsibility.

Parents should be encouraged to take responsibility for their own children and then helped and supported through the welfare system if they cannot manage either financially or emotionally.

State dependency takes away our freedom and our pride and turns the welfare state into a way of life rather than a safety net.

Sally-Ann wants more than that for the residents of Hastings and Rye.

Image Credits: UK Parliament


  1. It’s a rather dogmatic response, and contradictory too. On the one hand, SAH’s case worker suggests she believes parents should be “encouraged to take responsibility” for their children, and on the other hand recalls her personal experience that “…many parents in this constituency cannot or will not prioritise the needs of their own children”. So, where does that leave the children? It appears to be a neat recognition that in such circumstances school dinners would indeed address the problem. A tried and trusted mechanism that’s already in place and not reliant on parents, who may (for many reasons) not be properly attending to their children’s needs. Why punish the children for the acts or omissions of their parents? Sadly, intransigent ideology doesn’t feed children.

  2. Well said Guy Harris. It’s all about the children not the parents.

    If anyone is caught selling school meal vouchers then they should be prosecuted. In this respect it is disappointing that the “numerous constituents'” reaction was to contact the office of their MP rather than the authorities. I wonder if the Senior Caseworker (assuming one exists) chased this up or did anything about it at all rather than use this information for political purposes?

  3. So our MP stands up for what she believes in. This rather begs the question as to what that is. According to her voting record she has ‘ rebelled’ on just three votes out of 145, and these could well have been free (unwhipped) votes. Hardly the record of a genuine freethinker. Perhaps her office would care to enlighten us on what these issues were.

  4. What a despicable response from SAH’s office. Of course welfare should only be a safety net, but we live in unprecedented times due to the pandemic many people’s financial circumstances have changed quite dramatically (though not MPs of course, which might go some way to explaining their lack of empathy). That safety net *is* required. For SAH’s office to try and dress it up as an issue of Tory vs. Labour ideology is disingenuous at best. This is about the urgent need of the poorest in our society, not political point-scoring; the issue transcends partisan politics. And I write as a former Conservative-voter who has no intention of ever voting for the party again until the grossly incompetent ‘gruesome twosome’ of Johnson and Cummings has been shown the door and the party stops lying about everything. Here’s a thought: how about SAH campaigns for MPs to lose their entitlement to expenses and subsidised meals? Obviously if the country cannot afford to feed children in poverty, it should not be subsidising the meals of overpaid MPs who do not need the subsidy.

  5. Perhaps our MP might have some words of support to families that are suffering financially because of Covid 19 not inferring that they’re incapable of looking after their children. Her statement is really patronising and condescending and as for ‘free thinking’, really?

  6. According to scientific advice we are heading for more serious problems with Corona Virus, in which case at what point does personal freedom and liberty stop and the
    government help starving children .

  7. SAH writes: “numerous constituents, complaining,” It would be interesting to learn what “numerous’ actually constitutes here, 1 perhaps or even zero?
    And why bring it up, unless your aim it to vilify the ‘great unwashed’ and reinford that hackneyed mantra that, if a few abuse it, none deserve it.

  8. While it is generally the case that Conservatives like to reduce expenditure on the welfare system, this has not been the case recently. According to the National Audit Office, 190 measures have been introduced as a result of Covid-19 at an estimated cost of £210bn (

    The additional cost of providing Free School Meals during school holidays is estimated at £370m ( across the whole year. That’s less than 0.2% extra cost.

    What many of us don’t understand is why draw the line here? When the governments magic money trees seem to be delivering for so many, why single out hungry school children? Is it because they’re not (yet) part of the electorate?

    I looked for evidence that this particular benefit could be uniquely susceptible to fraud as Sally-Ann implies. But I couldn’t find any. Is there any independent study which supports such a claim? Secondly, the scheme provides vouchers which can only be used at certain supermarkets. Hence, they’re harder to use for buying drugs or other illicit purposes than actual money which is what all other benefit schemes hand out. Thirdly, some schools in our area have converted the scheme to provide actual meals. Does anyone (e.g. drug dealers) accept ham sandwiches in payment?

    Personally, I believe that no-one should go hungry no matter what they’ve done or who their parents are. We feed convicted murderers, rapists and child molesters in prison without question. Why not provide enough for innocent children to survive?

    As Nelson Mandela is quoted as saying: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

  9. “Secondly, the scheme provides vouchers which can only be used at certain supermarkets. Hence, they’re harder to use for buying drugs or other illicit purposes than actual money which is what all other benefit schemes hand out.”

    @Ash Madden – The Tories allege there is some evidence that vouchers have been sold for cash by claimants and the cash used to buy drugs, though I’m not sure how they could possibly know this even if it were true.

  10. It would take a pretty pessimistic view of mankind to concoct that scenario. I can see how a voucher *might* conceivably be offered for some paltry amount of cash by somebody in particularly dire straights, but who on earth would buy a school meal voucher for cash? If you had cash you surely wouldn’t need the voucher… Or are we saying the drug barons of East Sussex now accept school meal vouchers as in lieu of cash? Those school dinners must be a whole lot better than they were in my day…

  11. Now that the government has performed (yet another) U-turn on this topic, please may we hear from Sally-Ann Hart if her position has also now changed? Is she still opposed to the provision of free school meals during school holidays? And if so, what does she plan to do about it? After all, as she says above, she “has always stood up for what she believes in”.

    Or has her position magically changed such that she now supports the government’s latest position? If so, what changed? Does she now “believe in state decisions and state responsibility”?


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