Nick Clegg has been a prominent critic of giving welfare benefits to wealthy pensioners. Indeed, as recently as June, the Deputy Prime Minister said that “I don’t think you can have a debate about welfare that is provided to people at the bottom, if you’re not prepared to have a debate on the welfare that is provided to people at the top”.
There seems little to disagree with in this view. As the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) has long argued, it is strange for the state to continue to provide this array of benefits to pensioners and the better off, irrespective of income.
But Clegg’s announcement yesterday that Free School Meals (FSM) will be given to all children in reception, year one and year two undermines this principle.
This pledge, which will cost an estimated £600m, is flawed and unjustifiable in the current climate.
There are a number of problems:
Here are several ways £600m could have been put to better use:
Given the need and scale of the social challenges facing the poorest in our society, it is surprising that yesterday’s announcement has received such enormous backing from campaigners. In times of fiscal constraint, everything is about priorities. On this occasion, it is difficult to understand another universal giveaway.