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Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Welsh Problem - Part One

Imagine a scenario...

The government decides that all parents not choosing to have school dinners, i.e. those preparing packed lunches for their children themselves, must register with the local council, even though they are declining a service (i.e. school dinners) rather than being provided with one. A bit odd, but let's go with it. The parent's failure to register with the council will result in their children being forced to eat school dinners instead, effectively punishing the child for the parent's misdemeanour. School dinners could also be forced on the children if the parents supply the council with false or "inadequate" information. Essentially, a parent could be criminalised on a whim, despite fulfilling their parental duty to feed their child. This can't be right!

On top of this, to make sure that the contents of the lunch box meet a new state-determined, nutritional standard, the council will be given the authority to inspect the food cupboards and fridge in your home. Instead of sending a nutritional expert, as you might expect if such a thing became law, they will send someone whose business is school dinners or maybe someone whose usual job is in child protection (just to make you feel really bad about having the gall to feed your own children). The lunch box inspectors will be from the same department which is currently under threat of having its duty to provide school dinners removed for failure to adequately feed children.

These inspectors also want to meet your child. Let's hope your child isn't shorter, taller, fatter or thinner than average. Who knows what they might say to them during the interview? People can be so cruel. And yes, I did say interview. What if the inspectors find your child is a little overweight and spot a cake on your shopping receipt? Will they listen to your explanation that it was a birthday treat or will they write a report stating that cake appears to be a regular feature on your menu? Will they be able to suspend all your food preparing duties? It's really not clear from the proposals. What if the lunch box inspector is one of those people who lives on soup and lettuce? Will they bring their biased views into your private family life? What if you're vegetarian? What if you're vegan? Your local inspector could be a rampant carnivore who is totally ignorant about alternative diets. Oh no, the government can't really interfere in private family decisions, can it?

Finally, the council will be able to deny or revoke your registration which means that far from being a simple registration scheme (as if that wasn't bad enough), it's actually a licensing scheme. And they want 12 weeks to make their minds up, but it's not clear whether you'd be able to continue to provide packed lunches or whether you'd have to wait for permission while your child ate school dinners. In essence, as a parent choosing to feed your children yourself, you are expected to submit yourself, your child and your home to monitoring and apply for a licence to parent. After all, feeding your child is just part of your parental duty like everything else you are expected to provide for them - clothing, a home, love, an education. Why should you need a licence to feed your child when everyone else can get away with no monitoring at all just because their children eat school dinners? Surely, that's extremely unfair. All parents should be trusted to feed their children, at least until such times as a concern is raised to the contrary. Isn't the presumption of innocence the basis of law in this country?

There are a few more points to note. The rationale for this scheme is that councils have a duty to identify those children who are not receiving a lunch at all. Apparently, it would be much easier for them to compel parents by law to register their packed lunch provision than it would be to write to all schools asking them to provide details of total children, total school dinners and total packed lunches. With the second approach, a simple sum could be used to determine if anybody is left out. And let's face it, it would be a huge failure on the part of schools if any children were unaccounted for! Seems so simple, doesn't it? I wonder why they don't go for that approach instead. But no. The first option of introducing legislation to force parents to register for a non-service is the bizarre solution they've come up with. Well, that's the rationale for the compulsory register. But what about the licensing? Sorry, totally stumped with that one. It must just be an attempt to control and monitor parents. Or possibly that the council (and the inspector) have more to gain if we invest in their school dinners. What else could it be?

Even those whose children do eat school dinners would want to hear about this injustice. Even they wouldn't support this government interference, would they? Can they be relied upon to stand shoulder to shoulder against the government alongside the lunch box brigade? It might be lunchboxes today, but tomorrow could find us being inspected to see if we love our kids enough, or if our house is the right temperature, or if our children's clothes are adequate. Will the mums and dads stand united to protect all our families from unwarranted state intrusion? I wonder...

Now, in case you're wondering what the hell this is all about, this is the basis for the Welsh problem, which is not an imaginary scenario, but a government proposed reality. It just doesn't happen to be about school lunches. Look out for part two.