Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Milk memory and time we grew up about The Cuts



It took me back for a moment. To a classroom, the smell of Copydex, a pair of nobbly tights under sandal buckles and what happened when I rubbed my thumb on the silver top of the milk bottle. Usually by the time the plastic crate clinked around to me, the straws had been jabbed through the foil, but, sometimes, I got an unpunctured bottle. The pleasure in making that perfect silver dish before my thumb popped through splashing tepid milk was immense. Kind of like a forerunner to the donk a teaspoon end makes in a virgin coffee jar. (The loss of this is the only drawback of my coffee snobbery)

It was all this talk of free milk that did it. Mr Cameron didn't like the idea that it should be scrapped. He's about the same age as me and I turned seven the year that Thatcher Milk Snatcher took our playtime treat away. Did he miss the thumb, milkbottle lid thing too at his prep school?

But I do wonder just why free milk is such a sacred cow for him. I didn't even know kids still got free milk until this week. I have no recollection what happened with Boys One and Two and their nursery milk, none whatsoever. But just recently Boy Three has graduated from SMA to cows and when I asked both his nursery and the child minder what the arrangements would be, they said something along the lines of 'oh, don't worry we have it here'. And I left happy and proud that it was another perk of the wisely chosen childcare. Hmmm.

So If I didn't even know my child was benefiting from this benefit, how can I be upset at its removal. And, while scientific evidence seems sketchy, a free drink of milk for kids who really need it seems an excellent idea... if it's targeted.

This came as I had a lovely supper with a chum J who works in a local authority press office. Among many subjects covered were council cuts. She kindly let me have my set-piece rant about the protests against the school bus being cut and how it'll cause me a really big personal inconvenience (as well of course for busier roads, more pollution, blah, blah). Then she nodded sagely as I opined that all the council needed to do was catch people who let their dogs poo and fine them lots of money, enough to save the bus.

Then she said: "Well yes. I can see the bus thing isn't good. In our council area the parents are paying their own bus transport, maybe you could try that."

Then she fixed me with a Look. "You know, you middle class types should be a bit careful what you protest about. The council has to deal with every one and it costs a fortune. The bottom line is that there are going to be far more cuts than just the bus. Real, proper cuts. You haven't seen the half of it yet."

"Really?" I gulped.

"Really. There are going to be horrible decisions like shutting special needs schools, stopping meals on wheels, shutting parks and libraries. No one's going to like it."

Crikey. But she got me thinking: How we've got into the mess is irrelevant, what matters is how we clean it up and still protect the most vulnerable members of society. We've all got a little bit used to having all sorts of things, school buses, swimming pools, old folk we don't need to worry about because Somebody is responsible.

Maybe we all need to accept that if we can afford to pay for stuff, we ought to. I can afford milk for my children and the cost of getting them to school. I love our free library, but if it cost a little I'd still go. It's pleasant that the grass is cut here every week, but my life would be no different if it was cut less frequently.

What's this got to do with a little girl sitting in a classroom rubbing her way through a foil lid with her thumbnail? That little girl has grown up and had a bit of a think and reckons she - and everyone else - should work out what matters for everyone not just what's mighty irritating and inconvenient.

15 comments:

  1. Brilliant! Yes, you've nailed it. That's it exactly Ellen.
    It's understandable that people get upset when cuts affect them directly but, like you say, they don't always see the Big Picture.
    I was thinking about our conversation myself later on that day and I imagined a mother being put on the spot and someone saying to her: "Ok, you can have this for your kids, but care for your mother will suffer, or vice versa. Your choice."
    It's an awful predicament but one that is becoming oh, so real.
    And that was a great idea you had about opening up school dinners to the general public. I'm sure there's lots of things like that that would make a difference. It's how we're all going to have think these days.
    And I'm flattered my words had such an impact on you. At least someone listens :)

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  2. I think I agree with some of what you say. I guess, like Milton, working in the voluntary / public sector means I have a pretty good idea of what cuts will be made and the impact that it has on people's lives.

    I think there needs to be some honest debate (and the Daily Mail et al might just have to take a step back from their own agenda) about what we take as minimum standards we want from the state. Do we want more cases like Baby P? My friend works as a children's social worker, and they have already stopped having any agency staff which means that if any staff go on maternity leave / sick leave or just leaves the job, their caseloads have to be taken up by existing staff. Make no mistake, that will lead to vulnerable children not receiving home visits and so on. In Scotland, I think most people would be very shocked about the social care model used in England and Wales. The Scottish parliament is very generous in comparison (imo rightly).

    Similarly, I've been reading up on the schools building project for a post for LTMs. According to the audit carried out by the last govt, a quarter of children are learning in classrooms with inadequate heating, lighting and ventilation (in a workplace they would be sent home). This leads to attendance and health issues, for both pupils and teaching staff and is proven world wide to have an effect on learning as well as surveys showing that teaching staff do not stay in these schools for more than two years. Do we want that? We are not a third world country and it doesn't have to be that way.

    The school building project was also going to prop up a lot of private enterprise, keeping people in jobs and spending money. Worldwide economic history from the 1930s onwards has shown that countries that spend and invest in such schemes suffer least in times of recession. It is no surprise to me to read in the papers this morning that we are heading back into recession, after Labour were getting us out of it. I was never Gordon Brown’s biggest fan as a Prime Minister, but he was a world leader in the economic history and Cameron and Osborne are bumbling idiots in comparison.

    I do not believe that the school buildings scheme has been scrapped due to the deficit, I believe it to be entirely ideology based, mainly because most of the schools still on the list to have improvements are also the ones heading for academy status. Not only that, but many popular schools were due to have building work in order to accommodate more pupils, and while there is a shortage of school places, this is essential spending!

    Similarly, changing the way that they NHS works so that essentially private contractors manage it is a fundamental change that will change the structure of the NHS for good. The Coalition have admitted that this will cost money, not save it and this was not in either party's manifesto. No one voted for it.

    On a personal note, because I live in such a rich area, I always assumed that we were round about average until I read the figure for the average UK salary and realised that we have nearly 4 times that much coming in. Even taking into account the fact that we are have only one salary, our income is still nearly 3 times the average household income. That's quite a lot.

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  3. So, although we can afford to pay a membership fee for our library, or pay for transport to school, we are (I'm still talking about our household) part of a minority. The majority of parents don't have spare money. I know from work I have done with people working out budgets and so on, applying for charity applications for essential items for disabled children, that for a lot of working people, covering the cost of their child's school bus would mean less money for food, or having the heating on less, or not having a family car. Which is why I maintain that it is fairer for all if these things remain free (especially things for older people and children) and that ‘we’ pay for them through our taxation system. That way all children can enjoy minimum standards and can start their education on something like an equal footing (ie. They can all get to school and access resources they might need regardless of the financial decisions of their parents)

    David Cameron keeps relating the national situation with household incomes. In my household, if we find ourselves short (we are often the neo skint ;)), we don’t just look at what we can cut, we look at whether there are ways to increase our income too. I think most people do. I really do think that if this govt was truly trying to reduce the deficit they would be looking at more innovative ways to tax, such as the Robin Hood tax in order to generate income, rather than cutting services.

    I could probably rant about this all day, and sorry if this is dis-jointed, it’s hard to re-read in the teeny box and I keep getting interrupted! I genuinely feel scared when I read the papers at the moment, and have currently banned any such discussions at the dinner table because it actually makes me feel physically sick.

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  4. I remember paying for Amy to be poisoned with school milk, until the day came when she announced she didn't want it anymore!

    God, you've brought back an awful memory for me too, that awful warm milk that we were made to drink. Yuk.

    CJ xx

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  5. I think you are right - if you can afford to them pay it. The Minimads get milk at school,m they have little fridges and love their milk. We also provide 50p a week for snacks and baking that they both do. We already have to pay to order books from the library - £1.20.

    I could go on, but wont!!

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  6. I can buy a piece of fruit in the staff canteen for 30p; I'd happily pay £1.50 a week for TB to have a piece at breaktime because I reckon there's more chance of him eating the stuff when all his friends do. He was never really too fussed about drinking milk at school when it was still free (he's past the age for it now).
    Transport to school is a tricky one. I think there's a reasonable distance where a kid should be expected to walk, obviously varying depending on the age of the kid. If there's a school within that distance then transport (except in exceptional circumstances) should not be paid for. Beyond that distance (unless a closer school place is refused) then there should be some option.

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  7. Free milk? I wasn't aware children got free milk. I may, perhaps, have taken this for granted when my daughter started school. She's seven now and I've been paying for it as long as I can remember, perhaps that is not the case for everyone. I pay for her transport to school (school bus) and mid-morning snack too. I think, if there are children receiving free school milk, that it should be targeted at those who can't afford to pay because the cost does add up for an eight-week term and for families with more than one child, this would be expensive. There are many children on poor diets these days, it seems crucial that they still have access to at least one healthy drink a day. Your post has made me realise how little I know about politics! I've made a note to pay more attention!

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  8. At the risk of (again) being the token old fogey who is an avid admirer of your blog, and also at the risk of telling you stuff you already know, the free milk thing started during the food rationing of war time, when it was deemed necessary for children to be provided with milk and orange juice. The milk was not liquid but dried and came in tall tins; the orange juice was very concentrated stuff that had to be diluted and tasted fab. I don't remember when the orange juice was withdrawn, but the dried milk distribution went on for quite a long time after the end of the war, and my recipe for chocolate crispies which originated during the war, made use of the surplus dried milk.
    Incidentally a certain Boy Two, who refused to drink milk at home, apparently drank it quite happily when he was at nursery, as I discovered one day when I was tasked with picking him up, and had a look round and quizzed the staff! Mxx

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  9. Wow, ladies. You give good comment.

    Milton, it's hard not to want the best for your kids, but that might be a lesson in the importance of society (get me, old lefty)

    Jo, you raise excellent points.
    There is no excuse for the levels of underfunding in the likes of the fabric of school buildings or experts who protect the most vulnerable. And I don't know enough about the school building scheme scrappage to comment. However, it strikes me that we've got to go back to the big picture and work out who needs what and how they're going to get it.
    I'm not entirely sure private contractors in the NHS is actually such a bad thing. I did some NHS internal comms stuff for a while and I was astonished by the soggy, flabbiness of some parts of this most complex organisations. A great many people were not focussed on getting the best result for everyone using the least resources.
    Interesting what you said about average salary. What is the average out of interest?

    CJ Did the school really poison Amy?

    The Madhouse, it sounds like you're paying quite a lot. It would be interesting to see what people pay in different parts of the country.

    Glowstars, thanks. I agree transport shouldn't be automatic. Where we are my boys get the bus to school 1.2 miles away. But the council are keen to remove the service making the limit 2 miles. It's not too far to walk, and we do sometimes. But removing it altogether will seriously affect my earning hours - from when they get on the bus to when they get off it.
    And now they are scrapping the bus to the secondary school (about 2 and a bit miles away) so when Boy One goes next year we'll face a new challenge.

    Also I think many of the parents would be happy to pay for transport to school just to keep the service going.

    Rosie, I didn't know about the milk until this week.

    Mum, I think this gives a good excuse to devote a whole post to the wonder that is Auntie Marion's Chocolate Crispie Recipe. x

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  10. Yes must agree if you can afford to pay then you should - sure everyone likes stuff for free but unfortunately there is not enough money for everyone....
    My kids don't get free milk - but they do get free fruit! Which they don't really need as I could just send them some fruit into school everyday.... I think a lot of money does get wasted paying for things we don't really need....

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  11. I'm torn between making a sensible comment about council cuts or agreeing with you about the wonderful tactile pleasure of rubbing milk-tops. It's too late at night for the former so will just say that I also loved picking the tops off the bottles at home and smoothing them out. Then probably sening them to Blue Peter.

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  12. The cuts are ideology-based, not deficit based. The changes in the NHS, for example, will cost more than they save and anyone who knows the NHS and knows how much GPs understand about commissioning services (or want to do it) knows they will cause chaos. The previous attempts to put GPs in charge of commissioning cost more than the current arrangements.

    We are being sold a pup with all this deficit hawkery. Ireland pursued exactly the same approach a couple of years ago and were hailed by George Osborne as a shining example. Now their credit rating is being downgraded and they are in a far worse economic mess than they were in the first place.

    The last thing any sensible economist would do at a time of economic uncertainty is cut like these clowns are doing. Already, the recovery that was underway is in reverse, with economic growth forecasts revised downwards.

    This is economic insanity of the worst kind. We are not in this situation because of what we spend on essential services, we are in it because we had to spend billions bailing out the banks. People are blithely accepting bollocks from Cameron and co when they should be on the streets expressing their horror at what ideology-fuelled vandalism to public services.

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  13. Wow, I really enjoyed reading this post. You write beautifully, emotively! I agree that those of us who can afford to pay a bit more should do so. I paid for my son to go to a specialist pre-school because I knew he needed it and even though it cost every bit of the saving I had at the time, it was worth it. I hope me using my savings means that someone who had none still got to send their child to a specialist pre-school too. The cynic in me thinks that probably didn't happen though...

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  14. Hey, I ranted completely off topic there, didn't I? Actually, I think paying for food and milk in schools is fine - we'd have to feed them at home, wouldn't we? I think probably the milk should just be available to those who would otherwise get free school meals or something (incidentally, Cara doesn't get milk at nursery, I'm not sure why).

    I strongly suspect that DC only 'saved' the milk for PR purposes. Thatcher is still remembered as the milk snatcher.

    As for the average salary, it depends on how you work it out, but is generally accepted to be around £23-25k per year. A couple of links: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8151355.stm
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/aug/15/david-cameron-middle-class-wealth

    Jo xx

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  15. Hi DJ,
    Thanks very much. I'm glad you were able to find a school that could help your boy.

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