Free School Meals and Rishi Sunak

I was reading an article about Rishi Sunak on the Daily Mail app this morning. I like to read this paper as it is the window for how the Tories are thinking, how they should be thinking, or how they will be thinking in time. Even better are the comments section for the article itself. This is where you can really explore the opinions – assuming they are real – of the general public, and it is often more interesting than the article itself.

On one such jaunt, one comment makes reference to the idea that because of Rishi Sunak’s background – that of enormous wealth – he could not possibly understand what poverty or poorness is like. He therefore should not be in a position to make critical decisions about looking after the people of our country.

The gentleman that wrote the comment said he is looking for someone with “a brain and compassion, and someone who has lived through the good and the bad”.

While the argument that you should have experienced the good and bad to qualify as Chancellor, or a politician for that matter, is not practical or necessarily fair, it is fundamentally very helpful. We cannot experience each other’s lives, and cannot therefore truly understand each other’s feelings. People can only guess how families that rely on foodbanks and social benefits might feel based on their own experiences.

As it happens I spent my entire childhood growing up on social benefits. As a child I did not necessarily feel poor because I did not know the difference. There was food on the table and a roof over our heads. Yes, the house was crumbling around us, extra layers were to be worn in the house to save on heat, there were many occasions when the roof over our heads was threatening to be lost, and I had to stay in college for the household to retain certain benefits, but we survived.

It is impossible to understand poorness unless you have lived it, and any person that has lived it, is certainly more likely to understand the consequences of their decisions in relation to economic budgets. Rishi Sunak, through no fault of his own, will not be able to understand. To say that the benefits system should already be sufficient is a view based in ignorance in poverty and poorness. In the same way that nearly all of us cannot understand why a billionaire finds it galling that they should pay fortunes in tax, a wealthy person who has never experienced low income cannot possibly know the difference free school meals during school holidays will make. So it is understandable that the Tories did not vote for this motion, but all the same remains unforgivable.

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