Yet again is has been an interesting couple of days for those of us concerned with free school meals.
With the policy start date just four weeks away, we are beginning to see a concerted effort to promote universal infant free meal policy in every way possible, most noticeably via the Department of Education and suprisingly The Cabinet Office (i.e. Nick Clegg)
I have already blogged on the laughable efforts to promote the policy on the back of the report from January 2013.
I find it ridiculous that the DfE twitter feed is still continuing to promote the reports from the three papers daft enough to run with the rehashed report as “news”. DfE should know many of the claims are false, after all they commissioned and published the research.
Despite that, on Monday we saw what appears to be the start of a frankly embarrassingly amateur attempt by the Cabinet office and its regional twitter feeds, to persuade sports stars and organisations to use the hashtag #freeschoolmeals under the pretence of promoting healthy food.
Now I have no problem with sport stars endorsing healthy food, however by linking the campaign to the free school meals policy this is clearly drifting into politics (it also reminds me of a Brass Eye type spoof)
Some of the tweets confirm the drive is basically to promote the UIFSM policy,
@RNNLondonSE: In just four weeks’ time, all school children aged 4 to 7 will receive healthy #freeschoolmeals
“@RNN_NorthWest: Infant school parents could soon save up to £400 a yr on packed lunches with Universal #freeschoolmeals”
Using the “£400 saving” tag line so commonly repeated by Nick Clegg and David Laws.
Whilst other tweets beg or pressure individuals, clubs and organisations to join in.
@RNNNorthEast: We’re urging sports stars to share nutritional advice to support #freeschoolmeals Any top tips @FCseahamredstar @crooktown_afc (no offence to these clubs, but it isn’t aiming high)
@RNNNorthEast: We’re urging sports stars to share nutritional advice to support #freeschoolmeals Any top tips @NUFCOfficial @FalconsRugby (slightly better)
By asking sportsmen and women to tweet ideas for nutritional advice, hints on “healthy food” or “Brain food ” (whatever that is), they are encouraging these athletes to think they are lending their name and support to a drive for healthy eating. However, by using the tag #freeschoolmeals, they are conflating the healthy meals and UIFSM.
It appears to me that there is some intent to use these “names” to promote the impending policy implementation. At best there is ineptitude and a good deal of confusion, at worst there is deliberate misrepresentation in order to gain headlines from having recognisable names being linked to the policy, that this is this an effort to publicise the Lib Dem’s UIFSM policy on the cheap via that new-fangled social media.
All this could be purely supposition, it could be a cock up rather than conspiracy, but there are two key reasons for suspecting these are deliberate political shenanigans,
Firstly is the fact that it’s the cabinet office that appears to be driving this, not DfE or the health department, but Nick Clegg’s “pet” department. Also worth noting that the cabinet office don’t appear to have a history of promoting DfE policies, but for some reason they have tweeted on this topic over 100 times in two days.
Secondly is the fact these healthy food standards that suddenly need advertising, don’t actually start in September but come into force in January. This means this Healthy meals initiative would have to be part of a very, very long PR game, or alternatively you might conclude it is actually about Clegg’s impending UIFSM policy
So there we have it, supposedly independent civil servants pestering people to promote healthier meals with the sole intention of using the publicity to promote the Lib Dem’s free school meal policy. I think that’s fairly devious and despicable, bordering on deception, but then again I am not a politician!
Notes for people contacted to contribute
Do some investigation, some due diligence, as to what you are being asked to support, is it a healthy eating initiative or the free school meals policy?
Treat this with great caution, Free school meals are highly political at the moment, ask yourself why your support is required now?