The National:

MANY people have been understandably disgusted by images circulating of the measly food parcels provided in England for children entitled to free school meals during lockdown. I could say it’s unbelievable that the UK Government would be so callous in its treatment of families struggling during one of the hardest periods in living memory, but… it’s really not.

What is hard to believe is the sincerity in the response from the Prime Minister’s official spokesman, who branded the pictured contents as “completely unacceptable”, and committed to investigating the matter.

It might be easier to swallow the line that Boris Johnson’s Government is shocked and appalled to learn that companies delivering free school meals are offering a subpar service, if the very same people hadn’t had to be dragged kicking and screaming out of their ivory towers by a 23-year-old professional footballer before they agreed to provide free school meals during the holidays — twice.

The “nothing to do with us” story might also ring a little more true if the government’s own guidance didn’t state in no uncertain terms that providing parcels – rather than the more flexible and less stigmatising alternative of supermarket vouchers – should be the first choice of schools unless that isn’t possible.

READ MORE: Some free school meals parcels were 'unacceptable', Downing Street says

According to the Government, the top benefit for using food parcels is “the confidence that a nutritious and varied range of food is being provided”. In other words, the same old narrative which suggests parents on low incomes can’t or won’t make healthy choices for their children. Funny how a party so obsessed with personal responsibility is so comfortable with such a paternalistic approach when it’s an opportunity to shame poor people.

Contrast this with the Scottish Government which, following the advice of children’s and anti-poverty charities, recommends that councils make cash payments directly to families.

This, of course, is an unthinkable notion both to the Tories and to like-minded sorts who take to the internet any time a story like this crops up to demand: “But…these people have mobile phones, why should they also be allowed to eat?”, or some iteration of the same idea.

It’s bad enough, according to this worldview, that people should be offered support at all unless they’ve sold their every earthly possession including their means of communication with current or potential employers (or family members, or their children’s school, or their GP). The idea that we should then trust parents to spend that financial support wisely is, apparently, beyond the pale.

It’s no surprise that some people react like this, though. It’s exactly how they’ve been conditioned to react by right-wing politicians and commentators, who paint vilified caricatures of the “undeserving poor” as cover or justification for their own greed-fuelled policy agenda. An agenda based on punishing people for making “bad choices”, driven by a political class so privileged they have no conception of what it’s like to have no choices.

So, when a private company takes the government’s advice that food parcels should “contain appropriate packaging sizes for household use, rather than wholesale sizes” to its farcical conclusion by chopping vegetables into portions and wrapping them in clingfilm to give to hungry kids, forgive me if I’m unwilling to let the Tories off the hook for getting us to this point.

Nothing about these shameful images is at odds with the actions proudly taken by this government or its predecessors over the past decade. If a third child no longer deserves financial support, or the child of a parent under 25 no longer deserves the same support as one with a parent over 25, why should we be surprised by the idea that a child only deserves half, and not all, of a red pepper?

Sorry Number 10, but you can save your faux outrage and your “unacceptable”. You don’t just accept child poverty, you create it.