Seeing lefty Graun writer Zoe Williams attack the policy from the right was not expected. Her complaint is that introducing a universal benefit jars with the food emergency semi-deliberately created by the government's butchering of social security and promotion of poorly-paid, insecure work. If they wanted to tackle the problem, making sure nice middle class people pocket a chunk of taxpayers' cash might be a start. As she puts it, "to drop over £1bn on a universal benefit that excludes by child’s age rather than parent’s means is just preposterous." She goes on:
And yet I’m coming to realise the sad undertow of this story, which is that things have become so bad I wouldn’t make a defence for any universal benefit at the moment. The solidarity argument of universalism used to be heartwarming. But now all it does is emphasise the erosion of security at the bottom, the erosion of the social promise that nobody has to starve and everybody deserves a roof over their head – and how fast and brutal it has been.Two things. This will keep £800 in the pockets of parents every year for three years. It is real, practical help for the majority of people affected by it. If Zoe doesn't want her 800 nicker, I'd recommend donating it to the Labour Party or a trade union. The labour movement is the only one serious enough and in a position to tackle the obscenity of food poverty. I recommend all her guilty-feeling friends do the same: your eight hundred pounds will help Labour win next year.
The immediate advantage of rolling it out as a universal benefit means no laborious application process or means-testing. Having previously worked with people on low pay and/or subsisting on social security, endless form-filling and monitoring by a welfare bureaucrat is something a surprising number shy away from. There is pride too. I come from a working class family that was always eligible for free school dinners. Did my mum put in a claim? No. I can remember asking why some kids got free meals and we didn't. "It's because they're poor", came the reply. Making it universal removes any stigma straight away and ensures every child in want of decent, nutritious food gets one cooked meal every week day. If the price is some rich folk getting to save cash too, I can live with that.
Also, universalism isn't about "feeling nice", it's about cohesion. Or more than that, it's about ensuring those who don't need it still get a buy-in. I don't have kids, but receive a good wage. If I did and a £800 saving came my way, I'd be more inclined to want that policy to continue, and perhaps extended for the course of my daughter/son's school life. Self-interested, yes. Selfish? Probably. But when well-off, well-connected and influential people are habituated to the saving and defend it for entirely selfish reasons, they ensure those without their social capital and advantage continue to receive the benefit too. No form-filling. No stigma.
The policy is a transparent election bribe, but it doesn't matter. What does are the kids from similar backgrounds to mine, and that's why every socialist, every Labour person, and anyone with a decent bone in their body should welcome its introduction.