Livewire - February 6, 2013

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By Vera Johnson of Fleetwood

I retired from teaching more 20 years ago. It feels like only yesterday. I have been through three recessions that I remember and this is the worst of the lot.

What stands out most of all is the poverty of spirit on the streets.

We had grit in my day, a sense of family and a work ethic which, however frustrated by circumstances tended to triumph for those who wanted to work. That’s no longer the case.

My own great-grandson has a good degree in a science subject but works in fast food – the job which helped fund his studies.

He could not find work in his chosen field. Instead he’s risen through the ranks and is about to branch out into hotel event management.

He’s earning a living but not as a scientist. Did he waste his time at university? No because it develops discipline and determination.

From fast food to free breakfasts may seem a bit of a leap but that’s why I’m writing because I wholeheartedly endorse the courageous stance Blackpool Council has taken on free breakfasts for primary school children.

I don’t however feel it should be extended to older pupils because they are old enough to make choices, prepare their own food.

Society should not wet-nurse them. My great-grandson looked after himself for much of his school, and university years, because his mother died when he was still in short pants and his father worked long hours to support a big family.

He was one of the original latch key children but they looked out for each other, young and older alike.

From the 1970s through to my retirement in the 1990s I saw children arrive hungry and inadequately turned out.

There were some to who I would sneak snacks, fruit or a sandwich, knowing the sound of their tummies rumbling through 
registration would be an object of ridicule through the morning.

School lunches were a boon for many. For some it was their only square meal of the day. I taught in inland Lancashire and the poverty there could grind a child down on some of the sink estates.

So I think Coun Simon Blackburn is to congratulated on his vision.

The local scheme addresses a problem long identified as a national concern.

A recent survey claimed four in five teachers saw pupils arriving without any breakfast. Most say it’s getting worse. But I believe it’s an issue on which central, not local government, should act.

In Wales 75 per cent of primary schools provide breakfasts for children – £12.7m funding comes from the Welsh Assembly Government.

Follow that example and poverty of spirit may ease too for ultimately a well fed and more educationally responsive child is a much happier and hopeful adult.