Opinion: Happy Meals and hobbies are not luxuries and we must stop treating them as such
Earlier this year MP Lee Anderson stoked fury when he suggested families were abusing food banks having also been seen in McDonald’s.
Social media went to war over his comments which some described as ‘demonising’ food bank-using parents who wanted to take their kids for a two quid Happy Meal treat, writes columnist Lauren Abbott.
Notwithstanding the fact that at the peak of the energy crisis – it was probably cheaper to give the kids a takeaway burger than turn the electricity on to cook one – the issue of whether those on benefits or lower wages should buy takeaway food while simultaneously accepting help was dragged into social media’s cesspit and the debate wasn’t pretty.
That said, a subsequent #MacciesWithoutMalice appeal launched via Twitter, it turns out this week, has since raised £21,000 to give foodbanks the ability to buy Happy Meals for children this summer who are in households supported by such charities.
A relief really, that we aren’t all quite at the stage yet of begrudging a five-year-old a small bag of takeaway chips. Or are we?
Because at the same time – the results of a You Gov survey – asking the public what they think living standards should look like for people on benefits, the minimum wage, and average earnings make for depressing reading in an era of #bekind.
Turns out, us Brits aren’t perhaps as kind as you think. And whether those on out-of-work benefits or the minimum wage should have things like a hobby or even a television divides the nation as starkly as the primary colours on the miserable bar chart.
If you thought Christmas couldn’t ever become means-tested – just 60% appear to think seasonal celebrations should be attainable for all - while only 55% think everyone should be able to afford a TV.
And despite living in an age where we know online access is verging on critical for everything from education to healthcare – only 57% believe a home internet connection should be affordable to everyone. Or smartphones – where just 45% think people on benefits should be able to buy a basic model.
The latter perhas unsurprising – we’ve all read online comments that wheel out some sort of affordability criteria for those in possession of such ‘luxuries’ as if they’re swinging about the keys to a Ferrari.
They fall into the same bracket as politicians content to suggest a 75p bag of dried pasta is an adequate family meal as if more nutritious (more expensive) healthier food is only a right for the wealthy.
Income inequality in the UK is at its highest level in 10 years ‘by some metrics’ says You Gov.
But yet while everyone’s quality of life is being squeezed – still we suggest those who can’t afford their own home must ditch the takeaway coffee, abandon Netflix and stare at nothing but bare walls till they’ve saved £30K – as if it’s their fault rather than housing market’s.
Since when did we begrudge people the most mediocre of treats and tiny pleasures? Where televisions are only for the better-off and that someone out of work, perhaps on sickness benefits, should be consigned to a life of gruel? (25% of people in the You Gov survey thought those on benefits should do without utilities!)
To not want better for future generations always always puzzles me. But we seem to be on an entirely new level of the Game of Life when its hobbies and not holiday homes we’re now talking about being preserved only for those with spare cash at the end of the month.