Like many, one of my most vivid memories of infant school was the ritual of drinking our morning third-pint of milk. I remember it arriving in the classroom in mini-crates, the distribution and the usual challenge of ingestion via straw in one. One day, I heard some people talking about school milk, fairly certainly my teachers, probably on the radio, and possibly my parents. I grasped from this that my milk would be taken away when I got to the junior end of my primary school, and that someone called Thatcher was responsible.
Sure enough, when I got to the juniors, no more milk. I became politicised when I was seven – conscious of having had something, and of it having been taken away by the government. And for what?
If I earn a salary now, I expect the government to take some of it away as National Insurance and Income Tax. I hope it will spend it on schools, a health service, welfare for those who need it, and moving the economy to a more just and sustainable footing, rather than on beer, fags and Trident. A vain hope admittedly.
But why take away milk from primary school children? I had enjoyed the ritual and regretted its loss, but many children would have really needed the extra nutrition, to help them learn and avoid ill-health later. I wonder what is the cost-benefit of providing school milk over a marginal improvement in learning and avoidance health bills? The costs are easy to calculate, the benefits much harder. Perhaps that is why they are easy to ignore.
Less easy to ignore is the sensitivity of the issue for politicians. How ironic, then, that the current school milk provision is so expensive because intermediaries are creaming off more than the price in the supermarket. Margaret Thatcher’s free market in action!