Friday, 30 March 2012

Hazel Lebby: there shouldn't be any such thing as a free lunch

There’s an amusing story going the rounds concerning a South London RC school which fed a six-year old girl bread and jam instead of a proper meal for two days because her mother had fallen £4 into arrears over her lunch money. The child’s mother was horror-struck by the school’s unbelievable Oliver Twist-style callousness. When asked why she hadn’t simply paid the four quid that would have ensured her daughter got proper meals, she fell back on a whole series of excuses.

"I was supposed to pay it on Monday but my car broke down so I totally forgot about having to sort it out. Then the next morning I woke up with a leak. My carpet was soaking wet. I managed to get Hannah to school on time but had to come back home and sort out the leak… No-one made an attempt to phone me and tell me my daughter had been denied dinner. The only reason I found out was because my daughter told me."

And I expect the cat ate her homework and the cheque was in the post.

The headteacher of the school – which faced a bill for £1,730 unpaid lunch money last year, and which had sent Mrs Lebby a text message about her arrears - was unrepentant: "We are liable for those arrears so if parents don't pay we have to foot the bill which takes money away from resources we could be spending on the children… It's a parent's responsibility to make sure their child is fed, not the school's. It's a service we provide but it has to be paid for."

A number of things struck me about this story: 

From the tone of the various articles it seemed we were expected to side with the mother in all this - but I've no idea why

The daughter may have learned a useful life-lesson: there’s no such thing as a free lunch - something her mother doesn’t seem to have grasped in her 37 years on the planet. I’m sure almost every left-winger in the country will have sided with the outraged mother – even though she’s employed and hasn’t claimed poverty as a cause of non-payment. Left-wingers are eternally convinced that there is such a thing as a free lunch – a notion which modern Britain does its best to validate, especially if you demonstrate an inability to handle your affairs competently.

If you're going to come up with excuses, choose one good one, rarther than presenting a list, which tends to sound somewhat contrived.  

It was entirely Mrs Lebby's responsibility to ensure that her daughter got a proper lunch by paying the school for it - if the school had decided not to feed the child, it would still have been the mother's fault. 

Why should publicly-funded state school employees be expected to waste valuable time and the cost of a phone call (I'm still rather concerned about the tax-payer having to fund that original text-message) chasing up parents who - one would have thought - were old enough to organise their own lives? I pay a fortune to educate my son privately - and for that, I expect the occasional phone-call. I am basically subsidising the education of Mrs Lebby's daughter, and I don't want my taxes wasted on sending her mother text messages which shouldn't be necessary in the first place.

If Mrs Lebby has her daughter's interests at heart, and isn't just bent on petty revenge, why  make all this public? 

Finally, Are we absolutely sure the girl isn't a huge bread-and-jam fan, and that this change from her normal diet didn't in fact represent an enormous treat?


  1. The photos the papers create when they have decided that an injustice has been done make the stories all the more enjoyable. They must be just right. "Mrs Lebby? Can you get Hannah to look a bit more sulky? You're doing fine yourself, but could you fold your arms at all? Imagine it"s 3am and Mr Lebby's just got back from the pub and been sick on Hannah's rabbit. Yes. That's it. No! Don't smile please."

    Then there's the angle. The Mail had a problem the other day with the woman who self-immolated in the kitchen. Did they wack it to Francis Maude for his exciting new jerry can policy and general Maudishness; or go for the "what on earth was she thinking?" angle? They couldn't decide and did a bit of both. Their readers comments suggested that on the whole it's not a good idea to turn your kitchen into a petrol station while cooking supper.

  2. Have you noticed how many injustice stories involve fat, unattractive women in their thirties? I suppse there comes a point when they just want to get back at the world.

    Yes, the newspaper conundrum. I assume that most Sun readers are fat and disgruntled, so the paper can print "victim" photos without their readership coming over all judgmental. Left-wing papers can print them, because their readership will automatically the side of the whinger, as we are all victims, in a very true sense. But the Mail and Telegraph shouldn't really use photographs on this sort of story, unless they're deliberately trying to wind us up. (Of course, if the victim is posh totty, the Telegraph will practically devote the front page to her photograph, no whatever what the merits of her case).

    Anyway, interesting point, Ex-KCS - never thought about the "victim" photo aspect before, really.

  3. For fans of the art of victim photographic posing, there were two more in the Mail yesterday of a woman with a spotty allergy to her mobile phone cover and a man whose phone had caught fire in his pocket and inflicted a small burn on his thigh. Not quite in the Lebby category but then the art form is new and techniques are improving all the time.