Sunday, 8 August 2010

Milk snatching

There is no evidence that free milk for under 5s makes any significant impact on their diet and nutrition and in any case it is a blanket subsidy that is not targeted on those in most need. Given the current fiscal climate, it would be a good way of saving £150m a year.

However, David Cameron quickly knocked down his health minister when she suggested getting rid of the free milk. No doubt he remembered the 'Thatcher the milk snatcher' that attached to Margaret Thatcher for so long. That was in part because it rhymed and someone actually made a song of it. I was reading a compilation of remniniscences the other day and it was pointed out that the milk was often in poor condition when it reached the children. Its original introduction in the 1930s reflected the power of the dairy lobby.

What this episode shows is the risk that relatively ineffective programmes will survive the cuts and more effective ones may take the hit.

12 comments:

Rich Green said...

But how would one go about getting evidence that the free milk programme did make a difference? It's been a universal benefit to everyone for over 60 years. How exactly are you supposed to establish a control group in those circumstances?

Wyn Grant said...

It's not a universal benefit that everyone took. But the more important point is that the nutrutional benefits of milk per se are outweighed by an overall balanced diet.

Rob said...

Yet milk is part of a balanced diet, and one that contains calcium, energy, protein, vitamin A, B vitamins and zinc. In fact the hordes of Genghis Khan survived largely off of milk.

No one is suggesting that milk is a substitute for a balanced diet; it's a part of one. Children need 3 servings of milk and dairy servings per day, and the reason milk is provided for free is because many children do not get that at home.

On a separate point what do you think about the Reform Party? It's a new group I'm currently helping to found. It's not yet registered with the electoral commission but has 1300 members on facebook (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=76377012419) and now even has a basic website (http://thereformparty.webstarts.com/index.html). We're a centre left group who're aiming to build on the success found by groups like Unlock Democracy and Power 2010.

Wyn Grant said...

No one doubts that milk has benefits but it is just one component of a balanced diet and would this money be better spent on education related to nutrition?

Voters often say they are fed up with existing parties, but are reluctant to support new ones. In practice the entry barriers to new parties are high and that may not be accidental.

Rob said...

Firstly on milk, yes education about nutrition would be helpful but if you're talking about more teaching time spent doing this then what would you cut? And are you talking about educating primary school children about nutrition? Do you really think increasing the number of hours primary school children hear about healthy eating is going to replace the goodness provided by actually giving them milk? The other option is spending the funds on advertisement campaigns, which I admitt could be helpful. However it's a risk. I don't foresee the success had from the smoking campaigns being repeated. And the proposal to cut the programme was based on trying to find cuts that could be made to minimise the deficit i.e. if the cut went ahead the money wouldn't be spent anywhere else.

There are many houses in the UK where people water down milk to make it last longer, and don't allow their children to drink it other than on their cereal because it's simply more expensive than other drinks (in fact I was always told that and I come from a relatively wealthy background). Perhaps it would be better to target certain areas and pupils but if you take away all free milk to all pupils then some of the poorest are unlikely to get it elsewhere.

With regards to the Reform Party you're absolutely right that our political system is set up to prevent small parties gaining too much of a sway. You're also right that voters can often be reluctant to support new parties. When asked most people will say more choice is always good. But in practice more than 3 options often confuse, and make people less happy (there was a study on it recently).

However it's possible to build up support over a long time period as the Greens have done. It's also possible to join with other parties and increase in size much faster. And if the referendum coming next year passes then votes for small parties will no longer be wasted ones. In fact the referendum is one reason I'm helping to found the party as I'm fairly confident it will pass. However all this aside, just because there's a strong chance that little will come of it, is that any reason not to try and help more people?

Wyn Grant said...

The milk issue proves to be more complicated on closer examination, but that just shows the difficulty of cutting the deficit.

The Greens have done well but they have a very specific niche. Is there that much space on the centre-left. The prospects for the referendum don't look that good but in any case one would need a more radical form of PR to help smaller parties.

Rob said...

I'm interested to hear you say that the prospects for the referendum are poor. Why do you say that?

Wyn Grant said...

Recent opinion pollss show a clear decline in support for AV

Rob said...

That's certainly disheartening. Do you feel able to speculate on why that might be after the initial popularity of electoral reform?

However even so I do feel there is a niche to be exploited. The Reform Party allows members to discuss and vote on all manifesto policies, and is far more democratic in all ways than the other centre-left parties. And because it invites discussion and innovation it's also a far more creative and, hopefully, academic movement. And of course the main difference is probably going to come from the difference in people, and the greater emphasis on embracing all discussion topics, and on being honest and transparent at all times.

Of course the policies we adopt will be proof of the pudding but the policy talks aren't set to begin until September so I can't yet let you know specifics.

Wyn Grant said...

I don't think that the Labour Party coming out against the referendum for purely opportunistic reasons has helped.

EtonMess said...

To be fair to the Labour Party "coming out against the referendum on AV for opportunitic reasons" isn't wholly accurate... although anger at the Lib Dems has led some to become very partisan on this issue, a number in the Labour movement object to the decision to bundle a number of changes (in particular to electoral boundaries) in with the AV vote, and are registering their objections to this.

Wyn Grant said...

I think the complains about gerrymandering by the Labour Party are overdone.