Parliament votes for €100 million for free school meals

Photo: Takeaway via Wikimedia Commons

School dinners are coming to the Netherlands – not as the stuff of fond British school memories, but with an emergency measure to help households in desperate need.

Concerned at the effects on poverty on the health of the younger generation, the Dutch parliament has voted to allocate €100 million for free school meals in vulnerable neighbourhoods.

The proposal from Jan Paternotte, fraction leader of D66 liberal democrats and Laurens Dassen, lead of Volt, aims to ‘enrich the school day’, while boosting children’s health and equal opportunities.

Increase in need

Some schools already offer breakfast to combat child poverty, according to NRC – sometimes used by as much as half of the school’s population in areas such as Delfshaven in Rotterdam.

Hans Spekman, director of the Jeugdeducatiefonds charity for educational equal opportunities, which offers financial support to schools, told Dutch News need has increased.

‘Before the peak of inflation, at the start of January, a quarter of children had no breakfast, or not enough,’ he said. ‘We see that this has only increased with inflation. There are more requests from schools, because more families are having problems.

‘It’s difficult to quantify, but schools are telling us that more often children have empty lunchboxes or didn’t even have a slice of bread in the morning. We want every child to have every opportunity to develop and of course eating is essential: if you are hungry, it is difficult to learn.’

Three day hunger

The former labour MP and party leader’s organisation offers up to €10,000 per  school per year in support, in areas where half of the families earn up to 50% over the social minimum. It supports 445 of some 7,000 primary schools in the Netherlands – and there is a waiting list.

Although the charity also supports cultural activities and learning support, it Spekman said schools are being forced to focus on children’s basic needs – with for example, free lunch and breakfast clubs. Traditionally, children in the Netherlands all went home for lunch until a change in the law in the 1980s.

Last week an 11-year-old child at De Catamaran primary school in Rotterdam became dizzy in class and it emerged that his family had not eaten for three days because they had run out of money, according to the NRC.

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