Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Are the kids alright?

Magic Breakfast feeds kids too hungry to learn
I have just had a chat with  SEL board member, Carmel McConnell from Magic Breakfast, who has told me what they are going to do to address the fact that only 1 in 100 children in receipt of free school meals ends up going to university
. According to Child Poverty Action Group, 1 in 4 UK children will have only one hot meal a day, a meal that will be served at school and is under threat as Government removes the ring-fencing from the school food budget. Some 1 .6 million UK children live in severe poverty according to Save the Children, which makes malnutrition a very real threat.  

People like Jamie Oliver and Carmel are campaigning to stop nutrition slipping from the schools agenda. Both have data that proves there is a direct link between good food and academic attainment. Their piece in the Observer this Sunday was a real shot across the bows for those who think they can turn back the clock on school nutrition and do anything to address social mobility.

SEL member Magic Breakfast is the largest independent agency working with primary schools to ensure no child starts the day too hungry to learn. It is currently looking to raise and invest £13 million in the 1,000 poorest primary schools, through a social impact bond or a coalition of business and Government funds. This will return £28 million over 20 years in reduced demand for future services such as health, youth offending and welfare costs.

Kids are going to school too hungry to learn and as Carmel tells us, “If we want the poorest children to achieve social mobility, we have to start at primary school level. Our school programme transforms child attendance, punctuality, concentration and behaviour. It works.

So, if feeding kids nutritionally balanced school meals and promoting them through the ranks is a good thing, and letting the poorest sink or swim in a sea of turkey twizzlers, gravy and underachievement is a bad thing, let's hope the captains of HMS Britain are not going to let scurvy, a very real problem in English schools in 2011, ruin the voyage.

One of my most recent followers on Twitter is EUROCHIPS, the European Network for Children of Imprisoned Parents, which really made me think too. How many kids are falling between the cracks and what is the real cost of poverty and neglect? Thank God we have people out there willing to work with these kids, for all our sakes.

Magic Breakfast contact details. Tel 020 7836 5434.

Website http://www.magicbreakfast.com/, email info@magicbreakfast.com.
Offices 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL


  1. Allison.

    I am sure that Magic Breakfast is a fantastic organisation and I fully support what they are trying to do.

    The problem I see is that their claim to see a "return" of £28m over 20 years is very hard to demonstrate. If I have understood this correctly, what you are saying is that by doing what they do, the taxpayer will see an actual reduction in spending elsewhere (in benefits, or the cost of hiring social workers, or whatever). So, those agencies will need to have their budgets cut. By £28 million. Somebody is going to have to work out which agencies have made “savings” as a result of Magic Breakfast’s work and then tell them that they have less money to spend next year.

    It is much the same argument that (for example) if we were to spend £1 million on stopping old people falling over at home, this would reduce hospital admissions and "save" £2 million. Again, unless the relevant hospitals actually reduce their spending by £2 million, the return does not exist.

    It strikes me that this is the whole problem with social enterprise. The returns can be somewhat ephemeral, and an awful lot of time and money goes into setting up organisations rather than actually delivering services that people want

    My alternative? That we lobby government and society more widely to argue that providing a good breakfast to schoolchildren has real social value and that this should be paid for out of general taxation. Sort of like what Clem Attlee did in 1945. Magic Breakfast could then get on with doing what they do best (although they would have to show that they can do a better job than either the local council or a private business, through a tendering process)

    Best wishes

    Rob Edwards

  2. Rob, thanks for the comment. I think if you asked her, Carmel would be thrilled if kids got a good breakfast from the Government, much as Jamie would be if they were fed properly at lunch. But if the Government does not prioritise child nutrition, what should we do? Magic breakfast presents a solution which through its social impact bond would lead to a reduction in funds spent on later social problems but would not be a thesis that proposed to take with one hand only to give with another. Social enterprise is about using a business like approach but not about diverting resources from the front line services we all need. I know that is not always clear, and is something we need to do more to get across.
    All the best

  3. I think Rob's right that demonstrate actual savings through impact measurement is very difficult.

    For me, there's currently a spectrum of plausibility.

    At the most plausible end, although there's plenty of potential challenges to it, I can understand the theory of the SI Bond trial with the prison service.

    There's a direct cost to keeping someone in prison and if, as a result of some interventions during and after their sentence, a person does not return to prison during a specified period of time then there's a specific sum that is not being spent on keeping that individual in prison.

    I think proving the direct effect of children getting a good breakfast on the extent to which they will be making demands on services in 20 years time is at the less plausible end of the spectrum, and the challenge of transforming that from an academic argument to a practical justification for investment - on the basis of specific cost savings rather than the work's undoubted social good - seems a far more difficult one.

    I'm more than happy to be proved wrong, though.

  4. David, I agree making the cause and effect argument between an intervention from a social enterprise and reductions in reoffending and making the same comparison between nutritional support at school and attainment is harder, but not impossible. The interesting thing I find with all of this, is that in making the case for an impact bond, wether you buy it or not, social enterprise builds its reservoir of information about the actual impact of interventions and moves away from death by anecdote. That's why I have always been a fan of impact assessment hence today's blog.

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