Images of free school meal boxes circulating this week (‘What am I supposed to make with this!’ Parents on schools’ meagre food parcels, 12 January) represent an appalling dereliction of duty on the part of the UK government. Its welcome U-turn is a reminder of what most global aid organisations have known for many years: providing vouchers – or, ideally, cash – to crisis-affected people helps more than giving food directly.
Cash puts the needs of recipients first. It gives people the autonomy to buy their families’ food and necessities as they see fit, offering the dignity of trusting them to make the right call. It stimulates local economies, can be disbursed quickly through existing social security infrastructure, and can be more cost-effective and transparent for the taxpayers who fund it. These benefits are backed up by a wealth of evidence which shows that it is wrong to see people in need as passive and unreliable “beneficiaries” whose behaviour needs to be policed.
It is a sad irony that while failing here, the UK understands the value of cash assistance perfectly well in emergencies overseas. Thanks in large part to British government advocacy, the proportion of global humanitarian aid disbursed as cash has doubled since 2016, accounting for £4.1bn in 2019. Many thousands of children across the world now benefit from a way of giving out aid that the UK has championed.
Offering families vouchers is a step in the right direction, but the government should go further than this to implement the cash transfer programmes they have championed across the rest of the word.
Senior research officer, Humanitarian Policy Group, ODI
• Heather Stewart rightly praises Marcus Rashford for his role in calling the government to account over the woefully inadequate free school meals parcels provided by Chartwell (Analysis, 13 January). However, @RoadsideMum on Twitter should be credited for bringing the issue to the attention of Jack Monroe. Monroe worked tirelessly to gather written and photographic evidence from parents, including getting permission to use the photos that have appeared in the press. Marcus Rashford was made aware of the issue on Twitter, and he used his ability to get Boris Johnson to answer the phone in order to further the campaign.