David Cameron’s aides have firmly stated that children under the age of five will not be losing their daily right to 189ml of free milk. The Prime Minister was, apparently unaware of and ‘did not like’ the idea of scrapping the scheme, which has been running since 1940s post-war Britain – although Margaret Thatcher famously scrapped it for 7-11 year-olds 39 years ago. Nevertheless, it is episodes like this which serve to highlight the endemic misconception of a ‘right’: the issue is not whether milk is beneficial to children, but whether it should be the state providing it.
The straw man argument over the health benefits of milk versus cost has provided the main source of contention: milk is a ‘nutrient dense food’, with very few calories; child obesity is on the rise. Indeed, the leaked letter of Health Minister Anne Milton to the Scottish Public Health Minister outlines meagre health benefits, complemented by a point on efficiency. She comments that the price the government pays for the milk will rise from £50 million to £59 million by 2011/12, an economic reason to scrap the scheme.
But what about simply not imposing milk on children? The potential cost is unimportant; it would be cheaper not to give it out at all. As for the ethical argument, not only has the society changed since the scheme was started, but the milk is simply being given – there is no question of choice. Of course, there is room for refusal when the milk is actually there, but that assumes each child for whom a provision has been made may want of need the milk at all.
Statistics such as, ‘2-3% of children are allergic to milk’, and comments like, ‘some, as they get older, may have difficulty digesting lactose’ simply miss the point. Some children may not like milk; others may love it, but is this something for the Government to find out? Yes, many children come from homes that may need information regarding health and nutrition, but a more-than-metaphorical nanny state cannot and should not be the dictators of that.