The exceptions to child exceptionalism

by Rachel Rosen and Eve Dickson | Mar 2024 | Article

Racialised migrant ‘deservingness’ and the UK’s free school meal debates

Rosen, R. and E. Dickson (2024). “The exceptions to child exceptionalism: Racialised migrant ‘deservingness’ and the UK’s free school meal debates.” Critical Social Policy 44(2): 201–221.

Abstract: Free School Meals (FSM) have been the site of renewed contestation and extensive campaigning in the last half-decade. Until recently, children in families with ‘no recourse to public funds’ because of their immigration status were excluded from accessing FSMs, despite being some of the most destitute in Britain. Through an analysis of campaign materials and interviews with advocates, we consider this dynamic policy terrain in light of the UK’s ‘hostile environment’ and consider lessons for campaigners. By exploring imaginaries of childhood, poverty, and nation shaping FSM policies, we offer a warning that campaigns can end up justifying exclusions at the same time as aiming for more expansive support. How campaigns represent their causes has implications, which, in this case, is often through the exceptionalism and hyper-deservingness of childhood. We argue these representations reduce discussion to technical questions about who is ‘deserving’, thereby risking shoring up an exclusionary and hostile state.

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