An £8,000-a-term school has come under fire after holding an ‘Austerity Day’ that involved giving pupils and staff a cheaper lunch than usual and donating the money saved to charity.
St Paul’s Girls’ School in London, one of the country’s leading independent girls’ schools, was accused of ‘playing at poverty’ after tweeting about the day.
The tweet, which later appeared to have been deleted, said: “Today was the final Austerity Day of the year. Students and staff had baked potatoes with beans and coleslaw, for lunch, with fruit for dessert. The money saved will be donated to the school’s charities”.
A sample weekly menu for the school – whose fees per term range from £7,978 to £8,577 – include slow-baked Moroccan lamb with broad beans, prunes and preserved lemon served with roast pepper, sweetcorn and raisin couscous and duck leg confit with braised red cabbage and creamed mash potatoes.
£8k-a-term @StPaulsGirls_ school plays at poverty. Can they really be unaware that for families living in poverty today, this 'austerity' meal is completely out of reach? Maybe they should visit their local food bank to see what genuine poverty rations look like. #EverydayHunger pic.twitter.com/SFPGv1DTMJ
— EverydayHunger (@EverydayHunger) June 22, 2018
The tweet sparked a backlash after it was shared online by former student Henna Shah, who wrote: “My old school’s idea of a charity lunch?! @StPaulsGirls_ I highly recommend you rethink this – contrary to popular belief not all your students and alumnae feast on foie gras every meal.”
She added: “How offensive do you have to be? This is not austerity. If you want to know what real austerity looks like, maybe read @BootstrapCook [campaigner and writer Jack Monroe] or speak to one of your bursary students who you seem keen to erase out of existence.”
How offensive do you have to be? This is not austerity. If you want to know what real austerity looks like, maybe read @BootstrapCook or speak to one of your bursary students who you seem keen to erase out of existence
— Henna Shah (@hennalikespie) June 21, 2018
Everyday Hunger, which campaigns to eradicate food poverty, wrote: “£8k-a-term
@StPaulsGirls_ school plays at poverty. Can they really be unaware that for families living in poverty today, this ‘austerity’ meal is completely out of reach? Maybe they should visit their local food bank to see what genuine poverty rations look like.”
Ms Shah, who attend St Paul’s on a bursary, told Yahoo News UK: “I really appreciate the fact I had the opportunity to go to St Paul’s. I wouldn’t have got into the university I did or gone into the career I’m in if I hadn’t, but I’m very conscious that I’m incredibly lucky. I’m a member of the Labour Party and I work in politics because I want everybody to have the same opportunity.
“It really upset me that at a time when the school was meant to be showing compassion, the use of the word austerity shows a degree of contempt to people who aren’t as well off as others. I applaud the intention of a charity day, more than anything else to highlight the value the school provides for students, but I just don’t think it was correctly labelled and the real message and intention of what was behind it got across, which I think was actually really harmful.”
— Decca Muldowney (@deccamuldowney) June 22, 2018
Today’s lunch for me was the blood dripping from my shin after catching said shin with my spade. Austerity lunches sound pretty good.
— kliff houghey (@kliffhoughey) June 21, 2018
Decca Muldowney added: “An unsurprising development from a school where another student joked that I dressed myself “out of a bin” and the word “chav” was used like a proper noun
On its website, St Paul’s describes itself as a “caring and generous community”.
In a section on food at the school, it says: “Everyone knows teenage girls can be picky eaters, so we try to give them lots of choice. We regard the enjoyment of good and healthy food as a priority and lunch at St Paul’s is a real highlight of the day.”
Describing its in-house catering, it says: “Our extensive lunchtime menu offers several hot options from roasts to international dishes, a salad selection, hot and cold desserts and masses of fresh fruit.
“Feeding up to 900 hungry students and staff is quite an undertaking – and in an average week we use 2,000 eggs, cook 280kg of fresh meat and 95kg of fresh fish, together with 315kg of potatoes, noodles and rice. We top all this off every week with a healthy 600kg of fresh fruit.”
A statement from the school said: “For many years, along with many schools and places of worship in the country, St Paul’s has arranged regular lunches when simple food is served and the money saved given to local charities.
“The aim is also to raise the awareness of our students to those less fortunate than themselves. We take our commitment to the wider community very seriously. The choice of the word ‘austerity’ is to draw attention to the fact that others around them are facing significant economic difficulties.”