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The free school meals row speaks to an age-old argument about how welfare should work

Universalism or selectivity?

By Tim Bale  

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford has been a vocal campaigner on extending free school meals. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire/PA Images

Public policy is complicated—particularly welfare policy. I should know: back in the 1990s I was mad enough to write an entire PhD about it.

My case study, which I doggedly pursued over decades of largely forgotten post-war debate on the issue, happened to be free NHS prescriptions. Harold Wilson’s government scrapped them in 1965, only to reintroduce them three years later. It did so not because of the money saved but because…

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