Adult adoptee Scarlett Burgess* decided to write to her MP Rt Hon Dr Caroline Johnson (Conservative MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham) who voted against Marcus Rashford’s bid to extend free school meals, She explained why free school meals save lives

*Scarlett Burgess is a false name to protect the identity of the family

Hi Caroline, 

I hope this email finds you well. I am emailing you today as the 23 year old woman I’ve been able to grow up to be. 

With a little backstory, my name is Scarlett and at the age of 5 I was taken into foster care due to neglect and abuse within my home. Now, one of the main reasons I was taken away was because some of the teachers at the primary school I attended, picked up on the fact I was saving half of my school meal to take home to help feed my siblings. When asked why I was saving my food, I replied something along the lines that we didn’t have any food at home. If those said teachers didn’t report that behaviour to social services, I highly doubt that I, or any other of my siblings, would be alive right now. 

School meals literally saved my life. I now have a wonderful family after being adopted. I have been brought up to appreciate every little thing, most of that I assume was instinct. To give when others didn’t have, to share whatever I had and to stay open minded in whatever situation I was in or whoever I was with. I am incredibly lucky to be as literate as I am, to have the support I have and to know what is right and wrong. 

I wanted to email you this evening to say to you that the just because they get a free meal doesn’t just necessarily mean that a child is fed 3 times a day. Sometimes (sadly, more frequently than not) that meal is the only one a child will have that day. I was that child, that meal was feeding me and my 3 other siblings, that meal saved my life. 

To vote to stop giving free school meals is a deplorable act and it’s given me more of a drive to make my voice heard. Not only my voice now, but the voice of the 5 year old girl who didn’t know that saving my food wasn’t ok. To be the voice for every other child who is being mistreated and pushed to the side. 

Who could know what might have happened if there had been no free school meals and someone had not noticed my home situation. The amount of children who do not have access to food at home is sickening, living below the breadline, and now essentially being taught that the privileged always come first. It’s not the child’s fault they’re in that situation but you’re teaching them it is because at the end of the day that’s who’s being punished. It just breeds negativity into them even more.

From a child who has lived through this, who has felt every single detrimental feeling given by people in power. I will be heard, I will be known, and it’s time that children are heard. 

During weekends or holidays my older brother and I would often be caught stealing in the supermarket – we had no food. Our birth mother would rather spend her money elsewhere. Obviously, these qualities were not ones for a 4 and 7 year old to have. They stuck with us and it was hard for our adoptive parents to get us out of.

The mental health issues that accompanied the fear of lack of food still continue to this day.  There are severe repercussions of a small child not having security, food is one of those securities.

But, I guess it’s all groovy because you get your £3000+ pay rise and free hot meals, go back to your warm homes, so why would it stop you from sleeping at night?

I have one simple question for you, I would really appreciate to hear your reply. Why? What was your motivation towards your vote? What made you feel like your hot meals, which you can afford without your allowances, are more important than a child’s free meal? 

Why are you automatically more superior? 

Thank you for taking the time to read my email, and lastly, thank you for motivating me to finally get the strength to be an advocate for all children who need to be heard. 

Kind regards, Scarlett Burgess 
Just a mum who wants to try make a better world for her daughter.

We will let you know what Dr Johnson’s response is but there have been concerns raised that standardised responses are being sent out from conservative MPs on this issue – see for example Michelle Donelan MP’s recent posted on Facebook

The argument being made by conservatives, including for example by Leeds MP Alex Shelbrooke, is that it is through the welfare system rather than schools that the money is best spent.

Only five conservatives voted against government on this controversial issue – one of them was Caroline Ansell, who also quit her government job

We would like to raise the plight of the 180k special guardians and kinship carers too. Many special guardians, who are usually birth family members, are not able to access support in the same way as adopters and struggle to raise their children. Adoption should always be a last resort and poverty and economic deprivation should not ever be the reasons that children cannot grow up within their birth families.

Scarlett’s adoptive mother is a member of the POTATO group (Parents of Traumatised Teenagers Organisation). POTATO came together in the wake of the Selwyn report on adoption (2014) and many of the members of this group participated in this important research. POTATO is a peer support group for anyone who will give a warm welcome and great peer support to anyone parenting adopted teenagers – you can find out more here

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on

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