Can fintech help the free school meals debacle?

By Daniel Lanyon on Friday 15 January 2021

OpinionDigital Banking

Fintech has stepped up a number of times to help society during the pandemic, this could be applied to the school lunch story currently unfolding.

Can fintech help the free school meals debacle?
Image source: Photo by Chokniti Khongchum from Pexels

The provision of free meals to families struggling with the fallout of the pandemic has been a thorn in the UK government’s side during the 2021 lockdown with paltry parcels shared widely across social media this past week.

Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister, conceded Wednesday that the parcels were “a scandal and a disgrace”.

Could fintech offer up a better solution?

Matt Clare, Chief Operating Officer of Global Processing Services (GPS), says yes.

Fintech, he says, offers several alternative routes to smoother, decentralised solutions that provide greater choice than standard food parcels and appropriate financial controls.  

“Rapid and ever-changing measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 have impacted many processes and functions in society, including the provision of support to some of the most vulnerable people. This is starkly demonstrated by the current controversy surrounding the free school meals system, and the standard of food parcels being delivered to struggling families in England by private catering firms,“ Clare said.

This could include payment cards (physical or virtual) that can limit how much can be loaded or spent, as well as where and when funds may be used. 

“For instance, supermarkets could specifically code into a card number range that only food items may be purchased,” Clare said. 

 QR code vouchers too can help, he adds by ensuring that spend takes place in approved outlets.

“This can help empower people receiving aid by providing them with the agency to make their own food choices, whilst ensuring taxpayer funds are optimally used,” he said.

“Once this pandemic is over, there will be an unprecedented amount of government debt, with tax revenues similarly impacted through increased unemployment. Therefore, it is essential that governments establish the right processes urgently to help combine efficiency with people-focused solutions,” he added.

Fintech firms have already contributed to helping those affected by the pandemic such as via Starling’s Connected Card initiativesubsequently copied by RBS and NatWest), which has now seen over 55,500 cards issued by the digital bank. It helps customers self-isolating give to a trusted person a card to buy essential items on their behalf.

Open banking too might offer up solutions. By providing granular transaction-level data via digital receipts on items brought Government and its partners can advise on overall baskets of goods to ensure or at least encourage balanced spending on healthy meals. For example by analysing items against advice from nutritionists. Think personal financial management but for the weekly shop.

Of course, mostly this means access to a smartphone which is not universal in the UK but is the highest in the world at 82.9 per cent market penetration, according to Newzoo's 2019 Global Mobile Market Report.

Coronavirus is by most accounts accelerating the fintech revolution, but it can also help speed up solutions to negate its existing problems much sooner.

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