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Social Justice

HMS Prince Philip costs could cover free school meals for nearly three months

A new royal yacht will cost the country £200m, according to reports. The Big Issue investigated what else the HMS Prince Philip cash could be spent on to cut inequality in the UK

A new royal yacht named in honour of the late Prince Philip will be commissioned within weeks, according to multiple news reports.

But it could cost £200 million at a time when the country is emerging from a pandemic-driven recession and weighed down by poverty and homelessness crises after years of cuts to public services

As successor to the Royal Yacht Britannia, which was decommissioned to save money in 1997, the HMS Prince Philip would promote British trade overseas. The plans follow a long campaign by Conservative backbenchers for a new Royal Navy vessel. 

Boris Johnson “has an exciting vision for shipbuilding in this country and is committed to making the UK a shipbuilding superpower,” the prime minister’s spokesperson told The Independent, without denying the extravagant price tag. 

But as the Covid-19 vaccination roll-out continues and the pandemic threat passes, the UK will find itself staring down extreme wealth inequality even more pronounced than before the crisis. So what else could £200 million be spent on?

A full term of free school meals for every child who needs them

The current Government has been embroiled in repeated free school meals scandals, between meagre food parcels sent to children in lockdown and only agreeing to stop children going hungry during school holidays after Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford stepped in.

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Official figures show 1.63 million children are receiving free school meals across England. Westminster pays a flat rate of £2.30 for each, meaning the cost of HMS Prince Philip could pay for another 86,956,522 lunches for disadvantaged pupils. That’s more than 53 meals per child, or ten and a half weeks’ worth for the entire country, almost a full school term.

6,000 new nurses (or 5,700 with a proper pay rise)

The UK is facing a nursing shortage as it emerges from the pandemic, with tens of thousands of vacancies still unfilled.

Industry bodies warned the Government that the problem could not be addressed without targeted recruitment of at least 5,000 new nurses from overseas, made more challenging by Brexit and Covid-19 travel restrictions. 

The average salary of a UK nurse is roughly £33,000, according to the Royal College of Nursing. A £200 million fund could pay the salaries of nearly 6,000 new nurses for a year.

But the Royal College and other experts are calling for a six per cent pay rise for nurses and other NHS staff to recognise their vital work during the pandemic. 

If that pay increase were to go ahead – at present, the Government says it will pay nurses only one per cent more – the royal yacht funding would still cover the salaries of around 5,700 new nurses.

Reversal of UK’s drastic foreign aid cuts

The Government has come under fire for cutting its foreign aid budget significantly which charities said would hit vulnerable communities overseas hardest as well as hampering the global effort to stop climate change.

The cuts could have a particularly serious impact on women and girls around the world. Save the Children analysis showed the UK’s commitment to funding for girls’ education overseas had been cut by £136m since 2019 and £24m since last year. The cost of the new royal yacht could cover this in its entirety and then some.

The UN Population Fund, which fights for the rights of women and girls globally, is also facing a severe cut to its funding from the UK. Previously promised £154m, it will now receive £23m – a decrease of £131m, or 65 per cent of the HMS Prince Philip.

£20 per week Universal Credit increase for a year for nearly 200,000 families

The Government has been dragging its heels over the £20 per week universal credit increase, introduced at the start of the pandemic to support struggling families through the crisis.

Initially set to end in March, Chancellor Rishi Sunak extended the payments until September, when they are now due to be cut.

It will see those receiving the benefit lose £1,040 from their income annually. But the £200m for HMS Prince Philip could cover the increase for another year for more than 192,000 households.

Stop more than 140,000 people falling into homelessness

The human cost of homelessness in the UK is incalculable. But in many cases, some extra cash from the Government would help a person turn their life around before they are forced to sleep rough – and save the country money in the long run.

Intervention in the life of someone at risk of homelessness costs £1,526, according to charity Crisis. That compares to the cost of someone who has to sleep rough for a year, which comes in atmore than £20,000. 

A £200 million cash pot would fund support for more than 140,200 people to ensure they got the help they needed before becoming homeless. 

With current homelessness figures put at 280,000 for England, according to Shelter, that money could make a serious dent in the UK’s ongoing homelessness crisis.

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