Mother and baby: love, compassion, kindness: are these emotions considered relevant by England’s Conservative government?
I have spent a long time in the Third World and seen total, abject poverty. But then – and this is a shocking thing to say – that was the Third World and such sights were not unexpected. Those countries face enormous challenges in the modern world, and many of the amenities, commodities, values and lifestyles that we in the developed West take for granted are simply not available to millions of people towards the lower levels of the prevailing social hierarchies. Seeing such hardship has had a lasting effect on me, it has really altered the way I look at the world in general, and I am grateful for that – albeit it is enlightenment bought at the price of witnessing the plight of others.
But when I returned to England in 1989, at the end of the Thatcher Years ( an earlier Conservative government), I had thought that I had left all of this dire poverty behind me – so that I was all the more shocked and saddened to see people begging and sleeping out on city streets here.
Because it is a simple fact that although the UK is a developed and wealthy Western nation, there are still large numbers of poor, vulnerable and disadvantaged people here – a fact that was further driven into me as I then worked for 20 years in Social Services Departments, collating and analysing service user data. During this SSD work, I came into contact with the Free School Meals Service, which provides free school lunches for children from deprived social backgrounds.
And now, as well as lunches, many schools are providing breakfasts and other food for their children. A friend of mine is a School Governor, and I have become involved in this crisis in a small way by donating funds to be used to help this school’s most needy families. On asking what sorts of things the money would be used for, I was told that it would buy “luxuries” that these families could not usually afford – like biscuits and fresh fruit. Well, what does one say? This is the UK in 2020 and, to some, such really very basic items are luxuries??? I have to admit that all this has affected me deeply, and the more so since many families are now also being ravaged by both the covid pandemic and the consequent rising unemployment.
The government in England has now voted – disgracefully voted, in my view – not to provide needy children with Free School Meals over the imminent Half-Term Holiday – and this has prompted Marcus Rashford, a famous footballer from a deprived family background, to campaign to overturn this government vote – as he has affected these issues in the past and been awarded an MBE for doing so. Even if the vote is overturned, that this Half-Term starts here tomorrow will mean that the U-turn, one of so many that this really incompetent English government has made, will not come in time for these children. But of course the longer Christmas school holiday is rushing towards us, and it may well effect things then.
These events have prompted public uproar. 700,000 have signed a petition against the government’s decision, and 800,000 have signed another petition, to remove public subsidies on the cost of Members of Parliament’s food and drinks. Many local councils, businesses, cafes and other food outlets have said they will provide free meals for children if the government fails to. Over 2,000 top children’s doctors have signed an open letter to the government, condemning their policies.
If you would like to know more about these issues, here is Marcus Rashford’s twitter address; please have a look: @MarcusRashford . And you can also of course simply dial marcus rashford into Google.