Heartless Tories leave working class children begging for crumbs

Heartless Tories leave working class children begging for crumbs
Comment: The Tories' refusal to feed children in poverty is yet another example of their belligerent and cruel Covid-19 strategy, which serves only to protect the wealthy, writes Malia Bouattia.
6 min read
29 Oct, 2020
Volunteers have been providing lunches for children following the government's refusal [Getty]
There is one consistent rule in politics: every time you think the Tories couldn't possibly stoop any lower, they do. Their latest great idea is to deprive poor children of food. Over 320 MPs voted against a proposal to extend free school meals across the country until Easter 2021.

What also makes this decision unbelievable, is that the vote was triggered via a petition signed by more than 300,000 people across the UK, demanding exactly that: help for the most vulnerable children in a time of national crisis.

So whilst the Tories may be in the habit of batting things away by claiming that issues brought forward by the Labour party are niche left-wing causes, or factionally motivated, they have no excuse over their deplorable opposition to catering to the most basic needs of our children.

Worst of all, of course, is the detrimental impact that this decision is going to have. Even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, poverty levels amongst children were alarming, and this has only been getting worse over the course of this crisis. Many parents and guardians who had been furloughed, now find themselves jobless. Too many families were just about surviving in a climate of mass unemployment, exploitation and dwindling government support, all the while having to deal with ever-increasing living costs. Astonishingly, approximately 30% of children are living in poverty in the UK.

Even doctors felt moved to express their outrage over the decision in an open letter to Boris Johnson. Over 1,000 registered doctors stated that they were, "horrified by the result of the Free School Meals motion in parliament"" and were "compelled to act". They warned that "over a million children will go hungry" as a consequence of the decision not to provide the minimum food provisions.

As we have witnessed through the Prime Minister's approach to the entire Covid-19 pandemic, he is uninterested in expert opinion when it impacts the masses

"We see the health impacts of not eating enough. We see the children who can't concentrate in school. We see the effects of malnutrition. We see the impact on the mental health of these children and their families," the statement added.

The sentiment was echoed by the British Medical Association – hardly a bastion of left-wing activism – which called for a reversal of the decision.

Teachers, who see the day-to-day impacts on children also vocalised their objection to the shameful vote. The National Education Union (NEU), which represents thousands of teachers across the country, issued an open letter to the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson telling the government that it "cannot ignore the public outcry generated by this callous decision. They must ensure no child goes without food."

General secretaries Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, stressed that "action to counter food insecurity for children is urgent and can't wait".

Unfortunately, as we have witnessed through the prime minister's approach to the entire Covid-19 pandemic, he is uninterested in expert opinion when it impacts the masses. He serves the interests of the rich, and theirs alone.

Neither he, nor his cabinet have any idea what poverty means on a day-to-day basis, nor do they care. They remain strikingly disinterested in the fact that so many parents were hoping and praying for the reopening of schools just so the financial burden of feeding their children would be lifted.

It is easy for a sense of hopelessness to settle when one is forced to think about the fact that we are pleading for the government not to ignore hungry and poor children. How is it possible that during a period of heightened hardship, of horrific and senseless deaths and mass job losses, instead of finding ourselves at a moment of mass mobilisations against the neo-liberal policies of our government, instead of demanding a radical transformation of our political and economic system, we are literally begging for crumbs? Dickensian times indeed.

And the Tories are so confident in their unchallenged power – demonstrated to them throughout their virtually unchallenged catastrophic treatment of the Covid-19 crisis – that even crumbs are too much to ask for.

You could be forgiven for thinking that, on the most cynical of levels, the Tories would be worried about the very bad PR that their move represents. But, Johnson and his cabinet are emboldened and they have decided to simply continue in their course to destroy everything remotely progressive in our society.

When the opposition is Keir Starmer and his ilk, how can we be surprised?

After the vote, all eyes seemed to be on the Tories. Calls for a reversal of the decision were coming from every corner. Media interviews were certainly not working in their favour, especially given their attempts to push the blame onto the Labour party which has not been in power for a decade.

But, in true right-of-Labour fashion, the leader of the opposition decided to come to the Tories rescue. He
suspended Jeremy Corbyn's membership to the Labour Party over his reaction to the release of the EHRC anti-Semitism report, launching a new media fury.

The leadership of the country rules in its self-interest – on either side of the dispatch box

Starmer, motivated by factional interests, has successfully delivered a moment of relief to the government and triggered a new exodus out of the party. While he wants nothing more than the definite death of all the support and momentum built by Corbyn's leadership, he also urgently needs it to even be considered a potentially credible alternative to the Conservatives. 

Starmer, it turns out, couldn't care less about the children of the poorest in society – you know, the very people Labour was set up to represent. All he and his allies care about is to kill the spectre that haunts the Labour Party – the spectre of Corbynism.

The leadership of the country rules in its self-interest on either side of the dispatch box. The disproportionate impacts of the Covid-19 outbreak on the poorest and most oppressed has demonstrated that, as has the absolute disinterest in addressing the situation by either Johnson or Sir Starmer.

It is so urgent for us all to organise outside of these institutions, without being sucked into their manoeuvres and games. It is from the streets, from our workplaces, from our communities that we must force them to not only feed our children, but ensure that the causes of poverty are addressed and the institutions of inequality dismantled. Struggle, from below, is the only way to ensure that no one is ever at risk of going hungry because of the selfish and heartless vote of politicians.

Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.