The plight of hungry children shows how cruel Worcestershire’s Tory MPs are
Child food poverty has been a big issue facing the UK for a long time, but it is one that has been exacerbated due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. The efforts of footballer Marcus Rashford have been incredible and his campaign to support those families who rely on free school meals forced the Government to feed 1.3 million children during the summer school holidays. Now after failing to extend that policy for the October half term and the Christmas holidays on Wednesday night, the Government is under pressure again.
The Growing Issue of Child Poverty
During the 10 years that the Tories have been in power, they have done nothing to decrease the gap between the rich and the vulnerable. Personal and household debt is rampant, as living costs soar while wages stagnate. This failure to support vulnerable families means that over 1 million children are going hungry when not at school. In Worcestershire, it is a similar story as the rest of the country, with high child poverty rates across the county, notably Wyre forest (34%) and Redditch (33%). This situation has been made worse since the outbreak of COVID-19 as unemployment rates have dramatically increased, and the insufficient financial aid provided to those who cannot work is nowhere near enough. Many people are suffering more than they were before. With no help for renters, little support for those on benefits, and the ending of the furlough scheme, this is going be an issue for more and more families.
The Hypocrisy of Tory MPs
All but 5 Tory MPs voted against Wednesday’s bill which would have ensured that over 1 million children would not go hungry in the October half-term and over the Christmas holidays. Conservative MP for Bassetlaw, Brendan Clarke-Smith even said “”I do not believe in nationalising children, instead we need to get back to the idea of taking responsibility.” This blatant disregard by Conservative MPs shows their complete failure to grasp what is happening in their constituencies and our communities. It’s important to remember that 56% if people in the UK in poverty are in a working family. Those in need of free school meals don’t have a dependency problem but are a product of a number of systemic failures by this Tory Government.
It is also very ironic that the Conservatives are lecturing people on dependency on the state when our very own Worcestershire MPs claim thousands in expenses. Mark Garnier for example claimed over £50,000 on expenses even though he is on a salary of £81,932 already (which is due to increase shortly.) West Worcestershire’s own Harriet Baldwin claimed back a £50 donation to a local Hospice on expenses and Robin Walker (Worcester) claimed for a book on Child Poverty through Parliamentary expenses (something he clearly didn’t spend much time reading). Furthermore MPs currently get a £25 a day food allowance on which they can pay for food on taxpayer-subsidised restaurants. Who relies on the state now?
Along with the 8 Worcestershire MPs voting against the bill, other notable MPs include Boris Johnson, along with Jo Gideon, who ironically is a trustee for ‘Feeding Britain’.
In the days following the vote, the Conservative Party and their MPs have really shown their true colours and their views on society. The most notable is perhaps Mansfield Conservative MP Ben Bradley, who suggested that children go hungry because of bad parenting and trade free school meal vouchers for drugs. This really highlights what many of us have known for a while; Conservative MPs live in their own bubble and do not understand the reasons why people live in poverty and what problems they face (many caused by the Conservatives).
When I emailed my local MP, Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest), I got a very generic response which I have since found out that he has sent to many people and did not answer any of my questions. Garnier even had the nerve to boast about the furlough scheme and said “53 billion has been spent on Furlough, which runs to the end of October Half Term, protecting 12 million jobs.” What he failed to mention though is that workers are only on 2/3 of their salary in occupations where they are forced to close. With the Living Wage Foundation stating that the wage people need to be earning to live adequately being £9.30 an hour, those earning minimum wage and put on the new job retention scheme will struggle to make ends meet.
On a more positive note, due to inspiration from Marcus Rashford, British residents have shown their community spirit and have come together to ensure that children do not go hungry. Community groups and local businesses have stepped up when the government won’t. There has also been a significant rise in donations to charities and foodbanks, which sadly have become a staple of the lives of many people who simply want to ensure that they keep a roof over their children’s heads and food in their stomachs.
On Sunday, Keir Starmer announced that Labour will “force another vote on free school meals if the Government does not change course before the Christmas break”. Talk of a Government U-Turn is already afoot. This campaign needs to be the blueprint for every social and economic campaign issues moving forward – community activism with a multimedia strategy that puts the vulnerable and the “just about managing” in our society at the heart of our politics.
A special mention goes out to the following businesses in Worcestershire that have committed to support those families that will be going without this half-term. For a full list go to: https://helpoutwhenschoolsout.co.uk
The Courtyard Cafe at Tardebigge, Hewell Lane, Redditch, B97 6QJ
Muffin Break , Redditch, B97 4HJ h
The Ladybird Inn , Finstall Road, Aston Fields, Bromsgrove, B60 2DZ
Rasoi Cottage , Castleditch Lane, Redditch, B98 7YB
The Fig, Church Street, Malvern, WR14 2AE
The Picnic Box , Belle Vue Terrace, Malvern, WR14 4PZ
Gallery 36 , Great Malvern, WR14 4PZ
Willi’s Social Coffee Lounge and Bar, High Street, Studley, B80 7HJ
Ma Baker’s, Worcester, Cranham Drive, Worcester, WR4 9PA
Rainbow Hill Chippy, 24 Astwood Rd, Worcester, WR3 8ET
Full English Cafe, 48-50 Astwood Road, Worcester WR3 8EZ