News earlier this week that up to three million children risk going hungry during school holidays in Britain, the fifth-richest economy, are an appalling Tory testimony, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE.
Two pieces of news earlier this week showed yet again why we need change in Britain and the sheer scale of poverty and desperation under the Tories’ seven years of austerity, which is ruining our public services, squeezing the living standards for the majority and driving millions of people including children into destitution.
On Tuesday, I opened my newspaper to the shameful news that up to three million children risk going hungry during school holidays, according to a report issued by the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on hunger and food poverty.
The report explains that hunger and malnutrition are setting students back not only in educational achievement when they return to school, but also in terms of their ability to lead a healthy life.
Evidence of children existing on a diet of crisps and hungry youngsters unable to take part in a football tournament because “their bodies simply gave up,” was heard by the group.
As Frank Field MP, the APPG’s chairman, said the government “has now had time to take on board the fact that under its stewardship of the fifth richest country in the world, too many children are stalked by hunger.”
In terms of policy solutions, the report recommends that central government takes a lead in giving local authorities duties to convene churches, community groups, businesses, schools and public bodies in their area and allocates a top slice of the sugary drinks levy to fund each local authority with a £100,000 grant to abolish school holiday hunger.
Out of the three million children the report identifies, one million currently receive free school meals in term time, while two million are from working households that do not receive free school meals in term time.
Some analysts seem surprised by the number of children in working families included in these figures, but in fact official figures published in March show that most child poverty is now concentrated in working families. These figures are the highest on record, with more than two-thirds of children classified as “living in poverty in families where at least one parent is working.”
The report also identified that an increased number of families now rely on foodbanks during the holidays.
Indeed, this shocking report about millions of children going hungry in Britain, came out on the same day the Trussell Trust charity revealed that its food bank network was providing record levels of support with almost 1.2 million batches of threeday food and basic supplies in the past year — in total over 10 million meals. More than 400,000 of the recipients were children.
The figures, covering April 2016 to March 2017, show an increase of about 74,000 emergency supplies.
These are the highest figures on record from the Trussell Trust network of foodbanks. A closer look at the detail within them — and reasons behind people’s use of foodbanks — is a stark illustration of the Tories lack of humanity when pursuing ever deeper cuts to our welfare state and public services.
While the government refused to recognise it, the Trust has itself explicitly linked increasing demand with the rollout of the universal credit benefits changes — due out nationally in the period ahead — with the Tories ignoring the growing chorus of voices who have argued for a rethink.
In particular, the charity says that the introduction of universal credit seems to be causing a gap in benefits which causes families to turn to foodbanks, especially because the effects of a six-week or more waiting period for a first payment can be quite serious.
The Trust argues that these effects can last even after people receive their universal credit payments, as bills and debts pile up.
More broadly speaking, the Trust says that as well as delays in benefits, issues of debt and insecure employment are among the reasons that people have to turn to food banks for help.
If the Tories stay in charge, all the indicators are these problems are going to get worse.
Furthermore, these devastating figures came before the government’s introduction two-child benefit limit hits. A recent report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said that this reactionary policy could push 200,000 more children into poverty.
Yet what we have seen from the Tories and their supporters in the media this week?
All we have is seen yet more spin from the Tories and their friends in some of the media that all is fine with our economy and that Theresa May is a moderate Conservative seeking to bring Britain together.
The reality of her record shows the exact opposite — she is pursuing a divisive and ideologically driven agenda which will further deepen poverty and inequality at the same time as hitting the living standards of the majority as real wages start to fall.
But there is a better way, for the many and not the few.
Labour has promised to end the government’s punitive sanctions regime, scrap the arbitrary and inhumane two-child benefit cap, introduce a real living wage of £10 an hour to tackle in-work poverty and ban zero-hours contracts to help more workers become secure in their employment.
And the much welcomed policy of free school meals for all primary schoolchildren alongside action on the issues raised in the APPG on hunger and food poverty’s report this week — could make a massive difference.
Britain deserves better than more Tory failure with spiralling poverty and inequality — let’s make June the end of May.
First published in the Morning Star