We can be better than this – and rise above Scrooge-like excuses for child poverty

Posted on: 28th October 2020

Warm congratulations and thanks to many local businesses and individuals who’ve stepped up and responded with kindness after Parliament voted down Marcus Rashford’s campaign to fight child hunger amongst the poorest families.

The vote itself was shocking enough. But the litany of attempted excuses expose the Conservative MPs who voted against children in need. Let’s look at the explanations they offered:

1. “There’s enough food to go around in the UK” – True. And there’s also enough money to wipe out poverty and enough homes to overcome homelessness. But Conservatives have proven themselves to be the last people to introduce policies to achieve either. ‘Leveling-up’ the wealth gap, providing decent homes and nutritious food for all requires more than just mouthing truisms and warm words.

2. “Cornwall Council received an additional £6.2m from Government which could be used to feed children” – A big fat lie. The £6.2m is not “additional”. It’s the fourth tranche of the £45m promised early in the pandemic to cover the Council’s contribution to the national anti-Covid campaign – PPE, “Care Hotels”, emergency homes for the homeless, temporary mortuaries, loss of income from business, council tax, car parks etc. The total cost so far is £84m. So it barely covers half the costs. It’s shameful that Conservatives now claim, as an after thought, that it should also be used to meet the Government’s refusal to extend the free school meals entitlement.

3. “The Conservative Government provided £15 per qualifying child” – But that’s chicken feed after the Conservatives previously slashed benefits by a third. Contrast this to their paying a whopping £10,000 per qualifying second home owner – a total of £75 million to second homes in Cornwall alone!

4. “Food waste contributes about 10% of harmful emissions so I fully get the injustice of food poverty” – Where do you start with these people? Yes we can all agree food waste is unacceptable, especially when there’s so much hunger. But getting nourishing meals to those without requires policy decisions, like the ones the Conservatives have voted down.

5. Campaigners are “using child poverty to embarrass the Conservatives” – On the contrary. This statement exposes the Conservatives as seeing child poverty merely as an inconvenient part of a political game.

6. “No one ever emailed me about school meals until last week” – But they’ll have emailed Conservative MPs about other aspects of poverty and inequality which they’ve ignored. And I doubt anyone emailed Tory MPs about many other aspects of the consequences of the pandemic until this year.

7. “Vouchers would only go direct to crack dens”. “It traps people in dependency on the state.” – We’ve built a country of people who are quick to judge those who struggle, without knowing their misfortunes, tragedies and difficulties. Even if some parents are failing their children should not suffer as a consequence. In my experience a greater ‘dependency’ culture has been built around the rich who depend on their massive farm subsidies and tax breaks such that many boast they “pay less tax than their cleaners”.

These shocking excuses tell us all we need to know about these MPs. But there are positives to be drawn from communities which have responded with an avalanche of kindness. We must hope it influences future Government policy. Though I suspect a change of Government is more likely to secure such a change.