LABOUR is right to demand a free school meal for every child whose family receives universal credit.
Hunger at school is a significant problem, one that is only getting worse as government policies are due to push another million children into poverty by 2022.
Hungry children cannot concentrate and the links between poverty and poor educational achievement are well known, with teaching unions having to flag up the effect of hunger on concentration and alertness on a regular basis.
Undernourishment also causes serious health problems. Figures released at the end of last year show that the number of British residents hospitalised with malnutrition has trebled in a decade (from 65,048 in 2006-7 to 184,528 in 2015-16).
We’ve grown so used to living in a land of foodbanks that these statistics hardly shock us, but they should.
There is a risk that a land stalked by hunger and want becomes the new normal. Comedian Mark Steel once noted that, before the 1980s, it was unthinkable that there could be a million unemployed. It was the sort of thing you read about in history books, but it was assumed nobody would ever let it happen again.
Then came Margaret Thatcher’s government and mass unemployment became standard. Now we are used to counting the unemployed in the millions and the idea of full employment — once something we expected a responsible government to provide — is seen as an unrealistic fantasy.
A decade ago, the idea that somebody might starve to death in one of the richest countries in the world was unthinkable too, but after cases such as those of Mark Wood and David Clapson, who died after being sanctioned in line with Iain Duncan Smith’s “reform” of the benefits system, starvation is again a real risk for people who find themselves out of work.
Work is not a panacea either, with a Cardiff University study this year finding that 60 per cent of families in poverty had a member in employment. The government’s pay cap for public-sector workers has meant misery for millions and private-sector workers too have suffered the longest squeeze on pay for well over 100 years.
Right across the developed world, wages have declined and children are finding things their parents took for granted — access to work, housing and a social security safety net — are no longer within reach.
Britain is, however, uniquely placed to lead the way in solving these problems.
Unlike in most of Europe, the crisis of capitalism in this country has not led to the rise of fascist parties blaming immigrants for our problems although, with a Conservative government whose ministers suggest that businesses publish lists of their foreign employees or that women should have to show their passports before being allowed to give birth in a hospital, perhaps there’s been no need for a separate party of the far right.
What we do have is an opposition of the left — a socialist-led Labour Party that understands the systemic nature of the crisis in living standards and is prepared to take on the power of big business and “the market” to find solutions.
The potential of that message to resonate with millions of people was shown by Labour’s impressive performance in June’s general election, where it made gains despite wall-to-wall media hostility, a years-long campaign to vilify its leader and a marked lack of discipline among its own MPs.
Labour’s win was a step forward for our movement — one we must build on by fighting for a new deal for all working people, building the industrial militancy that gives workers the confidence not to wait on politicians to solve their problems but to make demands and fight for them in the workplace.
Here’s to a radical Christmas and a socialist new year.
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