‘Shock – child poverty increases’ shouted the headlines last week. The figures are shocking; last year there were 200,000 more children living in poverty in the UK than the year before. The government was meant to be halving child poverty by 2010.
They are quite gut-wrenching statistics, especially when your own children are amongst those figures. They came out just a couple of weeks after a Unicef report put British children at the bottom of a league table for child well-being across 21 industrialised countries.
Commentators on the economy say ‘we’ve got to get people into work’ as if it is really our fault – if only we pulled up our boot straps and got a job our children would not be poor. Lone parents are to be forced to work once their child is at secondary school. Schools are to be turned into ‘children’s centres’ with under-funded early morning and late afternoon care so that parents can work round the clock.
But the numbers of ‘working poor’ have also gone up. Public-sector workers are expected to take a below-inflation pay rise – ie a pay cut. Manufacturing workers, like at Rover’s Longbridge, lose well-paid jobs when their factories close, only to get low paid ‘McJobs’ if they are lucky.
With costs of childcare and transport, many low-paid people have to work very long hours or juggle two or more jobs just to get by. And then they tell us we don’t spend enough time with our children!
But who is surprised at the appalling child poverty statistics? The whole of society is geared to making profits for the fat cats at our expense. ‘Neo-liberalism’ means increasing the profits of big business by making us work harder for longer on less money, reducing our benefits and pensions, cutting our services and selling off what is left to the highest bidder.
Surprise surprise, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. While child poverty increases, the tops of society are so rich that they live a life beyond our imagination. The boss of Barclays made £23 million last year. UK company top executives got £19 billion in Christmas bonuses.
But that is chicken feed. Chester Square in Belgravia, London, is the wealthiest street in Europe. The people living there are worth £250 billion. One resident is none other than Margaret Thatcher, whose anti-working class policies were picked up with a vengeance by Tony Blair.
All the mainstream political parties are on the side of big business, so will not change the situation. David Cameron may say child poverty is a disgrace, but his Tory party first worsened it. The Lib-Dems pretend to be radical but then support cuts and privatisation just the same.
We need a new party that is on our side, that says ‘this is wrong – and we’re going to fight it!’ A party of struggle, against poverty wages and benefits, against cuts and privatisation, and for a decent life for all our children.