Britain Becomes South Africa: Primary Teachers Bring Food for Starving Pupils

Monica Caro Foodbank

Monica Caro, Campaigner against the government’s benefit cuts, outside the Royal Free Hospital in Camden

A few years ago I used to work with an academic, who was very involved in civil rights work to improve conditions for the Black community. He later moved with his family to the new, post-Apartheid South Africa. Talking to him later, I found that he was appalled at the poverty in his local area, and was trying to find donors, who would provide much-needed equipment for the local school. Apart from the poverty that still afflicts the vast majority of Black South Africans, there area suffered from unemployment. As a result, many of the schoolchildren were coming to school hungry. To combat this, the government had launched the ‘Nelson Mandela Feeding Programme’. This gave schoolchildren a meal when the came to school. My friend told me that it was only a peanut butter sandwich. It’s hardly enough, but it was something. It was often the only meal they would have all day.

South Africa was, of course, notorious for having an immensely wealthy White ruling class, which excluded from power and dignity the Black and ‘Coloured’, or mixed race, population. The townships into which the Black population had been segregated was notorious for poverty and the violence this engenders. It was hoped and expected that with the fall of Apartheid and the ascent of Mandela to the presidency, this would end and Black and White South Africans could finally march together in peace and create a land of prosperity and justice for all.

This has, however, not come about. The ANC has become massively corrupt, so that its members now have enriched themselves and joined the ruling White elite, while conditions for the vast majority of the Black population are as poor than they were previously. They are not, however, alone in their poverty. Since the 1990s there has appeared a class of White poor, similarly trapped in grinding poverty. This was recently shown on British television by a Black British DJ on his programme about South Africa. Ten Years ago this class of poor Whites was the subject of a photographic exhibition, Outlands, put on by a White South African photographer, intended to show an aspect of South Africa, that was unknown in Europe.

Starving Schoolchildren in Britain

Unfortunately, Britain seems to be joining South Africa in the emergence of a corrupt, obscenely wealthy elite, while the mass of its population are depressed into poverty and destitution, a poverty that includes children coming to school hungry.

Yesterday I posted a piece about Monday’s Panorama documentary on the massive expansion of food banks across the UK. One of the commenters to this blog, AmnesiaClinic, remarked that there had been reports in Britain of schoolteachers bringing in food to pupils from homes that had been hit by benefit sanctions. AM-FM has kindly provided the link to one report of this.

It’s an article from the newspaper, Ham&High, published on September 29 2013. Entitled ‘Camden primary teachers bring food into classes to feed hungry pupils hit by benefit cuts’, it reported the finding by Monica Caro, the vice-chair of the Camden Association of Street Properties, that schoolteacher in Camden were bring their own food from home into school to feed primary school pupils aged five to seven, whose parents had been hit by cuts to their benefit. Ms Caro, a volunteer and carer, was working with Petra Dando, a prominent campaigner in the borough against the government’s cuts. She was also shocked that the Royal Free Hospital had also opened a food bank. The hospital had opened a stall asking for residents to donate food.

Ms Caro said: “I thought, ‘Oh my god, if the Royal Free is now making a Comic Relief-style appeal for food then surely the government can hear that things are really desperate.’ I voted for the Conservatives and I wish I never had.

“It’s like living in Robin Hood times, they are taking from the poor to give to the rich.”

The article notes the effect of the government’s benefit cap, which means that no family can earn more than £500 in benefits, as well as the notorious bedroom tax. It stated that hit by the tax could lose between 14 and 25 per cent of their benefits.

The article quoted the comments of local lawyer, Rebekah Carrier, who was working on a number of challenges to the benefit changes in the High Court, who was particularly critical of the benefit cap. She said

“The people most badly affected by the benefit cap are families with three or more children. Often all of their benefits go on paying their rent and they have nothing with which to feed their children.”

Sally Gimson, a local councillor in Highgate, said she had been told by residents that they are skipping meals in order to make ends meet due to the bedroom tax.

It also reported that the Highgate Newtown Community Centre was going to open lunch clubs from the 4th October that year, where people in need could get a cooked meal for £1. The Centre’s director, Andrew Sanalitro, was pessimistic about the effect of the coming winters. He stated “There will be a spike in problems when winter comes because of heating bills. It’s just becoming a lot harder for people to cope.”

The article can be found at: http://www.hamhigh.co.uk/news/camden_primary_teachers_bring_food_into_classes_to_feed_hungry_pupils_hit_by_benefit_cuts_1_2691248.

This is disgusting and shameful. Britain, unlike South Africa, is an immensely wealthy country. I believe it is the seventh biggest economy in the world, but many of its people are facing the return of the grinding poverty our great-grandparents faced in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Malnutrition is also returning, along with diseases like rickets, that were common in the desperation and squalor of Victorian slums. It had been hoped such poverty had been banished through the welfare state, the expanding economy and the increased prosperity of the post-War years. ‘You’ve never had it so good!’, boasted the Conservative Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan. Well, the country as a whole is still immensely wealthy, even if Gideon, sorry, George Osborne has managed to stall the economy with his daft Neo-Liberal policies. Yet poverty is increasing. A quarter of all households have seen a decline in their income and standard of living through inflation and the Coalition’s imposition of wage restraint. And conditions for the very poorest are becoming increasingly desperate. So desperate, that they resemble South Africa, a country struggling to shake off the legacy of Apartheid and afflicted with massive corruption and the emergence of a non-racist, but still brutally exploitative ruling class. Which pretty much describes Britain under the Coalition, although racism still seems prevalent in the Tory party, despite Cameron’s attempts to root it out and protestations to the contrary. Witness the vans the Coalition circulated in Black and Asian areas to encourage illegal immigrants to go home.

Such poverty should have no place in 21st century Britain. It can only get worse, much worse, under the Coalition. If Scotland leaves the UK, taking its North Sea oil with it, then I believe we will see true conditions comparable to the Third World in what’s left of the UK.

The Coalition has to go, and Neo-Liberalism rejected and thrown into the dustbin of daft and exploitative economic policies.

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13 Responses to “Britain Becomes South Africa: Primary Teachers Bring Food for Starving Pupils”

  1. Mike Sivier Says:

    Reblogged this on Vox Political.

  2. Florence Says:

    Another fine, articulate piece. I too knew many of the Black South African diaspora. Once the ANC were in power my best friend looked at the housing & township situation there. The most immediate and pressing problem was that there wasn’t any industry producing building materials in the quantities that could make any difference. The rich whites simply imported materials from elsewhere. They desperately needed an industrial strategy, for infrastructure and manufacturing production. It never seemed to come.

    I too am saddened that after all these years the ANC ruling elite have become the same as in other African countries, and the corruption has left the poor there in essentially the same state as before the destruction of the racist government.

    It is not necessary for the North Sea oil to change hands for the same levels of poverty and deprivation to become the norm in the UK. It is depressing, looking at the lessons from South Africa, and India, and many other places, that once the problem gets so big, the elite become cocooned and immune to the suffering. Even those I knew who were highly politically motivated in SA were ultimately defeated by the sheer scale of the problems and inertia inherited from the previous administration.

    We must make sure that in the UK we do not loose hope, and see that our parents and grandparents were faced with the same, or bigger, problems of poverty and inequality. They saw the solution, and moved the mountain. What we have had taken from us can be rebuilt. Those nay-sayers should start being more positive, and stop decrying the entire political system. It was after all, the same system that delivered the NHS, education, social security, pensions and care for the elderly, and the belief that every generation should enjoy improvements over those gained by past generations. We can put the hunger machine into reverse. While the efforts of individuals to address immediate problems (like teachers feeding their kids and food banks) are just inspirational, we will never address real need and real want this way, as the academic said in the Panorama programme, it’s a sticking plaster for a gaping wound. It needs a national government that works for the people, not against them, to turn the tide.

  3. Paul Smyth Says:

    Reblogged this on The Greater Fool.

  4. chunkyfunkymunky Says:

    Reblogged this on chunkyfunkymunky.

  5. stilloaks Says:

    Reblogged this on Still Oaks.

  6. jaypot2012 Says:

    Reblogged this on Jay's Journal and commented:
    Utterly depressing – this country IS a third world country, no matter what Cameron and Co say!

  7. Charles Says:

    Never ever compare Britain to South Africa — you know not of what you speak —–

  8. argotina1 Says:

    Reblogged this on Benefit tales.

  9. AM-FM Says:

    A fresh report today of hungry school kids in Barrow Cumbria.

    Can’t find a text version, so about the middle of this prog.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03xjvzy/North_West_Tonight_11_03_2014/

  10. foodbankhelper Says:

    Thanks for highlighting this. It’s also very significant that the Royal Free Hospital has set up a food bank. I’ve never heard of that before. So teachers in England are having to bring in food for their youngest students…. I read a most interesting post recently on the possible dangers of kind solidarity and philanthropy, and I saw exactly the risk the blogger was pointing out – it can let government off the hook. But if you have any sense of social solidarity as an individual and you see a need…. you’ll want to stop a child or patient you know personally from going hungry. But don’t our combined individual actions in contributing to food banks etc continue to let government off the hook? How do we stop teachers needing to bring in food to schools and stop food banks becoming a permanent fixture in this first world economy?

  11. amnesiaclinic Says:

    Good question foodbankhelper. It is just a sticking plaster over a gaping wound. We need to tackle the problems from all angles. There is a place for local help for emergencies yet surely we need to make local communities far more robust with employment and food growing so people can grow their own food. Food from foodbanks is very often just the tinned and packets and there have been reports that sometimes the recipients have had to hand it back because they cannot afford to cook it. Obscene. Growing your own with local low cost energy solutions, good social housing and community cooking or restaurant facilities would be a brilliant start.
    Then we need to tackle them at a national level by reversing what has happened in the life of this government. We need to become far more proactive with politicians, question, argue and insist. We need real programmes of social reform that put people first and undoes all the harm of the last 30 years.
    So food banks become a thing of the past.

  12. amnesiaclinic Says:

    Reblogged this on amnesiaclinic and commented:
    The rise of malnutrition especially among children is appalling. The harm that is done to children still growing remains for the rest of their lives in emotional scars as well as damaging growing brains. Is this really happening in the 7th largest economy in the world??

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