Posts Tagged ‘Royal Free Hospital’

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

March 6, 2014

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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