Posts Tagged ‘School Meals’

W.L. Phillips, Working Class Socialist and Anti-Slavery Activist, and E. Nesbit’s Work for Deprived Schools

April 30, 2022

I’ve been reading Eleanor Fitzsimon’s biography of E. Nesbit, The Life and Loves of E. Nesbit (London: Duckworth 2019). Nesbit’s best known for her children’s books The Railway Children, Five Children and It, The Story of the Amulet and The Treasure Seekers, but she was also a prolific poet and writer of short stories. But she and her husband, Hubert Bland, were also committed socialists and members of the Fabian Society. She and her husband would have been pilloried by the right-wing media today, because they lived very unconventional lives. Her husband put it about a bit, and she ended up sharing her household with his mistress and raising their child, Rosamund, as one of their own. She also mixed with members of the literary and artistic set of the time, including, obviously, leading socialists like George Bernard Shaw, William Morris and Eleanor Marx. Fabian meetings tended to be genteelly middle class, and Hubert remarked that they were sneered at as armchair socialists. If they were around now, the Tories and their lapdog press would be screaming that the were members of the ‘liberal elite’ and ‘champagne socialists’. But the Society also included working people, who not only talked the talk, but walked the walk. The first Fabian pamphlet, Why Are The Many Poor?, was written by W.L. Phillips, a housepainter who, when he was in America, had been active aiding escaped slaves. (p. 73). Unfortunately, that’s all that’s said about this fascinating and courageous figure.

Nesbit and Work Parties for Deprived Schools

And there are other passages in the book that are interesting because of the vile way the Tories have dragged our great and noble country back to the deprivation and poverty of the 19th century. Nesbit, her husband and their friends and family were active organising work parties to provide food, clothes and Christmas presents for the children at Hughes Fields school, in a particularly deprived area near where they lived in Kent. The book states

‘The London School Board had designated Hughes Fields primary school a ‘specially difficult school’. Pupils were withdrawn as soon as they were capable of earning a wage and the attendance rate was just sixty-five per cent. It was reported that one kindly school inspector purchased food for the children out of his own pocket. The dire poverty they endured was highlighted in an appeal carried in the Blackheath Gazette

“In this very poor school a large proportion of the children are either shoeless or very badly shod and clad, even during this inclement weather, and the teachers would gladly welcome any gifts of old boots and clothing – no matter how old they may be.”‘ ( p.127)

She organised Christmas parties for the children. One of these was described by the Kentish Mercury in this passage from an edition from 1896

‘Following her usual custom, Mrs Hubert Bland, of Lee, assisted by several friends gave a tea and entertainment on Saturday afternoon to between 300 and 400 of the poorest and wretchedest of the little ones who attend the Hughes Fields Board Schools, Deptford. The whole of the children were first mustered in the infants’ class-room, and eventually divided into batches and served with tea – which included a plentiful supply of bread and butter and cake – in the four classrooms… each child was made the recipient of a warm garment and a toy.’ (p. 129).

The book goes on to describe the work parties she organised to provide the fare, clothes and toys, which also included a fair bit of fun for those attending.

‘She raised funds and hosted working parties every Saturday for three months leading up to each party, at which family, friends and and neighbours made warm, practical clothing; they knitted hats and comforters, and, on one occasion, made trousers for the boys from blue corduroy that had been supplied to Saretta’s (Nesbit’s half-sister from her father’s previous marriage) husband, John Deakin. Edith’s neighbour Ada Moore described these gatherings

‘I shall never forget our Saturdays during the winter of 1890-1 (I think). We worked at all kinds of things for the very poor of Deptford for some hours, then a supper of, probably, herrings, cheese and bottled stout, followed by a dance.” (p. 130).

Now we have children and families only kept from starvation by food banks, and charities appealing for clothes for the poor. And the situation is going to get worse thanks to the cost of living crisis. As for the school inspector buying food for the kids out of his own pocket, there are stories that some teachers in British schools are also doing that.

But the passage also reminds me of Marcus Rashford and his campaign for schools to provide free meals to children during the summer holidays. He suffered terrible abuse for this, because, obviously, as a millionaire footballer he couldn’t possibly demand such state provision for children without being a massive hypocrite. But Rashford had endured similar poverty when he was a sprog, and the real reason for the Tory ire was that he had exposed the callousness and real deprivation behind their policies. And I’m very sure that if she lived today, Nesbit and her friends would have been similarly attacked.

Nesbit herself comes across as fascinating figure – highly intelligent, and extremely mischievous when a girl, who based many of the incidents in her books on her own life. She clearly had a deep sympathy for the poor and children, and was a woman of very strong principles, expressed in her literary work and social activism. She definitely earns her place as one of Britain’s great literary heroines.

And it is utterly disgusting that similar conditions are now returning to the UK, thanks to the Tories. Thatcherism is a failure and they and the Blairites should be thrown out of power as soon as possible.

Score! Football Marcus Rashford Gets Government to Provide Free School Meals During Holidays

June 19, 2020

Kudos and respect to Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United and England footballer, for managing to get Boris Johnson to supply free school meals during the summer holidays. Rashford had written an open letter to our comedy Prime Minister urging him not to end the current scheme of supplying vouchers for school meals to families, who otherwise could not afford to feed them at lunch time. Rashford was interviewed on BBC news, where he remembered having used food banks and free school meals when he was a child. He also raised £20 million to help poor families avoid starvation and other problems with the charity FareShare.

Johnson, as your typical Tory, initially refused. He said instead that he was going to make £63 million available to local authorities to help the poor obtain food and other necessities. But this is only a fraction of the £115 million that would be spent on free school dinners. Robert Halfon, a senior Tory, also broke ranks to argue that, under Johnson’s scheme, the money would never reach those who needed it because it was too bureaucratic. Johnson also tried palming Rashford and his supporters off with another scheme, in which the government would spend £9 million on holiday activities and feeding 50,000 needy sprogs. This is 1.67 per cent of the three million or so children going hungry thanks to the government’s wages freeze and destruction of the welfare state.

Mike one of his articles about this has put up a number of Tweets from people decrying Johnson’s miserly, spiteful attempts to stop children continuing to receive school meals. One of them is from Damo, who pointed out that the government can find £150 billion to help out big business, but can’t find £115 million for hungry children.

Ghoul Johnson spits on footballer’s school meals plea – he wants millions of children to STARVE

Finally, after realizing just what a public relations disaster this was, Johnson gave in. Rashford duly Tweeted his appreciation of the support he had received from the British public. But as Mike reminds us, Johnson only finally conceded to grant the meal because the campaign was led by a celebrity. Mike concluded

England in 2020 is a place where the government deliberately tries to harm its citizens…

… and where it only gives anything back in fear of harmful publicity from a campaign by a highly-visible public figure. If Joe Bloggs from a small village had run this campaign, your children would be skin and bone by September.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/06/16/tories-cave-in-to-rashfords-school-meals-campaign-with-scheme-for-holidays/

And where was Starmer during all this? 

As far as I am aware, Starmer said and did precious little. I think he might have made some approving, supportive comment after Rashford won his victory, but that’s it. And it’s not good enough from the head of the Labour Party.

But what do you expect? Starmer’s a Blairite, and Tony Blair’s entire strategy was to take over Tory policies in an attempt to appeal to their voters, while assuring them and the Tory media that he could do it better than they could. Meanwhile the British working class was expected to continue to support him out of traditional tribal loyalty and the fact that they had nowhere else to go. This resulted in Labour losing many of its members, to the point where even though he lost the elections, Corbyn had far more people voting for him than Blair did.

The result is that Starmer is dragging us back to the situation of the late 90s and first years of this century, when a genuine left-wing opposition fighting for working people and traditional Labour issues, was left to organisations outside the political parties. Organisations like Disabled People Against Cuts, who fight for proper welfare support for the disabled, anti-austerity groups and campaigns to save the NHS from privatisation. They’re doing what Starmer should be doing and conspicuously isn’t, afraid he might offend all those Tory voters he wants to support him. As against a real Labour leader like Jeremy Corbyn.

Marcus Rashford deserves full plaudits for his work to get deprived kids proper meals.

And Johnson and Starmer, for their initial lack of support for the scheme, are nothing but a disgrace.

 

Vox Political: Tories End Special Payments Fund to Provide Free School Meals

February 11, 2016

More evidence of the Tory campaign to starve this nation and its children. This is a piece Mike posted today from the Mirror, reporting that David Cameron has quietly removed a fund of £32 million to provide the 3,000 smallest schools in the UK with free school meals: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/11/tories-quietly-end-free-school-meals-fund-worth-32-million/. And this was after Cameron noisily declared that his government would provide free school meals to all children. Well, they’ve clearly decided against this. And according to Mike, it was a Lib Dem policy anyway.

This comes after reports that teachers in some schools are actually paying for children to have school meals out of their own pockets, because of benefit cuts. Mike’s put up these stories on his blog. Go and read them. I was told by a South African friend that Nelson Mandela, when he got into power, launched the ‘Mandela Feeding Programme’. This was so that the starving children of unemployed or low paid people in the Townships would get at least one meal at school. He told me it was only trivial – something like a peanut butter sandwich. But at least the kids were fed. Britain is immensely richer than South Africa. We’re supposed to be one of the world’s strongest economies. But Cameron has decided that we can’t afford to look after our poor.

Disgraceful. Utterly disgraceful.

Henry Hyndman and the Democratic Federation

May 10, 2014

Henry_hyndman pic

Henry Hyndman, founder of the Democratic Federation

One of the first Socialist parties in the latter 19th century was Henry Hyndman’s Democratic Federation, founded in 1881. Hyndman corresponded with Marx about reviving Chartism, and intended his new Federation to be a working class organisation continuing ‘the great work of Spence and Owen, , Stephens and Oastler, O’Connor and O’Brien, Ernest Jones and George J. Harney’. Beer in his History of British Socialism considered that his ideas were derived from Marx, Bronterre O’Brien and Benjamin Disraeli. At its founding conference in June 8th, 1881, the party decided on the following programme:

1. Universal suffrage.

2. Triennial parliaments.

3. Equal electoral divisions.

4. Payment of members.

5. Corruption and bribery of the electors to be punishable as criminal offences.

6. Abolition of the House of Lords as a legislative body.

7. Home rule for Ireland.

8. Self-government for the colonies and dependencies.

9. Nationalisation of the land.

They presented a more Socialist programme in their 1883 pamphlet, Socialism Made Plain. This urged working people to campaign for the following:

1. Erection of healthy dwellings by the central or local authorities and letting them at low rents to working men.

2. Free and universal education and at least one free meal for school children.

3. An eight-hour day.

4. Progressive taxation on incomes over £300.

5. Establishment of national banks and gradual abolition of private banking.

6. Nationalisation of railways and land.

7. Organisation of the unemployed under State control on co-operative principles.

8. Rapid redemption of the national debt.

Most of their programme had become law by the late 20th century. However, we’re now seeing these reforms increasingly attacked. Workers are increasingly required to work far longer than eight hours as part of their normal working day under various clauses in their contracts. Free education is under attack as the government engages on its programme of piecemeal privation of the school system. The railways were privatised by John Major. And the system of council housing was destroyed by Thatcher and her policies continued by Tony Blair. These reforms should all be revived and actively demanded.

One of the points that has not been put into practice, but which I strongly believe should, is no. 7: organisation of the unemployed under State control on co-operative principles. This was harking back to the National Workshops of Louis Blanc, which were opened and undermined through government hostility in the Revolution of 1848. They were intended to provide work for the unemployed, who would manage them and share the profits. Under the Tories, the present system of unemployment benefit is deliberately intended to be as humiliating as possible in order to drive the jobless into any kind of work, no matter how poorly paid and with poor working conditions. They are moreover seen as a source of cheap labour for the companies participating in the Workfare programmes. We desperately need a system of unemployment benefit and state provision of work that builds and empowers people. I’d like there to be ways in which the unemployed themselves can seize power so that they can force the government to treat them with humanity and dignity. The government’s lauded campaign to create a more entrepreneurial Britain by forcing the unemployed to classify themselves as self-employed in order to keep receiving benefits is woefully inadequate and doesn’t even come close.