Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The greatest battle

I understand that we all have our own battles, our own focus and our own drive. What makes us feel this most is generally our own experience or what we see other people experiencing. There are some news stories that just ring a bell and we are out of our seat and swinging. I am telling you this so that you understand why I am publishing a badly written and anger-filled blog instead of trying (as I normally do, really) to build an argument based on logic, evidence and conclusion. Really, you can blame the next ten minutes of reading on my upbringing.

                I am talking about a news story last week that has been picked up by the BBC in relation to failing children on social mobility and also picked up by the Guardian. Obviously, the Telegraph, Times, Daily Mail and Sun are saving themselves to splash on to the front page the fact that David Cameron was talking out of his arse when he pretended to give a damn about this during the last couple of elections. Clearly, a shrewd move setting up a Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission and putting Alan Milburn in charge of it – after all, this counts as action doesn’t it?
Clearly, it doesn’t. The Commission’s first report is out since the General Election– you remember that don’t you – an Etonian Prime Minister, supported by his Etonian friends standing in front of 10 Downing Street saying he wanted to make Britain “a place where a good life is in reach for everyone who is willing to work and do the right thing”. How they must have laughed into their piles of family money and unattainable privilege about that one afterwards. The report from the commission ( ) doesn’t make easy reading if you feel passionately that this is an intrinsically unfair country OR if you fell for the crap that he was selling.
                To set the scene of where this current government is taking us, the Commission itself said this
 “In our report last year we warned that without a dramatic change in approach to how governments, employers and educators tackled child poverty and social mobility, Britain would become a permanently divided nation. Nothing we have seen in the last 12 months has made us change our view.”

Nothing has changed. Nothing has improved. What is probably more disturbing is that the actions of the last two governments would appear to be directly opposed to the objective it pretends it has set itself. It is still a sad fact that in our country if you are born rich and stupid you are far more likely to end up with a high-earning job than if you are poor and gifted (and for a worked example of this see Boris Johnson). How can this be right? Even the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child makes it clear what we need to do: “2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child's parents, legal guardians, or family members.” (Part 1, Article 2, para 2).
I do not think at the moment we are even close to achieving that. There are 1 million children living in persistent poverty. 1 million children living in persistent poverty. Yet, we are told that unemployment is the lowest it has ever been, that wages have started to rise. You would be forgiven for expecting a “you’ve never had it so good” speech at any moment. There are a lot of factors to this. The most obvious ones appear to be the collision of zero hours contracts and the attack on in-work benefits. Whilst we may have increased employment, how much of this is valuable employment? When there are 700,000 people on zero hours contracts ( and this government are trying to push through ever tighter rules on financial aid it makes you wonder how keen they really are. When families are faced by the bedroom tax making decisions onwhether they eat or whether they stay warm? How are you meant to grow, develop and achieve in circumstances where all you can think about is the hunger in your belly and the misery in your families faces? 
Then we get this government promising us jam tomorrow – by way of a “living wage” – which even when it is FULLY implemented will not achieve the living wage called for by the Living Wage Commission. We only have to wait 4 years for it. That’s OK – you stay hungry for 4 years kids – it’ll all be alright. Meanwhile the prosperous families at the top of society will send their children to private schools, and on to Eton and Cambridge – so they can retain their god-given position at the top of society. Just ask Tristram Hunt MP.
What can we do about it? Well, there seem to be some clear actions that we should take as a country. Some of these were mentioned in the Commission report.
      1.      Reduce the use of zero hours contracts (as proposed in the Labour party manifesto for the 2015 election)
2.      Replace ideology-driven austerity (which has no basis in economic theory) with funding to improve the lives of children by reversing the ridiculous benefit cuts 
3.       Targeted funding to tackle problems faced by parents of young children – such as SureStart centres (which all the research shows have a phenomenal impact on outcomes)
4.       Improved educational resources – better teaching through proper investment in training and allowing teachers to teach
5.       Improved social care – better funding and more staff – and this should include CAMHS
Unfortunately, we are not going to get any of this under the current government. This is why I joined Momentum. I also think this is the sort of area that Momentum should support the Labour party in getting the message out. Whilst I agree the question of spending money on Trident is vitally important, do you really believe that is the best way to connect with the Labour voters who didn’t turn out at the last election? When you are crying yourself to sleep because you can’t provide Christmas dinner for your kids do you think you really spend much of your time worrying about global nuclear disarmament? Maybe you are. I would wager for most people on the breadline it is an ephemeral conceptual debate. I’ve got to be honest – if you have time and energy to worry about Internationalism vs globalism then I would wager your life is already comfortable.
This may be where Momentum ends up in the same place as Progress – a talking shop for people who have aligned themselves to positions rather than people. Where the loudest voices get heard – instead of the most desperate. Only time will tell of course. But whilst we are working out what we want to be and why we want to be – children are starving and freezing, and another generation is being left behind compared to the privileged few. Merry Christmas. 

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