Marcus Rashford may have won his battle, but I’m afraid we’ll lose the war – Labour Article
Marcus Rashford, affectionately known as Daniel by those who have no clue who he is, is proof of two very important things. Firstly, when parents do not have the means to provide food themselves, free school meals are a necessity for young people in order to realise their potential. Secondly, that government policy is not irreversible.
The importance of both of these things cannot be understated. Nonetheless, when a government appears ready and willing to remove access to vital nourishment for disadvantaged children in a time of national crisis, questions should surely be asked.
Despite nearly 1.3 million schoolchildren being eligible for the scheme, Boris Johnson was initially set to reject any kind of extension of the voucher system. But after Rashford’s open letter to MPs garnered widespread attention, the government were compelled to make a U-turn.
Is this representative of a good democracy? Is this the necessary relief for parents who were worried about how their children would be fed? Is this still a worrying indictment of a party whose attitude towards the poor has been, at best, questionable and, at worst, grossly negligent over the last decade? The answer to all three is yes.
Food poverty is an issue that has plagued the UK for centuries. Now, of course, access to food is significantly better than the 1860s. However, that doesn’t mean that we haven’t seen some level of regression in recent years. For the Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest charitable food distributor, the number of food parcels required increased seven-fold between 2012 and 2014. Furthermore, between 2010 and 2014, the number of local authorities within which food banks were operational jumped from 29 to 251.
Food insecurity and the growing need for food banks is directly correlated with cuts in local spending and welfare benefits. High unemployment rates also contribute to this increased demand.
The problem has clearly metastasised in the last ten years. That’s why it was surprising to see a government so quick to dismiss an extension to the scheme. This original dismissal made a bold statement that we can afford to exacerbate the already staggering levels of inequality.
Only following immense pressure from Conservative MPs, the public, as well as Rashford himself, was Boris Johnson prepared to declare that “the well-being of our children should always be a priority.” I find it difficult to accept much truth in that sentiment when 24 hours previously the response indicated the exact opposite. From Number 10’s response to this issue, I’m no closer to actually understanding what the government considers a priority. It has, however, indicated to me what are not considered priorities.
Margaret Thatcher once labelled poverty as a “character defect”, a few years after she took away free milk from schoolchildren over the age of seven. I believe that we came very close to this ideology prevailing once again. It was only halted by mounting political and public pressure.
But perhaps I’m being too cynical in focusing on the government’s original intentions. After all, they did make the U-turn. At least for that, I have to be happy. I think that is exactly the point, however; I’m happy with the end result but I’m worried about how we got there.
How we got there is important because it offers a glimpse of the future. A future where economic conservatism poses a constant threat to social welfare is a worrying prospect. We can’t count on the government to listen to Marcus Rashford every time. How many kids might go hungry then?
In 2017, historian Rutger Bregman responded to Thatcher’s description of poverty by saying that “poverty isn’t a lack of character, it’s a lack of cash.” I sincerely hope that this is something our government is aware of.
Written by Labour Writer, Jack Rolfe
Point of Information
In defence of the Government, COVID support was there already – a Conservative response
The campaign Marcus Rashford ran was certainly commendable. However, support to children over the summer was already in place. An extra £63 million for local authorities to support struggling families had already been announced. Additionally, the Department for Education is giving local councils more than £3.2 billion of additional funding to support services, including social care for children.
To the point about government policy not being irreversible; it is right, though less emphasis needs to be placed on the negative aspect of calling it a U-turn. Policies should be allowed to change without fear of being ridiculed in the press. If this were the case perhaps other decisions would be changed as well. Politics is not about sticking rigidly to one policy, especially in a time of crisis.
In regard to the point about food poverty, the proportion of pupils on free school meals between 2014-2018 fell to their lowest numbers since 2001 as shown by statistics given by the Office for National Statistics. These figures also deserve proper attention and show a positive reduction.
Whilst more work needs to be done to reduce child food poverty these figures show that the necessary steps are being taken and I trust the government to continue that work.
Written by Conservative Writer, Kieran Burt
A ‘rash’ response by the PM – a Liberal response
As has been said above, Marcus Rashford’s triumph (which the Labour Party very oddly took credit for) is indeed, extremely commendable. Despite this, it is important to recognise that it was not just Rashford’s efforts alone that contributed to this U-turn. The crucial factor was, of course, the increasing number of Conservative MPs that backed extending the scheme.
It is for this reason that I find the reference to Thatcher particularly peculiar. The Conservative Party of 2020 is very different to that of 1979. But above all, it was the pressure from Tory MPs that secured this extension. This, rather than the pressure from the Marcus Rashford campaign itself (although it was, of course, a contributing factor).
I would argue that an attack on the Conservative Party of the 70s and 80s is irrelevant to the context today. Particularly when fundamentally it was Conservative backbenchers who secured this extension.
Perhaps the most worrying aspect of this whole saga is the manner in which Boris Johnson seemed to be completely unaware of Rashford’s campaign until the day this U-turn was announced. For the alleged ‘People’s Government’ to be completely blind to this issue is, quite frankly, negligible. This seems to be a growing opinion among many Conservative MPs. Many view this decision as one in a series of reckless and unnecessary embarrassments for the Government.
For me, this U-turn is representative of a wider disconnect between the Government and its new coalition of voters in less wealthy northern areas. Johnson must do better to keep his new voter base together.
Written by Liberal Writer, Jeeves Sidhu