It should be a headline that never sees the light of day in the fifth richest country in the World, but following an outcry from headteachers people across Britain today awoke to the news that malnourished, grey-looking, children are turning up to school in dirty uniforms and stuffing food in their pockets because they are living in poverty.
According to the study, commissioned by the National Education Union (NEU), nearly nine in ten teaching professionals say poverty is having a significant impact on the learning of their pupils and 60 per cent believe that the situation has worsened since 2015, when David Cameron won a second term for the Conservatives.
One head teacher said the children at her school are so malnourished they “have grey skin, poor teeth, poor hair (and) are thinner”, while another said the pallor in children from deprived areas is noticeable compared to children of the same age from schools in an affluent area.
It’s a sickening state of affairs for a country that was among the first adopters of the welfare state and in which vast amounts of wealth are generated across all sectors, but it comes as a pinch of reality as austerity bites at the same time as inequality continues to spiral out of control.
Whether you want to place the blame at the door of Lady Thatcher, of Mr Blair or of any of the Conservative governments that preceded, it is a fate that has been coming for Britain. Historian Derek Fraser tells our story in a nutshell:
“It germinated in the social thought of late Victorian liberalism, reached its infancy in the collectivism of the pre-and post-Great War statism, matured in the universalism of the 1940s and flowered in full bloom in the consensus and affluence of the 1950s and 1960s. By the 1970s it was in decline, like the faded rose of autumn. Both UK and US governments are pursuing in the 1980s monetarist policies inimical to welfare.”
Capitalism cares not for equality, and that’s the same whether you are 7 years old or 70. Research by Durham University that preceded the NEU study found our selective grammar schools perform no better than non-selective state schools once their pupils’ higher ability and wealth is taken into account.
The study, based on the detailed results of nearly 550,000 pupils, suggest England’s grammars take only a tiny proportion of pupils who are, or have been, eligible for free school meals. But despite clear evidence of selective favouritism for those from well off backgrounds, ministers are still keen to continue to allow existing grammars to expand.
It beggars belief that against all the evidence successive governments continue to enable this recycling of wealth at the expense of the poor, but the drive towards monetarist policies continues to garner favour amongst the political elite. For those of us outside the Westminster bubble, it is crucial that now more than ever we send a strong message in the polls if we are to save the children.