One of the oddest things about Boris Johnson’s shambolic government has been to see a minister sent out to defend the indefensible and later see him contradicted when the government does a screeching U-turn. Not for the first time, Grant Shapps was ordered to TV studios, presumably by our de facto prime minister Dominic Cummings, to explain that 1.3 million poor children should starve to death this summer. He didn’t quite say that the government preferred to concentrate on reopening pubs, bookies and zoos rather than ensure many thousands of children went without food, but he might as well have done. Why on earth was this even a debate?
In the end, it took a high profile campaign led by the Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford to succeed in shaming the government into action. As a premier league and England player, Rashford is today a wealthy man but that’s not been the case all his life. By his actions, which include spending a lot of his own money, he has shown he has not forgotten where he has come from. More than that, he has used his position to show up a serious problem, that children in poor families weren’t eating.
True, there were people who attacked Rashford. The woman who used to be on the Apprentice said she did not want any of her money to go towards feeding other people’s children and that if Rashford was so keen, he should pay it all himself. But this horrible person is merely in the business of self-publicity and can be safely ignored.
It doesn’t matter that Rashford is fabulously wealthy by anyone’s standards. It’s not his fault that footballers earn absurd salaries. What would be far worse, surely, than Rashford having strong views and then saying nothing?
I’ve heard people say there’s no poverty these days. Worse still, if people didn’t spend all their money on wide screen TVs, expensive junk food and two weeks in Benalmadina every year. True, there are some people like that, often spending money they don’t really have on things they see other people enjoying. But there is poverty out there and lots of it. Nearly forty years working for the DWP in all its guises gave me as good an insight as any, followed by coming up to five year in the third sector. Unless you see the real life experiences of people in poverty, it’s hard to believe people really do choose between heating and eating and that many parents go without a meal in order to ensure their children did get one. Not that I knew at the time, but that’s what my own mother did in the 1970s and that’s still what people do today.
Whether the behaviour of the government is down to stupidity, vindictiveness or blind incompetence – in my view, it’s all three – the point is that they were wrong, unless that is you like the idea of 1.3 million children starving to death. If anything sums up the state of our country today, it is this. A tin-eared, blinkered government, wholly out of touch with those whose lives they purport to represent but obviously don’t understand. Thank good for footballers eh? Even one from Manchester United!