Ben Bradley MP. Photo: Chris McAndrew / Official UK Parliament portrait / cropped from original / CC BY 3.0 unported, license linked at bottom of article Ben Bradley MP. Photo: Chris McAndrew / Official UK Parliament portrait / cropped from original / CC BY 3.0 unported, license linked at bottom of article

The Tories are punishing working class children for being poor and we can’t let them get away with it, argues Caitlin Southern

The Tory mask slipped even further this week as they voted to deny the continuation of free school meals to children living in poverty during the school holidays. The callous response from various MPs that amount to attacking parents for daring to have children without being wealthy reveals the contempt they hold working class people in and has rightly been met with outrage.

They have never felt the aching, gnawing, spirit sapping fear and despair of poverty, have never felt the humiliation of not having enough money to pay for the basic necessities of living and the way that this builds up to crush the resilience and aspirations of people living under this deliberately cruel system.

The narrative that we all must be self-reliant completely ignores the realities of existence for the vast majority of people. It pushes the sickening idea that people do not have the right to the means of existence but must somehow earn a place in the world. Rather than advocating for a system that allows everyone to live well, the Tories defend their bastions of regressive privilege with the belief that they deserve it, that they are somehow better than us simply by the accident of birth that saw them have access to all of the benefits that they zealously deny to others.

 The Tories often claim to be the Party of aspiration but this is provably untrue. By denying people the right to food security,  good quality housing and jobs that they can be proud of, the Conservative Party in government forces people to scramble desperately to survive and prevents them from living anything but a wretched existence unless they are willing to sacrifice their humanity and step on others to get ahead.

The Tories are punishing working class people for the crime of being born poor, reinforcing the stigmatisation of those who have limited means of support. They are trying to do what they have always done and turn us against each other so that we cannot concentrate our anger on them. The divide-and-conquer tactic is becoming ever more threadbare as it is wheeled out every time the government want to get away with something abhorrent and on this issue at least it seems to be failing.

People are aware that millions of children starving and living in poverty in one of the richest countries in the world is not the result of individual failures by their families, they are aware that it is fundamentally wrong that children should suffer like this and they are incandescent with rage that the government openly does not care about anything but propping up a rotten, failing system.

We know that this government can be forced to make U-turns, and the pressure is growing as anger mounts. Individuals, businesses and charities are organising to provide meals to the ever growing number of children in poverty, while the disgusting hypocrisy of politicians who claim excessive expenses and subsidised meals in parliament but leave our most vulnerable to starve is causing clear resentment.

If they can find resources to bail out big business, to flog at their mates for failed contracts and for their own pet projects, then the money to feed, house and support people is clearly available – what is lacking is the political will in Parliament to permit us all a life worth living.

The Tories have resorted instead to attacking and trying to discredit Marcus Rashford and have doubled down on their position with pure Thatcherism, claiming that stopping children from starving would be “nationalising children”. Ben Bradley went as far as suggesting on Twitter that Free School Meal vouchers over the summer were “effectively” used for “crack dens and brothels”.

North Devon MP Selaine Saxby, in a now deleted Facebook post, said of businesses that have offered to help provide meals to the children the government has abandoned:

“I am delighted our local businesses have bounced back so much after lockdown they are able to give away food for free, and very much hope they will not be seeking any further government support.”

MPs object to being called ‘scum’ for their beliefs that some children are worth less than others, that parents must somehow win in this rigged system, that profit is the highest, indeed only, good. Scum is too kind a word to describe these people.

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