Here’s some numbers that will give you an idea of how elitism is central to the British political sphere – 65% of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet were educated at fee-paying private schools, compared to 7% of the national population. The elite few are disproportionately representing British people who have had far less of a privileged life compared to those that hold power in government. The same elite few are completely out of touch and show little regard to the poor population of the country.
In Britain, high levels of poverty have been caused by the policies enacted by the Conservative government under Johnson and his predecessors Theresa May and David Cameron. Policies include introducing a new welfare system, Universal Credit, which provides significantly less money, leaving many claimants worse off; and £36bn taken out of the benefits system since 2010, including cuts in disability benefits.
The government’s agenda to raise employment figures through these policies has backfired and left the most vulnerable in Britain into further destitution. There’s now an increase in food banks in the country and 4.2 million children in poverty. Even a UN poverty expert who visited Britain compared Conservative welfare policies to the creation of 19th-century workhouses. British people who were already below the poverty line have been hit further by the Covid-19 pandemic, and 2020 exposed how the government has tried to get away with as little as possible when it came to helping families and children in need.
This led to UNICEF feeding hungry children in the UK, one of the richest countries in the world, for the first time in its 70-year history. The UN agency donated £25,000 to the community project School Food Matters to supply 18,000 breakfasts to 25 schools over the recent two-week Christmas holidays and upcoming February half-term, supporting 1,800 families in Southwark, South London, who have been severely hit by the coronavirus pandemic – declared by UNICEF to be the most urgent crisis affecting children since the second world war.
Today is the launch of our Xmas #BreakfastBoxes scheme & will support 1,800 #Southwark families at risk of food insecurity with nutritious breakfasts over the 2 week period @UNICEF_uk @FoodPowerUK @lb_southwark @SwkFoodAction @PremierFoods_FS @AbelandColehttps://t.co/6giGg0mYcn
— School Food Matters (@sfmtweet) December 16, 2020
So how did the British government respond to this news? When the question of UNICEF’s support was raised in the House of Commons by opposition Labour MP Zarah Sultana to Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, he claimed UNICEF should be “ashamed of itself”. He further stated that he thinks “it’s a real scandal that UNICEF should be playing politics in this way when it is meant to be looking after people in the poorest, the most deprived countries in the world, where people are starving, where there are famines and there are civil wars. And they make cheap political points of this kind, giving, I think, £25,000 to one council. It is a political stunt of the lowest order.”
His shocking comments were immediately met with backlash on social media. When confronted by the realities of what is happening on his doorstep, Rees-Mogg’s response was to deflect blame towards the international humanitarian agency for daring to grant funds to a UK charity. Privilege, wealth, and political power are fundamental forces in British politics – Rees-Mogg and the government show unwillingness to help those in poverty but are willing to treat other people and organizations that question their position as inferior.
Last year, footballer Marcus Rashford prompted the government to U-turn on their policies not once, but twice on the matter of financial support for poor children and their families. Back in June last year, 1.3 million children in England were able to claim free school meal vouchers in the summer holidays following the successful campaign led by Rashford – but his campaign was met with derision by a member of the cabinet, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey. Rashford had asked his followers on Twitter to think about struggling parents who have had their “water turned off”, and whose children have gone hungry. Coffey’s single reply to his Twitter thread on free school meals was “water cannot be disconnected”. Rashford remarked how he was concerned this is the only tweet of his that Coffey acknowledged.
I’m concerned this is the only tweet of mine you acknowledged. Please, put rivalries aside for a second, and make a difference #maketheuturn
— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) June 16, 2020
Coffey’s deliberate disregard of the difficulties facing parents and children across the country exposes the deep-held belief by government ministers that the poorer in our society just have to find a way to cope without government support. In November, a second campaign by Rashford led the government to take another U-turn and agree to spend more than £400m as part of a winter grant scheme to support poor children and their families in England. The November U-turn was on the back of Rashford calling for free meals to be provided over the October half-term, as the government agreed to during the summer period. The government refused, claiming the benefits system will be enough to support families. When the Labour party raised a motion in the House of Commons in October to call for an extension of free meals for school children over the October half-term and Christmas holidays, 320 Conservative MPs voted against the motion – the government was prepared for children to go hungry for the sake of the government holding their purses tight against their chest.
As soon as the government was met with criticism, politicians who voted against the extension made an effort to defend how they voted. Conservative MP Ben Bradley claimed that free school meals “increases dependency”. He continued directing his condescending remarks to Rashford, “Gov has lots of responsibilities: supporting the vulnerable, helping people to help themselves, balancing the books. Not as simple as you to make out Marcus.”
Rashford’s response was, “families have suffered a drop in income. Nearly 1 million have fallen off the payroll. This is not dependency, this a cry for help.” Finally, after facing criticism from Rashford, the media, and the public, the government had no choice but to agree to the winter grant scheme a month after the vote in the Commons.
And for a more humane response, since March, 32% of families have suffered a drop in income. Nearly 1 million have fallen off the payroll. This is not dependency, this a cry for help. There are no jobs!! 250% increase in food poverty and rising. Nobody said this was simple…
— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) October 21, 2020
Why does it take a high-profile figure like Rashford to raise awareness of how much poorer families are struggling across the country when the government can see for themselves what is happening before them? Rashford’s campaign made the public more aware of the government’s lack of empathy for the poor. Their contempt for the poor was out in the open for the country to see. The government was shamed into taking action, they didn’t take action of their own volition.
There’s an underlying sentiment held by government ministers who feel entitled to be at the top due to their elite status. The elite are drawn to politics and power not out of any sense of purpose or duty, but a dull and common belief that such things are what people like them do. This sentiment, which is present at the heart of government, has led the elite to deny the levels of poverty and show complete contempt for the poor in Britain.
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