Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Why is there still Child Poverty?

On 20th October 2020, 322 Tory MPs voted down Labour's motion to implement the footballer Marcus Rushford's plan to pay for free breakfast for children in poverty over the school holiday period. The Labour Party saw this as a good opportunity to gain support from the working class in the North and Midlands, votes which they had lost at the last election, while at the same time showing-up Boris Johnson's Tory government as evil and callous.

However the working class should avoid the Labour Party and its machinations. They are just as bad as the Tories. When looking at the question of poverty it is useful to see it in historical terms transcending Tory, Labour, Liberal and national unity governments.

What of child poverty at the beginning of the Twentieth century? In the first issue of the SOCIALIST STANDARD there appeared an article "Physical Deterioration" (September 1904). The article referred to a report issued by the Inter-Departmental Committee on Physical Deterioration commissioned by the Tory government.

National efficiency was all the rage at the time. When workers volunteered to join the army to fight, in the South African war, around 50% of the potential recruits were found to be unfit. Government set up an inter-departmental Committee on Physical Deterioration to investigate whether the health of British people was getting worse. It found many examples of poor health and living conditions.

In the report:

"We are told that over 100.000 school children in London alone go breakfastless to school. For them there is little hope for a sturdy manhood. Arrest the progress of physical deterioration amongst the children through the provision of meals by the State to all school children and you will do much to strengthen the physique and stamina of the race."

Why the report? Was it written to assuage the conscience of the capitalist class in 1904 that 100,000 London children went without breakfast? Not at all. The article went on to say:

"It is to be observed that it was not from any desire on the part of the governing class to improve the lot of the working-class because they were physically deteriorating that this Committee was appointed, but because of the difficulty of obtaining a sufficient supply of recruits for the army".

Poverty only interested the politicians because of the negative effect it was having on army recruitment for capitalism's wars. A child going without food is not new. The real question to be answered is why is it still a social problem over a century later? Why after a century of social reforms does child poverty still exist?

The Labour Party paints the cause of the problem as the deliberate policy of the evil and callous Tories. Labour thinks they can solve child poverty. They cannot. They have been in government on several occasions since 1906 and child poverty, like unemployment and other social problems, still existed when they left government. No Labour government has eradicated child poverty.

It is not just governments which cause workers' problems or are to blame for not solving them. It is the economic system of class monopoly and profit making which is the cause of poverty.

Children are in poverty because of capitalism. They are in poverty because their parents cannot earn enough money to feed their children decently and properly. Workers and their children are poor because they lack the means to afford the best that is available. They are in poverty because of the private ownership of the means of production and distribution by a minority capitalist class.

It is easy to blame the Tories.

It is much harder to tell the truth that child poverty is caused by the profit system. Much harder to say that capitalism is the cause of poverty and for child poverty to end requires the abolition of capitalism. And this truth was not spoken by the Labour opposition in the commons debate on child poverty and its extension to cover breakfasts in the school holidays. The fact is, the Labour Party does not exist to end capitalism but to continue the profit system from one generation to the next. The Labour Party, in wanting to run capitalism "better" than the Tories perpetuates the problem of poverty.

When they were last in power, in the first two terms there were 2.7m children in child poverty, this rose to 2.9m in 2007/8 before edging down to 2.8m in 2008/09. Its boast to halve child poverty by 2010 and end child poverty by 2020 were just political rhetoric with no substance. A world economic crisis intervened and the Labour government were eventually replaced as an abject failure by the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition.

Capitalism can only to run by capitalist governments in one way: and that is in the interest of the capitalist class. Enough could be produced to adequately feed all children but the priority of the profit system prevents this happening.

So if you do not want to see children miss out on breakfast. If you want to end child poverty then there is only one course of action. Become socialists, create a socialist movement that can change history and consciously and politically replace the profit system with the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.

Only the establishment of socialism can end poverty. Only then can we all have access to free food through the socialist principle: "from each according to their abilities to each according to their needs".

And whatever became of those 100,000 children in 1904 that went without their breakfast? Ten years later, their fathers were fighting in a 'war to end all wars'; a war supported by the Labour Party.

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