Politicians and hungry kids: it’s the pandemic news from Britain

After refusing to find common ground with Manchester’s political leadership over money to support workers and businesses devastated by a local lockdown, the government announced a new package of support for businesses and workers devastated by local lockdowns. 

Andy Burnham, Manchester’s mayor, said it was what he’d been pushing for all along

So why did the government let the talks blow up before agreeing to provide support? So it can say, “Nyah, nyah, we win.” The government can now claim that it was their idea all along and that they’ve forgotten where Manchester is anyway.

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Irrelevant photo: Starlings in the neighbors’ tree. They gather in large flocks in the fall and winter. The Scandinavian starlings spend their winters here. The ones that spend the summer here head south in the winter. Go figure.

This might be an appropriate time to talk about sewage

No, that wasn’t an editorial comment. I am so politically neutral that I can’t even see myself in a mirror. 

Ninety sewage treatment sites in England, Wales, and Scotland are starting to test for Covid. A pilot program in Plymouth spotted an outbreak that was clustered around some asymptomatic cases well before the test and trace system spotted it.

Admittedly, the test and trace system couldn’t spot a Covid-infected camel if it crashed  through the Serco board room with a nickelodeon on its back playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” but the point is that the sewage folks spotted the outbreak at an early stage. They’d have no problem spotting a camel either. 

The nickelodeon might be more of a problem. It needs a different set of reagents and an entirely different testing protocol.

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Having finally noticed that the test and trace system not only isn’t working but that the percentage of people it contacts has fallen, the government placed an ad for someone with a track record of “turning around failing call centres.” 

The job pays £2,000 a day. And as I often have to remind you, in a pinch a person can live on that.

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When I was looking for details on the program to support workers and businesses devastated by etc., I thought I could save myself a few keystrokes by just typing in the chancellor’s last name, Sunak. Auto-complete took what I’d written and supplied “flip-flops.” I was delighted: Sunak and Johnson had both flip-flopped on support for etc, and here Lord Google was writing an editorial for me. 

I followed Lord G.’s editorial to pictures of physical flip-flops–those plastic sandals you can slip your feet into without having to fasten anything. Turns out I’d flip-flopped a couple of letters and typed “Sanuk,” a brand of flip-flop that cost anywhere between £20 and £55. 

I remember when flip-flops were cheap. Of course, I remember when gas (or petrol if you speak British) was $0.29 a gallon. I also remember when I was nineteen, and it was a shockingly long time ago. 

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After rising for seven weeks, the number of Covid cases in England looks like it’s stopped rising. Hospitalizations always tag along behind, kind of like a pesky younger brother, so they’re still going up.

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An Australian company is working on a Covid test based on saliva–no swabs involved–that reports back in fifteen minutes and uses a hand-held device. That doesn’t necessarily mean the device is cheap–the article didn’t say what it costs–but it does mean you don’t need an entire lab for the test, so there ought to be some savings in there somewhere.

Of course, in Britain, we’ll have to contract with an outsourcing company to bring it into the country, and that should add a few million to the cost, if they get it here at all. But hey, what’s a few million pounds between friends? After all, Parliament just voted not to give low-income families £15 per kid over the school holidays so the kids wouldn’t go hungry. We might as well spend that money somewhere. 

The tests themselves work out to about $25 each, although to get a more exact figure I expect you’d have to do some sort of mathematical gymnastics involving the cost of the hand-held gizmo and the number of tests you’re going to do on each one. 

The bad news is that the system’s still being tested, but the hope is that it’ll detect the virus when people haven’t  yet shown any symptoms but are already contagious. The current tests are most effective after symptoms have started, meaning they give a lot of false negatives.

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After Parliament voted not to give families that £15 per low-income kid over the school holidays, cafes, restaurants, and local governments stepped in to help fill the gap.

The issue of kids going hungry was raised by a football player, Marcus Rashford, who learned enough about hunger as a kid to qualify as an expert. He shamed the government into creating a program over the summer, but the thing about eating is that having done it once doesn’t keep you from needing to do it again.

Reacting to businesses stepping in to help, Rashford said, “Even at their lowest point, having felt the devastating effects of the pandemic, local businesses have wrapped arms around their communities today, catching vulnerable children as they fell.

“I couldn’t be more proud to call myself British tonight.”

Boris Johnson, on the other hand, “declined to welcome the offers of assistance,” as one paper put it. I assume some reporter gave him the opportunity just to see if he would. But hell, if these kids wanted to eat over the holidays, they should’ve had the foresight to get themselves born into better-off families, the way he did.

Arguing against spending the money on kids, MP Brendan Clarke-Smith said, “I do not believe in nationalising children.

“Instead, we need to get back to the idea of taking responsibility and this means less virtue-signalling on Twitter by proxy and more action to tackle the real causes of child poverty.”

Like low pay, possibly? Or a lack of jobs? 

Nah, it’s got to be personal irresponsibility.

The government’s decision is particularly grotesque since it spent over £522 million on a summer program to tempt people back into cafes and restaurants, but only if they could afford to pay half the cost. And MPs are expected to get a £3,000 raise.

55 thoughts on “Politicians and hungry kids: it’s the pandemic news from Britain

  1. Low pay and a lack of jobs are of course reasons for child poverty, but I expect the Government are also thinking of the feckless who have no intention of ever working but also expect the Government to stop trying to make them take responsibility for their offspring and instead pay for any number of children they produce. This of course backfires on the poor kids who have to take the brunt of it all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • For centuries, there’ve been parents who fail their children in one way or another, and some do it economically, because they’re messes. That’s true when the government offers help and it was true when the government offered none. I suspect there aren’t nearly as many of them as we’re led to believe. I’ve talked to people who are convinced that they’re everywhere, spending their cash of big-screen TVs, beer, and crisps, and trusting the government to feed their kids. The story’s a powerful one, but it’s also politically useful, so a kind of multiplier effect comes into play until, in some tellings, anyone who’s having hard times is at fault. I’ve me people who seem to believe that letting people sink would miraculously cause them to pull their lives together. You’re right, though: It backfires on the kids.

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  2. As Boris , Andy and Rishi argue over how much to give everyone I feel I need to bring your attention to the other side off the Atlantic Ocean. They are reaching fever pitch in their never ending election cycle and I’ve become aware of a new terrible disease to rival COVID! What is this gruesome “Socialism”? Is it infectious? Do masks help? How far away from an American do I need to stand to be safe?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Good questions, all. I’m 73 and spent most of my life in the US. During all that time, the country’s been quaking in its flip-flops for fear of socialism swallowing it whole. So far–well, the tally of what elements of socialism have crept in really depends on what point you’re trying to prove. Is social security socialist? (Answer: Not if you get it yourself, or expect to.) Is universal healthcare? (Definitely. That’s why the US can’t have it, however tempting it sounds.) Public libraries? (Maybe, but a lot of them were funded by Andrew Carnegie, so maybe not.) I could go on, and I could substitute other answers, depending on whether I wanted to prove that the US was sinking beneath the socialist tide or rising above it, but I’ve bored myself already. I’ve heard it all too often. I’d be surprised if many Americans could agree on a working definition of what this great boogeyman is. So if it is contagious, we might want to figure out what the symptoms and causes are.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have done research! ( well , 10 minutes on the internet) , it seems “socialism” isn’t an American disease! The most contagious countries are Belgium , Holland and Denmark . I’ve been to all three in recent years and haven’t quarantined or been contacted by Track and Trace. I’m worried because Fox News keeps telling me how dangerous these countries are. It’s a good thing we’ve Brexited them eh?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes. What a relief. And from the sound of things, instead of quarantining trucks coming back from them, we’ll quarantine them before they go, just to make sure they have their paperwork filled out in quadruplicate and on websites that are down.

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  3. Yep, you cant get much lower than saying that hungry kids shouldn’t get one decent meal a day over the holidays during a pandemic! Just maybe those kids parents are poor because of the pandemic, gosh, who knows? What gets me is that the Children’s Minister also voted against it!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The Government have been shocking.
    (I’m not specifying on what exactly–basically put anything you like after the word shocking and that’ll cover it.)
    The meals thing is just mind-boggling. These people are entirely bereft of humanity when there isn’t a ‘return on investment’ opportunity to be seen in a policy, for themselves or their circle, in pure cash terms.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Totally agree with everything you’ve said, Ellen. The government’s incompetence is bad enough but choosing to keep kids without food theyreally need is on another level. However I have read that there has been a lot of support from local businesses, food banks and so on. People who actually give a damn are doing the government’s job for them. Shame on everyone who voted to leave kids hungry.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m hoping the response from businesses and local governments will shame the government into action, because it’ll be too piecemeal to cover everyone. It really is shocking that they could just sit there and vote the proposal down.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The elephant in the room is that no modern economy can accommodate full employment on livable wages and no major political party is prepared to say that, let alone fund the consequences. The old economy could accommodate the less than well-educated through public transport, public service jobs and local government work gangs that at least provided a modicum of dignity through being considered as work. In the name of efficiency, we are left with an under-class that we are required to demonise for their inability to obtain largely illusory jobs in the new gig economy (because no-one wants to discuss the fact that 40% of adults are functionally illiterate and numerically incompetent despite the billions poured into education). Having corporates step up to fund feel-good programs supported by their previous exploitation of the recipients is an obscenity beyond forgiveness. Perhaps middle-class hand-wringers despairing of the parenting skills of the great unwashed could step up to take these children under their wing and deny them big screen TVs and crisps for their own good. No? Thought so.
    I wrote this when I was a social worker in the 1990’s and little has changed. https://sixcrookedhighwaysblog.wordpress.com/2019/06/20/dear-bring-back-the-lash-of-burnside/

    Liked by 2 people

  7. First I heard of the feeding kids issue was on Twitter. Someone had listed out Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England with a colon after each. After all but England was “We’ll feed the kids.” After England was: “Fuck ’em.” I imagine here there are similarly diverging opinions about school food programs, but they were running pantries for the whole family over the summer. Good for the footballer for speaking out and taking action.

    Liked by 1 person

    • He’s been amazing.

      When we first moved to Britain, we noticed that no one was collecting food for food banks in the supermarkets. As far as I know, they didn’t have them and didn’t need them. People who needed social support got it–with problems, of course, but by US standards, at least, it was fantastic. Now, though, you see collection points all over the place, and food banks are still short on food. It shames us all. It shames us that people should have to go to a food bank at all.

      I’m reminded of Wm Blake’s “Is this a holy thing to see / in a rich a fruitful land? / Babes reduced to misery / fed with cold and usurous hand.”

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, sorry. I meant to end with something uplifting, but then I stumbled into that idiot’s quote. I couldn’t leave it out and didn’t take the time to think about moving it to some less infuriating spot.

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  8. As someone who grew up in poverty (enough of a degree of poverty to be one of the subjects of a study into childhood poverty), I have been really upset by the callous response by the government to feeding children during this pandemic. It gets under my skin in a very visceral way. As heart-warming as the stories are of restaurants and community groups providing meals and food parcels, the good will and generosity of individuals should not negate the responsibility a government has to care for its citizens. They are a shower of utterly callous bastards.

    Liked by 3 people

    • It really has reminded us–or should, anyway–who they really are underneath all the p.r. And I agree–kids shouldn’t be dependent on the goodwill of local people, which will inevitably have gaps anyway. What I will say for it, though, is that it points the government up for the cold-hearted bastards that they are. A petition I just saw had over 700,000 signatures already. I doubt it’s more than a day old.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. All of this, with the exception of a few mentions of Scotland,, Wales, and the Irelands could be written by a conscientious citizen if the US. That is sad AND scary.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I have three pairs of Sanuks–they’re the most comfortable flipflops I’ve ever worn, having yoga mats for soles–but they don’t cost that much here! And was it in the UK where an MP blamed child poverty on families for having too many children or was that in the US?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m wondering if anyone is thinking of inventing an anger testing device which could be administered through saliva spewed at the government officials more interested in their own fortunes than in the hunger pangs of their country’s children?
    Bitter tonight, party of one. But thinking of inviting others to join via zoom.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Perhaps the children could eat what Parliament wastes (if they’re anything like Congress). If Parliament wants them to show initiative, maybe they could steal the food before it gets to the dining room

    Liked by 1 person

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