1. 350k children to lose school dinners while elite dine in luxury

    The Children’s society have today warned that benefits reform will mean that around 350K children will no longer be entitled to free school meals: those where the household earns over £7500 a year.

    This demonstrates a further smack in the face for the UK’s working poor, in the sense that it will mean an increased weekly shop (or meals cost) in a time of high VAT and a rising cost of living. The coalition talk the talk of rewarding the UK’s working families, but the reality is that this move will actually make it more beneficial to take an hours cut or a pay cut, which is nonsensical. Cameron wants to show millions of working class voters that in spite of his privileged upbringing he understands their needs and wants to give them a society which gives a fair return for their work ethic. But what is he actually doing to prove it? He won’t raise minimum wage to a living level, because it is easier to placate big business and keep people in the position of believing they have to bow to the hand that feeds by putting money in the context of benefits (tax credits etc) rather than actual return for their labour in the form of wages. Osborne may have raised the bottom tax bracket (which did nothing for those already under it, and has to be interpreted in the context of inflation, loss of public services, benefits cuts etc to be assessed fairly), but now it seems they are going to attempt to claw some of the money used to pay for the raising tax threshold designed to publicly show increased fairness for this group.

    Whether children come from the families of the working poor, or from the unemployed (and it has to be remembered that in the current economic climate many of these are the result of austerity policy rather than the generational benefits culture the right wing press like to emphasise), they are already being treated as undeserving as a result of their parents economic status and position in society. And whilst right wing psychological analysis likes to dwell on the role of “entitlement culture” to support the idea of taking benefits away, there is no logical evidence to suggest depriving children of what is statistically their most nutritious and sustaining meal of the day will do anything to encourage them into social mobility. Even if you believe that the low paid and unemployed are entirely responsible for their lot, and need to be kicked away from dependency to become “wealth creators”, there is no logic whatsoever in assuming a child should go without a nourishing meal as a result of their parents  actions. Yet again, the youngest are being used as pawns in a political strategy to reinforce the narrative of the undeserving poor which keeps the current inequalities in place, and while it happens, our public school elite continue to dine in luxury. 

    Please sign the Children’s Society petition for free school meals for all children in poverty here: http://action.childrenssociety.org.uk/page/signup/fair-and-square-free-school-meals-campaign

  2. UKIP & Tom Bursnall: the rise of “respectable” narrow world thinking

    A couple of pieces of news about UKIP are doing the rounds this week. Firstly, they have overtaken the Lib Dems in the polls (probably due to a combination of Lib Dem voter party dissatisfaction and Tory migration). Meanwhile, political scrapbook have revealed that the former chair of Conservative Future, Tom Bursnall (now defected to UKIP) has been calling for the vote to be taken from unemployed people.

    While many in the Labour party have been jubilant in the fractioning off of the right wing vote through UKIP defections, I personally think it is quite problematic in that it represents voters who are dissatisfied with mainstream right politics (and who wouldn’t be after the shambolic performance of the last couple of months, with Granny-tax, pasties, Cam dine with me etc) looking to the respectable face of nationalism to try and find a solution to their problems. This is not exactly good news for society as a whole, and in particular for ethnic minorities.

    Going on local knowledge, I think the Tory to UKIP migration is centred around three factors:

    1) Neo-liberalism and the decline of one nation Tories. Blue collar right wing voters don’t have much trust in what they perceive to be smarmy yuppies or public school boys (as much embodied by New Labour Blairites as Cameron’s tories), and are frustrated at the poor treatment of the working (so in right wing eyes deserving) poor under the coalition. These voters perceive far right groups such as the BNP and EDL as thuggish but can be tempted by the “respectable” nationalist values of UKIP.

    2) Foreign aid. Austerity has seen increased vocal anger at aid going oversees, bolstered by the common sense but unlikely in reality assumption that if it didn’t happen then more would actually be done for the needy in the UK, e.g. slower softer cuts. This has been a big sticking point for the Tory right.

    3) General dissatisfaction relating to national sovereignty and immigration: in a functioning capitalist nation, immigration serves a useful purpose in both providing cheap labour and in giving a steady scapegoat for the misdirection of frustration over lack of control in the existing labour force. Therefore the Conservatives will regularly talk the talk over getting tough on immigration but the reality is they need a certain level of it and won’t ever go far enough for the working class Tory vote. Similarly, it would be political suicide on an international scale to attempt a complete disconnect from our relationship with the rest of Europe. These are steady grumbles in the right wing working class vote but at times of general party dissatisfaction due to other issues may be enough to nudge voters over to UKIP.

    As far as the unemployed suffrage issue goes, there is obviously no way this is going to happen, but I do think we need to worry about the extent to which this kind of thinking is representative of an increasingly narrow world view in the electorate. There seems to be a real lack in empathic imagination skills in society in general; people are educated by the media on a very simplistic level about “how others live”, propped up by evidence from the world around them which is perceived through a filter of pre-expectation about society’s deviants (the unemployed, the mentally ill, asylum seekers, single mothers) and their motives. People don’t seem to have the higher level thinking to be able to imagine outside of their own worldview very much at the moment, and it is dangerous.