On 7 March, children across the UK celebrated World Book Day. In what seems like either a savage act of cruelty, mind-blowing ignorance, or a twisted mix of the two, Theresa May ‘celebrated‘ too. But she really can fuck the fuck off. Because she and her government have wrecked the prospects of an entire generation of children.
May shared a tweet stating: “A love of reading is one of the greatest gifts we can give children”. And yes, she’s correct. But how dare she?
In 2019, too many families can’t afford to eat, let alone buy books. Because of this, many parents have relied on public libraries. Yet in 2018, May’s government slashed library funding by £30m, 130 public libraries closed and paid librarians lost jobs. An extra 3,000 volunteers have had to be been roped in to run existing libraries.
But as if closing libraries isn’t bad enough, her government has also forced the UK’s education system to its knees. Throw in soaring levels of child poverty and food poverty and May’s tweet is one huge ‘what the actual fuck’?
Poverty, poverty, poverty
Most parents would love to read with their children. But too many simply can’t afford books. According to a report from the National Education Union (NEU), over 4.5 million children now live in poverty. This is a rise of over 400,000 more children since 2012/13.
May’s tweet showed no awareness of the fact that, as the Literacy Trust revealed in 2017:
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One in 11 (9.4%) children and young people said they do not have a book of their own at home, rising to one in eight (13.1%) children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
So with cuts to libraries, the most obvious place for children to develop vital literacy skills is school. Yet teachers have now warned that education funding cuts are so severe that “it’s dangerous”. As a Guardian investigation found:
Teachers and parents… complained there was not enough money even for basics such as textbooks, stationery and science equipment… Staff have been made redundant, class sizes have gone up, subjects have been scrapped and teaching hours cut.
And, against this backdrop of chaos, according to the Times Educational Supplement (TES):
Teachers are warning that more and more children are coming to school ill-equipped for learning because they are not getting enough to eat at home.
According to TES, teachers have seen children rummaging in bins to find food. In a survey of teachers, 88% said that they’d “noticed a rise in the number of pupils coming to their school hungry”. One teacher said:
You ask what they had for their breakfast – sometimes they’ll say, ‘Mum didn’t have any food.’ Other times you just get that stare, and they don’t need to say it.
A survey by the National Education Union and Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) also found that almost “nine in 10 teachers” believe that “poverty is significantly affecting their pupils’ learning”.
Yet, as The Canary reported in January, a Commons select committee report condemned the Conservative government’s failure to “recognise and respond to the issues of hunger, malnutrition, and obesity in the UK”. Pointing to rising levels of food poverty – particularly for children – it made a damning recommendation: to appoint a minister for hunger to deal with the spiralling crisis.
Every child matters
Each and every statistic and anecdote relates to a real child. Each of those children is our future. These damning figures don’t seem to even scratch the surface to explain the full extent of the current decimation of an entire generation of children. But what else can we do? When our prime minister issues a self-satisfied smug tweet to insist parents read with their children at home, she reveals nothing but twisted ignorance of a crisis created by her policies and her government. So really May, you can fuck the fuck off.
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