People’s Assembly blames ‘profiteering’ supermarkets for worsening child poverty crisis

A child crying in his mother's arms child poverty People's Assembly
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With the school holidays set to begin in the UK, the issue of child poverty has once again come to the forefront. Children who receive free school meals during term time may go without over the holidays. This leaves parents “faced with the grim choice of going hungry, getting behind on essential bill payments or taking on debt to cover” the cost. So, the People’s Assembly has announced a national day of action to take place on 22 July 2023. In the runup, it’s targeting supermarkets and the government over “gross profiteering”.

A growing problem

At the beginning of the 2022 summer holidays, Katie Schmuecker of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said:

In the midst of a year of financial fear for families on low incomes, parents of school-age children are now facing the summer holidays and all the extra meals and childcare that comes with them. Too many families lack the income to cover the essentials and are already regularly going without them, including food.

She added:

Now, more than ever, they [families] will be faced with the grim choice of going hungry, getting behind on essential bill payments or taking on debt to cover it.

The People’s Assembly suggests little has changed since then, with the reality being that the situation may actually have worsened.

Child poverty: taking action

According to government figures, 23.8% of pupils received free school meals – a figure which “represents over 2 million pupils”. The figure is also up from 22.5% in 2022. And according to the Big Issue, the problem of child poverty likely runs deeper than those figures suggest:

Read on...

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Around 14.4 million people are living in poverty in the UK in 2021/2022, according to the government’s official statistics. That is around one in five people. Around 4.2 million children are affected.

These harrowing figures were captured before the cost of living crisis took its toll on the country, driving hundreds of thousands more people into poverty.

So the People’s Assembly has spoken out against what it calls “obscene profiteering” from supermarkets. It says they “are shamelessly cashing in on the cost of living crisis”. The group’s day of action over child poverty will take place on the first day of the school holidays. It corresponds with a list of demands, including:

  • Immediate supermarket price reduction – profits must be used for lower food prices and higher wages for supermarket workers.
  • Government price controls on food to make it affordable for everyone.
  • A raise in wages, benefits and pensions to create hunger free communities!
  • Free school meals for all children.

According to the group itself, People’s Assembly “formed a decade ago to campaign against the Conservative Government’s austerity program”. It recently “put on waves of demonstrations around the UK in response to energy price hikes back in February 2022″.

‘Devastating’ effects

Economist and long-standing supporter of the People’s Assembly Michael Burke said:

These demonstrations are vital and we hope that thousands will turn out across the country. Everyone should have a basic right to food & no child should be left hungry this summer. As millions of us struggle to pay our basic food bills, the government and their profiteering backers blame inflation on wage growth. However, the real crisis is food price inflation as wage growth is just a third of the 19% inflation rate of food this year.

The effects are devastating – in 2010 there were 50 Trussell Trust foodbanks. Now the number of foodbanks has reached 2600. NHS England reports a quadrupling of poverty diseases such as scurvy and rickets over the last 15 years as well as malnutrition. All this while in recent weeks Tesco’s, Iceland and Sainsbury’s have all reported surging underlying profits.

The People’s Assembly said it “has local groups across the UK” and “they expect thousands to turn out at the protests which will target supermarket profiteering and what the groups describe as ‘deliberate inaction’ from the Tory government”. Organisers added:

We’ve already been faced with 13 years of Tory austerity, services have been cut to the bone and families are struggling to survive, The Cost of Living Crisis could be brought under control by the Government, yet they are allowing gross profiteering from Supermarkets and energy companies. At the end of the day this is just the latest form of austerity as it serves exactly the same purpose – the transference of wealth from ordinary working class families to the super rich.

People’s Assembly National Secretary and former Labour MP Laura Pidcock said:

With 4.2 million children in poverty, the situation families are facing is grim. Summer holidays are always a particularly difficult financial time for parents and carers. Extreme wealth inequality and grotesque levels of poverty are becoming endemic in the UK and people are absolutely sick of platitudes about “hard decisions” from both sides of the Westminster political establishment.

The People’s Assembly website includes more details about the day of action as well as local actions around the UK.

Featured image via Francisco Osorio (Flickr) – image cropped to 770 x 403

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  • Show Comments
    1. How is “obscene profiteering” from supermarkets” different or more immoral than making profits from selling groceries? This is a capitalist system: supermarkets have no choice, legally or economically, other than to look to sustain or increase profits just like any other business. There are no figures in the above story to indicate that profit margins in UK supermarkets have increased recently. It is perhaps more likely that food conglomerates such as Unilever, Mondelez and Associated British Foods increased their margins, as there is less competition than in the supermarket retail sector. The solutions, as ever, are socialist and international.

    2. Tesco alone employs 355,000 people, not all of them in the UK. The so called obscene profits come from a tightly run company employing large numbers of low skilled workers as well as offering relatively cheap food. Cut their profits and it will directly impact on existing and past employees, many of whom rely on the funding of the Tesco employee pension scheme as their main source of income.

    3. The first line of this article “With the school holidays set to begin in the UK…” displays the all too common Anglo-centric viewpoint of so many who write from an ignorant UK = England perspective. For your information, Schools in Scotland went on holiday more than two weeks ago. Not that this has anything to do with the merits of the case made, but it does introduce a quite unnecessary irritation to the 8.5% of your potential readers living in the most northerly of the three-and-a-bit countries that make up the UK’s so called Union of Equals.

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