There have been quite a few tweets recently, talking about austerity and how the mean old Tory austerity is resulting in starving children. This rhetoric is deeply dangerous, deeply insulting and misleading.
A child being diagnosed with malnutrition, is a child protection issue and it should be. Malnutrition develops over a long period of time and a child who has malnutrition for reasons that are not about other health problems, is a child who is being neglected. Seriously neglected.
We have an increase in malnutrition in the UK, a massive increase, it was understood within a year of the election that 1 in 5 mothers was missing meals. The use of food banks has risen and there is no doubt that parents are going without food so their children can eat. This is not the same as children not eating. The two are not linked and often the reason parents go without food, or develop malnutrition, or use foodbanks is because they go without so their children don’t. This is a very reliable assumption.
A parent in poverty is not the same as a neglectful parent and parents reliably will go to extreme lengths to protect their children from the consequences of poverty. When you are saying austerity is resulting in children going hungry, you are actually saying parents in poverty are neglecting their children whether you understand it or not.
The rhetoric about starving children is misleading and creates a dangerous and frightening climate for parents in poverty. Getting my daughter to eat breakfast is a monumental task, it can take up to two hours and involves me offering about 3 times the amount she will actually eat. Children often take a lot of encouragement to eat breakfast.
A child at school hungry is not a sign their parent is not feeding them, but the rhetoric about austerity Britain resulting in starving children, means that the parents in poverty whose children don’t breakfast for the same reason as middle class children, face assumptions and judgements that are generally without foundation. That their parents have not fed them cannot be assumed, but the rhetoric about austerity ensures that IS the first assumption that comes to mind.
Teachers in poor communities, assuming that a hungry child is the same as a neglected child are often making those assumptions in an environment fed by dangerous rhetoric about starving children.
It has always been understood that mothers will act as ‘shock absorbers’ of poverty and the hardship that parents will subject themselves to, to prevent their children feeling it is astounding. When people suggest that food bank use, or parents going without food is a sign that children are going hungry they are doing those parents a great disservice and creating a dangerous and frightening climate for those parents. One where parents are afraid to seek help fro fear of being seen as neglectful.
They are also creating a climate where REAL neglect can be hidden and where children can suffer as a result.
I developed malnutrition last year, as a consequence of pregnancy related problems exacerbated by poverty. I wrote this guide. Even with that, even at my income level, there is no reason for my child to ever go hungry. Neglect and being poor are different and a child not being given enough to eat is neglect. To conflate the two in well meaning political rhetoric is dangerous and it is deeply damaging and creates a very frightening climate for parents already doing their best.
Partisan political points are outrageous because the stance that ensured the rise in malnutrition in parents, is shared by Labour. They are policies subject to political consensus. To imply that parents in poverty are neglecting their children, to make party political points is deeply exploitative, misleading and damaging.