Poverty and Compassion

Naturally, as a teacher, I’m interested in children. Actually, I have a passion for doing the right thing by children; not just getting it right educationally, but in every aspect of their life. The impact of poverty on the family and the stress this creates for the children is enormous and it cannot be underestimated how detrimental this is to a child’s education. Statistics from Education Scotland indicate that children from more affluent homes are likely to perform three times better in exams than those from our most deprived communities. The Scottish Government figures on attainment and leaver destinations show that tariff scores for children in the most affluent areas are double that for those of children living in the least affluent areas. Children are not cleverer just because they come from a more affluent background. Many children fail to achieve because they lack opportunities and the misery of their daily existence.

Having just read these unsurprising statistics, I opened a newspaper to read that next month a number of Scottish charities were launching a “Challenge Poverty Week” in an attempt to avert the humanitarian crisis caused by poverty in Scotland. What a shocking indictment of our society. The last time the charities got together like this was a disaster relief fund for war torn Syria!! According to their research, poverty levels are the worst they’ve been for 30 years with a third of Scottish households lacking three or more of the basic necessities for living, i.e., housing, food and clothing. The Trussell Trust recently reported that food bank use in Scotland had increased by 150% in the last year alone. Shelter Scotland claims people are facing “a perfect storm..battered by welfare reforms..stagnant wages..rising utility bills..higher living costs.” The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations reports that, “Scotland is one of the most unequal places in the developed world, with the gap between the richest and the poorest growing steadily. The wealthiest households in Scotland are now 273 TIMES richer than the poorest!” The SCVO director says that tackling poverty must be a priority and, working with other action groups, aims to persuade politicians to put the “poverty issue” at the top of the political agenda otherwise the legal targets the Government has of eradicating child poverty by 2020 will not be met.

There is so much wrong with this whole scenario I don’t know where to start! Humanitarian crisis in 21st century Scotland?! Areas where more than half our children live in poverty with inadequate housing, food, clothing and health care? Now, I’m quoting Scottish statistics but undoubtedly, poverty is UK wide and figures like these exist across the whole of the UK. Earlier I said, what an indictment on our society: initially I wrote “this Government” but changed it because we are the government, or we should be. We are the people who elect the government; they are supposed to speak with our voice and serve our will. What has happened to us as a society that we elect these people? Why do we allow such horror to exist? Why do we allow our government to introduce the policies that brought this issue about. “Issue?” Seriously? Is that all it is, an issue? Poverty isn’t an issue, poverty is people’s lives. It is the lives of our children. Meet targets by 2020?! What about the lives already blighted and the generation lost from now until then? Don’t they matter? Where is our humanity, our compassion?

In my last blog I suggested that Cameron lacked compassion but are the rest of us any better? I was reminded of Neil Kinnock’s maiden speech to the House of Commons in 1970 (a poster of which hangs on the wall of my office) and which resonates today. Kinnock said, “Compassion is not a sloppy, sentimental feeling for people who are underprivileged or sick, to be used as a tearjerker or as an expedient at the time of an election. It is an absolutely practical belief that, regardless of a person’s background, ability, or ability to pay, he should be provided with the best that society has to offer. That is compassion in practice; anything less than that is sheer sentimentality. It is impossible to be compassionate while at the same time promising to cut public consumption for the sake of buttressing-up private choice.”

Cameron may be running the country but we let him so aren’t we are all equally guilty of creating the poverty we see around us. Aren’t we colluding with Cameron and his kind every time we fail to vote, or stand up for a better, fairer and more compassionate society?

What are we teaching our children?

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