One of the most nauseating sights and sounds of the lockdown has been Tory politicians justifying their attempts to fully re-open schools. They have the bare faced cheek to argue that they are concerned that vulnerable children will be left at risk if schools don’t open. 

What hypocrites they are. Do they really think that school staff and everyone working with young people will forget the last ten years of austerity and the devastating impact that has had on the lives and life chances of young people? Do they think that we will forget the impact of millions of pounds worth of cuts to local authorities that has stripped away children’s services to a bare minimum? Do they think we have forgotten the hundreds of young people with mental health problems and their families left without support through Tory cuts to CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services)?

Labour and Tory critics of the Johnson government have cited the need to commandeer libraries and youth clubs for extra space to teach whilst observing social distancing.  But, just like the failures over ‘track and trace’ systems in Healthcare, these calls have exposed the devastation and fragmentation wrought by years of Tory and Labour privatisation. When Local Authorities look for spare capacity in the community, they realise there isn’t much left – so much of it has been closed! Since 2010, 600 Youth Clubs and 773 Libraries have been closed. There are 710 fewer public playing fields. Under the pressure of excessive workload, 40% of teachers who qualified in 2010 have since left the profession.

Do the Tories not think that workers know how they have driven down wages and living standards under the guise of austerity and “We’re all in it together”? Of how austerity has led to a transfusion of wealth from the poor to the super rich? The link between living standards and educational attainment is accepted by all but the most entrenched Tory politicians. In the last ten years the rise of the gig economy, zero-hour contracts and minimum wage pay has meant that some parents are forced to take two, three or more jobs just to put food on the table. In Hull, for example, 40% of all households are calculated to have total incomes below the official poverty level. 

Parents are doing their best for their children but there are limits.  For some parents, work means that they cannot be around to support their children with homework or even to make sure that they are safe. A feature of the recent period has been young girls missing school because their families have to make a choice between food, paying for heating and buying sanitary products – so called ‘period poverty’.  Financial pressures on families bring other pressures. Family break up and even domestic violence are also products of Tory austerity. The number of children in care has skyrocketed in recent times.

Instead of the leaders of the Labour Movement, it took a black premier league football player to expose the reality facing working class families under Tory austerity and welfare cuts.   When Marcus Rashford wrote, ‘the system was not built for families like mine to succeed’, his words reverberated out into society because they chimed with millions of working-class kids’ lived experiences.  The hypocrisy of Tory concern for ‘vulnerable children’ was laid bare by their initial refusal to fund school dinners over the summer. 

So the next time a Tory minister tries to pretend that they are concerned about vulnerable children, don’t throw something at the TV in anger. Get active in the Socialist Party to get rid of the Tories and their rotten capitalist system that creates vulnerable children in the first place.

Nancy Taaffe and Mick Whale

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