I struggle a bit to put my finger on quite why, but since I became a parent I've realised just how fortunate my daughter is. I've spent many sleepless nights worrying about children here in the UK that don't have three meals a day, who don't have a safe warm house to live in and toys to play with. I want to provide my daughter with everything she wants and needs - that's a mother's instinct - and I know that the few times I can't give her something (admittedly normally something trivial) it does break my heart.
I was fascinated and pleased therefore (if pleased is the right word to use here) to read yesterday about Save The Children's new campaign to raise money to help UK families in poverty. Their It Shouldn't Happen Here report into child poverty in the UK makes sad reading. You'd have to be pretty heart-less not to be moved by stories of parents going without meals so that their children do not miss out. Children who don't have new shoes that fit for the new school term, or don't have a warm coat for winter.
What has upset me somewhat is this morning's Daily Mail article entitled How can Save The Children equate British families with the starving poor of Africa? Well, for a start I don't believe that Save The Children have tries to equate the two. In everything I've read in the last 24 hours in the online media I have not seen one thing where anyone from STC has said that things here in the UK are like those in Africa. The Daily Mail also seems to use their article to say that it's all a political stunt and complaining that the accompanying TV advert uses actors rather then real children in poverty like the ones for their Africa campaigns do.
The comments left on the Daily Mail article have also left me feeling somewhat exasperated. Lots of the comments talk about how the whole "situation" is due to people being given benefits that they then spend on flat-screen TVs, Sky subscriptions, smart phones, cigarettes and alcohol, rather than on their children. I agree that I have little sympathy for the parents that don't prioritise their children ahead of themselves (and I struggle to understand how they do so), but that is not the children's fault. They should not have to suffer because of their parents.
There are plenty of parents though who don't spend money on luxuries like this and still struggle to make ends meet and to give their children what they need. This may be because these parents can not find work, or because they can't bring in an income sufficient to meet their outgoings, but whatever the reason I believe that STC is right to help families like this so that the children do not suffer and they have a proper childhood.
Save The Children are planning to use the money raised in two directions: their Families and Schools Together project to use education as a route out of poverty, and Eat, Sleep, Learn, Play which aims to provide families with household essentials. There is one thing that still seems to be missing for me though.
What about those parents who fail to provide for their children because they simply do not know how to. Parents who don't know how to budget with the income that they have to make it go as far as possible. Money management skills are not necessarily taught in schools and aren't obvious to many.
In some cases this may include those parents who prioritise their own cigarette and alcohol costs above those of food for balanced meals for their children. It is a fact that some young adults do not know what their children should have to be eating a balanced diet and they don't understand the health benefits associated with fruit and veg. They don't know about where they can get cheap furniture or clothes, or they may not have access to transport meaning that they can't physically get to the big supermarkets that stock the value ranges of food that mean balanced meals are possible on their budget. Where is the support for these parents and their children in terms of education and enabling them?
I worry that without this level of support and education we could be in a vicious circle where one generation does not learn from the previous one. Do other charities provide this support? Should STC be doing this too, or maybe they are doing so without realising it? Is this the role of schools or local councils?
Whatever happens, without this being done by someone more children will suffer through no fault of their own and that is something that I'm sure none of us want.