It Shouldn’t Happen Here

Save the Children UK Campaign

Well, gosh. That’s got people talking, hasn’t it?

Save the Children launched a new fundraising appeal yesterday; the first ever one to raise money to help children living in poverty in the UK. The appeal coincides with a new report ‘It Shouldn’t Happen Here’ which details the experiences of children and parents living in recession-hit Britain.

Every time you started up your computer, opened a paper, turned on the TV or listened to the radio yesterday, there was someone in front of you, sharing their opinion on it.

The reception was mainly positive, but not entirely. “Poverty doesn’t exist in the UK.” screamed one person commenting on a news story. “It’s an obscene political stunt.” yelled the Daily Mail. “I am becoming increasingly concerned about [Save the Children’s] political involvement” huffed a Conservative MP.

One of the best summaries I’ve seen of the arguments on both sides was blogged by Alex Cobham, Save the Children’s Head of Research. I don’t have the expertise that he does, but I can’t help adding in my tuppence worth.

Do you know how Save the Children started?

A Starving Baby and Our Blockade has Caused This“. That was the headline on a leaflet drawing attention to the plight of children on the losing side of the First World War. Save the Children’s founder, Eglantyne Jebb, was arrested and fined for distributing it in Trafalgar Square.

After the war ended, the British government kept up a blockade that left children in cities like Berlin and Vienna starving. Tuberculosis and rickets were rife.

Eglantyne Jebb and her sister Dorothy Buxton decided that direct action was needed as well as campaigning. The Save the Children Fund was set up at a public meeting in London’s Royal Albert Hall in May 1919.

The charity is founded on helping children who are suffering because of Government policies. Of course they are a political organisation. How are they supposed to be anything else? But political doesn’t have to mean party political. The majority of people may only know Save the Children from  seeing their adverts on television, raising money to help children in famine and drought struck parts of Africa, but their work has always needed to be wider than that. They have an entire team whose work focuses on behind the scenes political lobbying, trying to change policies (domestically and internationally) to improve the lives of the children. That work goes on no matter which party is in charge at the time, and to suggest that this campaign is motivated by party politics rather than a genuine desire to help children in the UK strikes me as bonkers.

Surely, no matter which box you put your tick in when you step into a voting booth, you can’t think that it’s okay for parents in the UK in 2012 to have to choose between providing their children with clothes or providing them with food.

The money that Save the Children raises, will go towards two different programmes

–  Eat, Sleep, Learn and Play which provides basic essentials, cots, beds, cookers, toys and other items to low income families.

–  FAST (Families and Schools Together) which helps children in the most deprived areas get a good start at school. Our aim here is to give children a permanent route out of poverty – we know that poor children are six times more likely to leave school without any qualifications than their better off friends.

As well as attempting to raise £500,000 there are three things that Save the Children is calling on the Government to do.

 – encourage more employers to pay the living wage, so parents can earn enough to lift their children out of poverty 

– to strengthen the new welfare system – Universal Credit – by allowing working parents to keep more of their earnings before benefits are withdrawn 

– to help parents afford to work by providing extra child care support so 80% of costs are covered.  

I’m planning to write to my MP about that later today, but meantime I’d be really interested to know your views on the campaign? Do you support what Save the Children are doing?

You can find out more about the campaign, read some case studies, or donate online on their dedicated campaign pages.

18 responses

  1. Thanks Ruth, great piece – and especially for highlighting Save’s historical origins. As soon as I have time I should blog on Linda Mahood’s fascinating book Feminism and Voluntary Action which I finally managed to read over the summer. It’s a more nuanced and critical biography of one of Save’s founders, Eglantyne Jebb (“I don’t care for children”!), and shows exactly, as you say, that the organisation was borne of a deliberate decision to pursue meaningful, long-term political change (not least, the International Convention on the Rights of the Child) and not only to deliver short-term relief.

    I should add that our UK programme work is well established; what’s new is the decision to seek funding for it directly through a campaign to the UK public, along with popular support for the policies that you’ve summarised. Which is, I suppose, the ‘political’ part… And of course the more people who join you in writing to their MP, the more successful this is likely to be. Thank you!

  2. Really interesting post, I had no idea about how Save the Children started. And I find it utterly shocking that people don’t believe families in the UK are living in poverty – I’m not sure how anyone can not realise the economic state of our country right now, or understand that the cost of living is constantly rising while employment rates fall. And for this reason I hope STC manage to raise awareness of how much of an issue poverty is in this country.

  3. In my line of work, I regularly come across children whose only meal of the day is their free school meal. During last years summer holidays I regularly fed and watered a local child who would have gone without otherwise. Its heartbreaking that children live in such poverty, and I can assure you that it is a reality for many

  4. High time they tackled poverty at home, especially when the governments overseas aid budget is being used for political purposes. eg, we give India £300m+ in international aid each year. A figure that’s smaller than the Indian spend on their space programme.

  5. Thanks for posting this. As author of the report I’ve found some of the criticism very disappointing. No one can be happy that here, in the UK, we have parents relying on food backs and skipping meals so that their children can eat. Save the Children has worked in the UK for decades but we need more funding and we need to make sure the issue of UK child poverty gets more attention. Hence all the hard work and determination that went into yesterday’s launch and the decision to publicly fundraise specifically for our UK work for the first time.

    Some critical articles appear to be denying the existence of poverty in this country despite the findings of our research and what parents and children are telling us on a daily basis.

    The most shocking finding from the surveys for Save the Children’s UK team is the extent to which children are aware of the huge financial pressure their parents are under. People of all political persuasions are agreed about the importance of education in tackling child poverty but interventions like the pupil premium will have little impact if children are worried about whether their parents can pay the bills or not. Children deserve the right to happy and fulfilled childhoods and central to that is making sure their parents have a decent income and enough money to give them the things they need – this needs to go beyond families keeping their heads above water by going into debt or living a frugal existence.

    Child poverty can’t be kicked into the long grass. Children are suffering now and we all have a duty to do something about it.

  6. I spent most of yesterday fuming about this. I started a blog, but had to step away, as I was so angry. Well said dorkymum and I for one will be supporting this campaign and also full on throttle to offer cooking opportunities for families to learn how to eat well on a budget. I blogged about Live below the Line and could eat well on £1.59, but only because I can cook! Chicken nuggets are not cheaper than fresh wholesome food, and the cost to health is higher. Food Banks are not the answer, just a band aid.

  7. This level of denial makes me want to weep, in fact it does make me cry. It is a tragedy that parents have to chose food or clothes or go hungry and even worse that people who don’t, deny it.
    And I agree totally with one of the earlier comments about being able to cook and applauded Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food attempt to help people learn what healthy food was and how easy it is to prepare.

    Sorry, am rambling because I am so frustrated that I can do so very little to make a difference.

    • Lucy, you can and do make a difference by caring. I work for STC and we rely on people like you to care and champion our work . Don’t ever stop caring .

  8. I do support the work of Save The Children and we set up a monthly donation just after our children were born, because we could afford to do so, and because we value the work of such an inspiring organisation.
    Their work is invaluable and their place in the UK as a charity and as pressure group which CAN bring about change cannot, and should not, be undervalued or undermined, however you vote.
    A brilliant post. Thanks for writing so wonderfully about something very close to my heart.

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  10. Yes 100% behind STC. I was shocked when I found out that everywhere had poverty and not just massive cities as I had naively thought. It is a real eye opener when you find that there are people who can not afford to eat in a county like Hertfordshire! Shocking and totally unacceptable.

    I’m proud to do my bit and help where I can and you are a massive asset to STC.

    Mich x

  11. Given that this government has justified cutting benefits by branding anyone who dares to be poor enough to need them as scroungers, this couldn’t be more of a political issue. Thank you for highlighting this.

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  13. I totally missed this campaign (no idea how!) And am just popping over from the Tots100 best posts of 2012.

    Thank you for writing about this! I think it is mad how so many people think these things should not be political. After all, most of the important factors in our lives are affected by politics!

    I think it is a fantastic campaign. My little family struggles by on a really low income and everything has to be prioritised, but never between food and clothing! It makes me so sad to know how truly hard some families have to fight just to survive… And then when someone tries to change that there is so much criticism! That makes me mad.

    Thanks for sharing this, will look into the campaign now I know about it.

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