Milk Snatching, Free School Meals and an Artful Dodger.

People of a certain age will remember,  the third-of a-pint milk bottle, drunk with a waxy bent straw on school morning breaks. I am one of them. Provision of free milk in schools went a long way in the efforts to eradicate rickets. Free school meals ensured  that children in poverty received a wholesome meal.

After the passing of the 1906 Education Act Local Education Authorities were empowered to provide free school meals. In 1921 this had been extended to free milk. However, an investigation by John Boyd Orr (published as Food, Health and Income in 1937) revealed that there was a link between low-income, malnutrition and under-achievement in schools. Following the 1945 General Election, the new Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, appointed Ellen Wilkinson as Minister of Education, the first woman in British history to hold the post. Wilkinson had long been a campaigner against poverty and in 1946 managed to persuade Parliament to pass the School Milk Act. This act ordered the issue of one-third of a pint of milk free to all pupils under eighteen. (Spartacus)

School Milk for all children, like the National Health Service were both introduced by the 1945 Labour government. It was a brave government, supported by a unified population intent on rebuilding society , as shown in ‘Spirit of ’45‘. Policies like these demonstrate the commitment the 1945 government had in improving living conditions, health and education for working families and to help eradicate the poverty and poor health which many children faced, rickets was not uncommon. A caring welfare state  built communities and brought people together – a unified society.  Provision of milk for all children avoided the stigma at being ‘ seen to be poor’ and in need of charity.  There was real movement towards a more equal society which turned its back on the Dickensian state.

The signs that the Conservative Party opposed a more  united society were there in 1973, when as Education Secretary, a young Margaret Thatcher’s intention to remove the entitlement of school milk for all children. I remember the anger she caused and in defence of the welfare state, protested and marched chanting, ” Maggie Thatcher, Milk Snatcher.”

milksnatcherBut the scale of the plans she had to break up the welfare state, were kept secret, and not publicised until 30 years later in 2001.  At the time it was vastly underestimated

“…. documents released under the 30-Year-Rule paint a more complicated picture of what the future prime minister was prepared to sign up to.

Shortly after election, Prime Minister Heath wrote to his cabinet, telling them: “We shall need determination and a willingness among spending ministers to accept reductions in programmes which, from a departmental stand point, they would be reluctant to make.”

And in August 1970, the new Secretary of State for Education responded to a Treasury demand for education cuts in four areas:

  • Further Education fees
  • Library book borrowing charges
  • School meal charges
  • Free school milk “

The Tories always had a plan to reverse the improvement in living standards.  Even then they knew their policies would be so unpopular it would induce civil unrest. She also introduced fees for museum entry. Since the Coalition government has been introduced , the dismantling of the welfare state in but just one term is ensured. They planned it as such because, like then they knew of its unpopularity, and have done so by deceit. It is not necessary to wait for another 30 years, the evidence is already clear, though hidden in the main by the mainstream media. The internet has allowed the lay person a voice. How long until it is silenced.  She oversaw the increase in charges for children’s meals, through the principle of entitlement for free school meals  has remained, with the belief it would invoke public outrage. Until now. Now we hear that free school meals are under threat and the return to Dickensian Britain will be complete.

schooldinners Independent

Free school meals could soon be scrapped and people paid to look after elderly neighbours as councils take desperate measures to deliver a “tidal wave” of spending cuts, ministers will be warned on Tuesday.

Closures of municipal theatres, leisure centres, libraries and play groups will accelerate because of a 50 per cent reduction in local authorities’ spending power, according to a report from an independent think-tank.

The New Local Government Network said town halls will struggle to cope with a £16.5bn gulf which could, under current Coalition plans, open between their income and the demands on them.

See Gaming the Cuts, “Anyborough in 2018”

Austerity is based on lies, that ‘there is no money left’ It is time for some straight – talking from politicians and the lie about the structural deficit exposed. This is a time for investment not cuts. These Austerity policies being put in pace are totally unnecessary. It is a planned, ideological programme, continuing Margaret Thatcher’s great plan to dismantle the welfare state which protects us all. Undoubtedly she was clever in avoiding the truth, in Dickens’ own words, an “Artful Dodger”.

If Thatcher was ( to some degree) cautious in the rate at which she dismantled the welfare state, Osborne has no such qualms. Now, one hundred years on, the return to a Dickensian state is ensured, and Osborne  has said as much. The believe that Victorian Britain is desirable is surreal, like the worst nightmare from which we awaken, shaking in  disbelief.

We have all heard stories of Victorian Britain.  Apparently it was a golden age, or so our current government wishes us to believe. For some of us Victorian costume dramas are not merely agreeable ways to while away Sunday evening but enactments of our inner fantasies … “I don’t think there has been a better time in our history.” said Michael Gove Guardian  Clearly Mr Gove’s history is quite different to mine, and to the vast majority of people living in the UK today. The Guardian article adds:

David Cameron had stated that his goal is to defund and deconstruct the welfare state, to “dismantle big government and build the big society in its place”. His ambition is radical in the purest sense of the word, for it is a conscious attempt to turn the clock back to the historical period for which he feels the greatest affinity: the 19th century.

Victorian Britain was a land of laissez-faire capitalism and self-reliance. Government regulation was minimal and welfare was left to charity. With little tax burden and low labour costs, industrialisation turned Britain into the workshop of the world and created a thriving middle class. The state helped promote and safeguard trade through a bullish foreign policy that created a consumer’s empire. In 1839, we even went to war with China to force the Middle Kingdom to lift its ban on imported British opium.

Disappointingly, in 2010, the previous Labour government was not courageous enough to show the Spirit of 1945. The document Child Poverty Act of 2010 to eradicate child poverty is available here  for downloading. This was Labour’s plan. Spot the difference.

Section 26: Free School lunches and milk

111. Section 26 concerns the provision of free school lunches and milk. Subsection (1) amends section 512ZB of the Education Act 1996 to give the Secretary of State (or, in relation to Wales, the Welsh Ministers) an order-making power to extend eligibility for free school meals if the child meets prescribed conditions and the child’s parent is in receipt of a prescribed benefit or allowance.

112. The Secretary of State may extend eligibility for free school meals to a primary school child if the child’s parent is entitled to Working Tax Credit and the family has a household income below a specified threshold. Currently, the Education Act 1996 allows the Secretary of State (or the Welsh Ministers) to adjust eligibility for free school meals only on the basis of the benefit being received by the parent, rather than the age of the child. It is therefore not possible to use existing powers to extend the entitlement to free school meals to primary school children of parents who are entitled to Working Tax Credit without also extending the entitlement to secondary school children within the same family.

Now the nightmare is a reality, it is time to wake up, discover a “Spirit of 2015″ , plan for a Courageous State. A united left needs to plan a better future together just as the Labour Party did seventy years previously.

Irony and The Iron Lady: Margaret Thatcher

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Irony and The Iron Lady: Margaret Thatcher

By C J Stone

Atlee Thatcher

According to my dictionary, Irony is defined as an “incongruity between actual circumstances and the normal, appropriate, or expected result.”

Incongruity, yes. Incongruity between what is said, and what actually happens. Incongruity between the public face of an event, and what lies behind it. A kind of opposition between appearance and reality.

It is also interesting to note that it is rooted in the Greek word for dissembling, meaning to conceal or disguise one’s true motives, to lie or to deceive.

That’s exactly it. In the period following Margaret Thatcher’s demise, and leading up to her funeral, the ironies have been heavy in the air, like the pall of smoke from her funeral pyre, and from the many pyres of those whose lives she destroyed.

Take this, for example. Margaret Thatcher said she believed in the primacy of the free market. She closed down our public institutions in order to sell them off to the private sector, on the oft repeated assertion that the private sector was more efficient. And yet she is to have a ceremonial funeral organised by the state, at the cost of £10 million to the public purse.

Really, if we were to follow the Thatcher doctrine to its logical conclusion, we should have privatised her funeral, put it out to competitive tender and accepted the cheapest bid, as Ken Loach, the filmmaker, suggested, just as she did with our public services.

Meanwhile, according to the Daily Telegraph, paupers funerals are on the increase because hard-pressed families are being turned down for funding. “Even for those who do get help, the typical sum awarded is £1,217, which is far short of the average £3,091 cost of a funeral.”

In other words, tens of thousands of poor families are being short changed on their funeral costs, while one family of multi-millionaires gets state funding for their lavish £10 million public affair.

Pundits complained when spontaneous parties broke out all over the country to celebrate her death, calling them “death parties”, and yet the rest of us are being subjected to a celebratory death party at our expense, regardless of our views. At least the people who assembled in Trafalgar Square on the Saturday after her death, and all over the country on the day it was announced, were paying for their own drinks.

They said that we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, and yet, when Hugo Chavez died, only a few weeks earlier, we were subjected to a torrent of abuse at his memory. Thatcher was in power for 11 years, and never won an overall majority of the vote. Chavez was in power for 14, always winning a clear majority, and yet they called him a “dictator”, and her a “champion of democracy”.

So in order to protest, tens of thousands of people bought a copy of Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead, from the 1940s musical The Wizard of Oz, in the hope of having it played on the Radio One chart rundown; using the free market system to emphasise their disagreement, spending their hard-earned cash to make a political point. It reached number 2, and yet, despite that, the publicly funded BBC decided not to play the track, instead inviting a journalist on to explain background to its entry in the charts, as if we were all too stupid to understand.

The rival song, “I’m In Love With Margaret Thatcher” on the other hand, was played in full.

Are we beginning to see any patterns here? When it comes to public funding, the rich get what they want. When it comes to the free market, the rest of us can go hang. It’s communism for the rich, and censorship for the poor.

The reason people felt the need to disagree is that vast amounts of air time have been spent eulogising her legacy, using her death as an excuse for a barely disguised frenzy of propaganda. We’ve been treated to a series of rousing speeches as justification for a political philosophy which serves the interests of the few over the interests of the many. Over and over again we’ve been hearing lies about what Thatcherism has actually achieved and a whitewash of her multiple crimes.

They said that she promoted democracy and freedom. In fact she supported Apartheid in South Africa and called Nelson Mandela a terrorist. She described the fascist General Pinochet of Chile as a“friend”, supplied arms to Saddam Hussein, and even stood behind the murderous Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

They said that she was a patriot. And yet she destroyed that most British of institutions, the National Union of Mineworkers in order to sell our nation to the international corporations, wiping out skilled, unionised, well paid jobs in the manufacturing industries, to replace them with unskilled, non-unionised, low-paid jobs in the service industries: selling us off to McDonalds for the minimum wage.

They said she curbed the power of the Trade Unions, and this was true. But she also unleashed the power of the City in the financial Big Bang of 1986, which lead directly to the banking crisis of 2008; replacing the power of one set of institutions, which served the majority of people in the UK, with the power of another, which only serves the interest of the minority.

They said she broke the monopoly of the state-run utilities, which was also true; and yet she sold off our public services in job lots, turning them from state-owned monopolies into privately owned monopolies. She made the accountable, unaccountable, in other words, using public funding to subsidise profits instead of quality of service, hoiking up prices and lowering standards at the same time. Anyone who says that the rail industry is better off now than it was under public ownership needs their head examining. Anyone who thinks that we are better served by the energy companies than we were by British Gas and the electricity boards when they were publicly owned, clearly has no idea of the real state of affairs.

They said that she was against the power of the State, and yet she used state power to attack all those opposed to her, unleashing a highly paid and politicised police force in a frenzy of violent assault, firstly against the miners, then against the New Age Travellers, and everyone else who stood in her way.

She destroyed mining communities, travelling communities, manufacturing communities, and wrenched the heart out of our great cities, turning them into post-industrial wastelands. She sold off our housing stock, leaving us with a housing shortage. She turned the South against the North, the rich against the poor, the middle class against the working class, Basildon against Barnsley. She destroyed the post-war consensus which had created a fairer and a freer Britain and killed off the hope of a generation.

And this from a woman whose first words on coming to power were these: “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.”

Was there ever a greater incongruity between what was said and what was actually meant? No wonder so many people turned their backs at her funeral.