Shame, shame, shame

19th December 2020

Shame, shame, shame

UNICEF support to feed hungry children, condemned as shameful by Rees-Mogg

The incompetency, corruption and lies which have characterised the Tories’ response to the pandemic so far looks set to continue into the New Year and beyond.  The lack of backbone which has seen the Tories fail to take decisive action act at keys points over the past nine months, for fear of doing something unpopular with the right wing press, is showing itself in the government’s handling of arrangements over the Christmas period.

Rising infection rates and a new strain of the virus has finally forced the government to concede that London and the South East should now be under tighter Tier 3 restrictions, a decision which could have been taken weeks ago and saved many lives.  However, the general rise in infection levels and deaths is apparently not enough for the government to revise the five day period of family contact over Christmas. 

As ever, the government’s approach is blinkered, concentrating on this Christmas, rather than taking a grip and persuading people to focus on the measures necessary to make sure friends and family are still around to see Christmas in 2021.  Short term populism trumps longer term thinking every time with the Tories.

What should be seen as the scandal of the government’s approach, but is generally reported deep on the inside pages of the press and rarely by the BBC, is underlined by two stories which have emerged over the past week.

On Thursday, Tory millionaire Jacob Rees-Mogg, made ripples by criticising the United Nations’ Children’s Fund, UNICEF, for providing assistance to children in the south London Borough of Southwark, over the Christmas holidays and February half-term.  UNICEF is providing a modest £25,000 to support children in the Borough, which is struggling because its own scheme to provide free school meals to all primary school pupils is facing the axe due to funding cuts.

In the east London Borough of Newham the universal free school meals offer, which guarantees all 3-11 year olds a free dinner during term time, a benefit to 14,000 children, is under threat.  Newham leaders cite £250m in budget cuts over the past decade, the decade of austerity which saw the public sector pay for the gambling debts of bankers in 2008, as the reason for the scheme to be under threat, as core statutory services have to be prioritised.

This picture will be reflected in Councils across the country as underprivileged areas struggle to meet the twin threats of the impact of austerity and the costs of the pandemic, which is hitting working class communities hardest.

Rees-Mogg does not show one iota of contrition for the appalling consequences of his party’s policies merely shrugging that,

“UNICEF should be ashamed of itself.”

Given that the only concessions to feeding children that have been made by the government are those extracted under pressure from footballer Marcus Rashford, the response of Rees-Mogg should come as no surprise.

Anna Kettley, UNICEF UK’s Director of Programmes said,

“In partnership with Sustain, the food and farming alliance, over £700,000 of UNICEF UK funds is being granted to community groups around the country to support their vital work helping children and families at risk of food insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic.”

This is the situation in the world’s fifth richest economy, where billionaires bask in unearned wealth while others sleep in cardboard boxes in the street.  Where millionaire MPs see feeding children as a shameful act, while their policies continue to be responsible for the unnecessary deaths of thousands due to their mishandling of the pandemic.

In other areas the government is content to haemorrhage money like it was going out of fashion to ensure that its mates get contracts without any tendering process, whether or not they are capable, competent or contributing to suppressing the COVID-19 virus. 

It was reported on Friday that the largest recipient of pandemic deals handed out by the Department of Health is Essex based transport firm, Uniserve, which has scooped a cool £779m from government coffers in a series of deals to ship PPE to the UK.  According to internal NHS price benchmarking Uniserve were benefitting from a significant price mark up, selling medical grade masks to the NHS at 86p a time when the average market price, even according to the Department of Health, was 51p per mask.  Those figures add up significantly when millions of such masks are being ordered.

There is no record of Jacob Rees-Mogg, Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, or any other member of the government condemning such practices as “shameful.”   

The emerging debacle over mass testing in schools and the delayed return to school for some pupils in the New Year further reinforces the truth that for the Tories the real issue is profit, not people.  A post Christmas virus wave and the prospects of a further national lockdown in January, once again closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, appear to be increasingly likely. 

With deaths already heading towards the 70,000 mark, according to official figures, it is not far fetched to see 100,000 deaths being admitted in the not too distant future. 

Now that is truly something to be ashamed of.

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