Never underestimate the power of Kids TV, as I attribute an awful lot of how I see the world today from being very bought into watching Blue Peter as often as I was able to.
I remember watching in utter disbelief as a child about the crisis in Kampuchea in 1988, I've had to rewatch a bit of it on YouTube to remember the details of the appeal as all that had stuck with me was that many people had died at the hands of Pol Pot's cruel dictatorship and that the images of starving children had really upset me. The amazing thing about Blue Peter back then (and from what I've seen from clips is still the case today) is that it communicated with children on a "grown up" level, explained the issues and importantly gave some empowerment that things could be changed for the better and showed them how they could help. It was the 1988 Bring and Buy Sale Blue Peter Appeal.
In 1988 I was 8 and went to a small C of E Primary School in Kingston Upon Thames in cold Victorian buildings with separate outdoor toilet blocks that on at least one occasion froze in the winter. The intake of children was quite mixed in pretty much every sense and reflecting back on the small school with only 6 classes to cover 7 years; I'm impressed at how the teachers managed to educate a wide range of abilities from the very precocious and bookish kids bumped up one or even two year groups to those struggling to keep on track with multiple challenges in their home lives.
For a large portion of my life (probably until my early 30s) I struggled to make friends easily, but for at least 4 - 5 years at that school I had a firm group of friends (Sarah, Karen, James and Matthew). We all watched Blue Peter and would talk about it the next day at school. We were all affected by the news of the appeal and decided that we could do something about it and asked our teachers if we could do a cake sale to raise some money.
I remember bits of the organising and the sale itself (the school secretary Mrs Browning in complete delight eating a rock cake) and from memory I think we raised around £40 which back then was more money than I think any of us could imagine having need to spend. Later at secondary school we'd nominate a charity every term as a form and would raise money each term and again would always passionately have a sense of wanting to help others. As lacking in self awareness I was as a child, I'm sure it wasn't just me who felt that way.
Blue Peter, along with other programmes such as Really Wild Show also started off my interest in nature, ecology and looking after the planet. I even won a prize for a poem that I'd written about global warming when I was 11. I had wonderful Grandparents on both sides who were also interested in nature and would take me on walks, tell me about birds and help me gain an interest in gardening. My parents would also accommodate my geekiness when it came to birds and took me to various nature reserves and YOC events. I won a pencil for knowing some bizarre fact about how much the average mute swan weighs.
I guess all these things helped me form my opinions as I grew up in the world. As a child I was extremely fortunate, my parents always made sure that I was never hungry (well other than for my Nana's pickled onions or penny sweets and pic n mix!), I always had clothes that fitted me, I wasn't cold. We lived for my first 14 years in an slightly extended Victorian two up two down end terrace house with a garden in Kingston. To give an indiciation of how things have changed, I recently looked up on Zoopla and it's now estimated to be worth an eye watering c£750K whe it was sold by my parents for less than £100K in the mid 90s. I was able to get a good education all the way up to studying English at the University of Leeds as well as attending a very good non fee paying state grammar school. I check my privilege very regularly and recognise that the very comfortable and fulfilling life I have now is very much down to the good start that I was given in my childhood by my family and teachers.
I am old enough to remember drinking a tiny bottle of full fat milk with a straw poked through the silver foil lid, although I also remember the disappointment when they were taken away. I'm almost 100% sure I'd have never received a free school meal as a child, although I do have a vague recollection that we had some "family allowance" that we'd collect from the post office (I think this is going back over 30 years of memory now!)
I also remember when I went to secondary school the feeling of shame when I realised that in the state selected grammar school, in comparision to my previous primary schools I was at a from a much lower income point compared to many of my classmates. I never wanted for anything as a child (except never getting the Al La Carte Kitchen I was desperate for!), but I was now head to head with girls (all girls school) who had very large houses with very well to do parents with better cars, holidays, clothes etc. In general it was never an issue and the school was great at making us all feel empowered young women who could "achieve anything we chose should we choose to work hard enough", but I was bullied at times for living in a smaller house. I remember when my parents were selling our house when I was 14 some of my "friends" found the listing in the paper and crossed out and added words such as "poky" and "rubbish" before putting it in front of me at registration to see how I'd react. This isn't about trying to gain sympathy for the my previous self, but more a very tangible realisation that kids can be cruel and shame of income status is very hard for kids to overcome. I don't think I'd have been strong enough to ask for help as a child if I was ever in a desperate situation and so I fear that the problem of kids living in poverty is probably far greater than we'll ever really know.
Rolling forward to the present day and I have seen so much debate and argument about the Free School Meals issue and I so firmly believe that whilst I absolutely expect and hope for every child to have parents who feed them, clothe them and bring them up to thrive. I also know that not all of these children (or parents) have been afforded the privileges in life that I have and so sadly may be struggling.
School Uniform is encouraged to allow children to concentrate on learning and provide an even playing field for everyone attending school. I appreciate it's not a perfect system, but it allows for a minimisation in shame and stigma of different incomes in the same year groups. Why not have the same elimination of shame and stigma for free school meals? I get that it might not be appropriate and indeed necessarly for many or indeed all children and in an ideal world most kids wouldn't need this, but it's 2020 and we are in the midst of a global pandemic.
We can demonise parents because either they read it in the newspaper or some friend of friend knows some parents with 5 kids who have a crack habit and a 50" telly, who gets fillers in their lips, their nails done weekly, fake tan, nice car, Sky TV, smokes etc etc and yet doesn't feed their kids properly. I ask you, do you *actually* know this to be true? Have you met this person, have you seen their bank statement? Or is it just a convenient way to blame someone else because you've heard about it in the media? And if any of those things *are* true, there is likely a (forgiveable) reason for them to be in that situation. Typically people wouldn't choose this, but may have had a poor upbringing themselves, poor mental health, an abusive relationship there are so many reasons.
Many people have massively struggled through difficult situations for years and still managed to "feed their kids", but I don't believe it's appropriate to see struggle as necessary a "rite of passage". In the last 40 years we've made so many technological advances that it's easier than ever to access food, you can literally not move more than your hand and a smart phone and have food to your front door in a couple of hours, less if it's a takeaway. I agree children deserve good parents, but those who haven't been blessed with them don't deserve to starve when we have so much more capability at our fingertips to solve poverty.
I have read from an international food poverty charity website that there are 7 billion people in the world and we have enough food to feed 10 billion people so it's the most solvable problem in the world if we can just work together as humans.
Commenting about how "cheap" healthy food can be is incredibly patronising, we should focus on how to make healthy food accessible beyond price. People on lower incomes are likely to be time poor as much as the are financially poor and may not have the resources to prepare a vegetable soup from scratch after a long shift at work. Education on cooking and nutriton would be a good help, but like any problem it's about doing lots of different things regularly to eventually solve it, but right now families face the hardest few months as we go into winter with Covid restrictions and a recession. At least free school meals help those hardest hit survive and those not hard hit live a little more comfortably.
If you have managed to get through this pandemic without losing a job, losing a family member or indeed losing control of your mental health you're doing well. I know personally some people who have been unable to work since lockdown and because they maybe are self employed, but also had worked on zero hour PAYE contracts haven't been able to access any financial support. I also know that not one friend has asked me to help them out with food etc (and I'd like to think I am approachable if anyone does need anything) I think that it is because as a society we are often too ashamed to ask for help and actually I know that to truly help some people you need to just do something without being asked.
I see people copying and pasting messages on Facebook with lovely sentiments about "just privately message me if you need anything" but the reality is that they either haven't asked the direct question in private to those they are worried about, or indeed those who really do need help are far too proud to ever ask. I don't like demonising this type of "social media awareness" as awareness and normalisation of things this way can be useful, but slactivism is one of my frustrations with the world. The feeling that you're doing "something" by sharing a post so you don't need to donate money/time/care to the actual cause.
I don't claim to be perfect, I'm sure I could be accused of woke virtue signalling if I share a donation link, or talk about things that I'm doing to help, but I do it in part selfishly because I enjoy helping and feeling like I am making a difference. I also try and help because I'm grateful that I'm in a position to be helping and not needing help. Is sharing and retweeting the Marcus Rashford campaign posts slactivism - I'm not sure as I think at least normalising the fact that people need help 7 months into a global pandemic is going to help proud parents make their lives easier to be able to feed their children. I have really liked the interactive map produced where people can access free school meals during half term from hospitality venues, charities and local authorities - this is definitely social media for good and will have a knock on (secondary) positive effect of publicity for those establishments. It's just disappointing that they are having to step in.
"But what about Universal Credit" this one has me feeling a bit torn. I like the idea of people having financial literacy and independence to be able to manage their finances and rather than the old system it seems like this should help them, however I know a few anecdotal stories of where it falls down for both the claimant when delays push them further into financial difficulties, but also for us all as housing associations estimated that it would cost an additional £10 per tenant per year to collect the arrears generated by this new "method". Watching I, Daniel Blake will give you some insights of the complexities and flaws in this system if it is something you are not familiar with.
I have close friends who when they grew up had parents having to rely on food parcels because of miners strikes (an alien concept to me as a child growing up in Greater London, it was just something that I watched on Newsround, it didn't seem *real*), friends who had to use free school meals which just about kept them topped up during difficult times. All who I know of these friends are now very successful and contribute to society, I'm sure there may be more who I meet in adult life that may not be comfortable talking about what they might have gone through. None of them seem to desire for anyone to have to "suffer" because they had to.
Some (mostly baby boom) generation seem to think that kids need to pipe down as they've never had it so "easy". I would counter that "easy" is relative and not necessarily the reality for all kids certainly. Kids now have never know a world without technology, WIFI, Smartphones and Social Media and have far more access and instant gratification. I was bullied at school, but I could come home and go to my room and read a book and be safe, Kids don't have the luxury now. I felt fat and ugly as a young child and teenager and I was comparing myself against at most probably 150 girls my age; Instagram magnifies this to millions of constant comparisions, filtered images, I bet no girl finds it easy to feel confident in her own skin until she's much older - it took me to be in my 30s! And now there is Covid, yes I'm sure rationing, war babies etc had it hard, but those that remember are few these days as to be around 10 years old when war ended you'd be in your mid 80s now and I think most of the "complainents" of the "kids have it easy" theory are in their 60s and 70s mostly. Many have been retired on decent pensions since their 50s and may even live long enough to have fewer years of work than they do of non work through pension. I'm not sure anyone of my generation or younger will have the luxury.
I've got lots more to say, but this is now at least a week in the making and it's now becoming out of context, so I'll leave on one consideration.
Children don't choose to be born, if you consider yourself in anyway pro life/pro children or just not an awful human being, make sure you support initiatives to feed children, they don't get to choose their parents, but we can choose to look after them.