每日跟讀#494: In Britain, Even Children Are Feeling the Effects of Austerity

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每日跟讀#494: In Britain, Even Children Are Feeling the Effects of Austerity

It was half past eight, and the school day was just starting at Morecambe Bay Primary, a state-run elementary school in northwest England. Siobhan Collingwood, the head teacher, pointed to a cheerful boy munching his way through two slices of toast — his first meal of the day.


Teachers, she said, had sometimes found him sifting through trash cans for discarded fruit. “He’d eat his way through whatever we put in front of him.”


Some students trickled through without stopping; they had already eaten. But a few dozen headed straight to the food counter. Of 350 students, roughly one in three would not have breakfast unless the school provided it, Collingwood reckoned.


During Collingwood’s 13 years as head teacher at Morecambe Bay Primary, there were always a few hungry children. But two years ago, the staff noticed an increasing number of youngsters returning undernourished after spending school breaks at home.


Initially, Collingwood and her staff were puzzled: Many parents held jobs, even if they struggled to cover the bills. Then it dawned on them that the rising number of hungry children at Morecambe Bay coincided with sharp reductions in welfare benefits associated with the clumsy introduction of a new welfare program.


“As we spoke to parents,” Collingwood said, “it became clear that for many of them, it was caused by changes to the benefit system rolled out in recent years, which were forcing families into crisis.”

Across Britain, the number of children living in poverty has jumped sharply in the past six years, a trend that critics blame in part on the Conservative-led government’s policy of austerity, the budget-slashing response to the 2008 financial crisis that is steadily reshaping British life.


And there is no immediate relief on the horizon. The County Councils Network, a group of local governing bodies, warned recently of more than $1 billion in budget cuts nationwide next year, draining more money from social services, including some for children.


To be clear, Britain is not Venezuela. Reports of hungry children showing up in Morecambe doctors’ offices with rickets have proved false. But that is cold comfort in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, one that over the years has made a strong commitment to child welfare.


While hunger is not the only social pathology associated with childhood poverty, it is perhaps the hardest to conceal. In that respect, it is a flashing signal of a deepening problem.


Source article: https://paper.udn.com/udnpaper/POH0067/333753/web/

文/Patrick Kingsley譯/李京倫

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