I wake up to Radio 4’s Today program every morning during the week.  I’ve found that far from making me turn the radio off or feel roused from sleep rudely by someone else’s idea of what constitutes music the news and debate engages me to enough of an extent that I do not slip back to unconsciousness.  The Today program may not be well known outside Britain but it is BBC radio’s flagship news program and has many items in more depth than they are given anywhere else.  It is a highbrow program 3 hours long and generally the hosts of the show are some of the heavyweights of the corporations broadcast journalists, such as John Humphrys, and in truth if I want to know for sure whether or not a politician is talking bullshit Humphrys would be my go-to man.  It tends also to attract senior figures in politics and the world beyond for interviews and comment except a certain number of times a year when they feel got at for being asked questions they don’t want to answer.

Last month I started the week hearing the last three items and these together formed an interesting trinity juxtaposed as they were to one another and the current world at large.  It was like a microcosm of what is wrong and the contradictory nature of those that have made it so on a far wider scale.

The first item referred to the Squeezed Britain report, according to which 5.8 million households struggle to keep up with bills every month.  An inability caused by earnings growth being well below inflation.  Matthew Whitaker from the Resolution Foundation who were responsible for the report was chosen to comment on it.  Whittaker stated that in addition to the wage:inflation ratio  that many of these households cannot spare money to save and therefore perpetuate their lack of any safety net to cope with changes in circumstances or the financial climate.  Whittaker’s answer was that government should be looking at tax credits, benefits, education and some redistribution.  When asked about whether the tax system now was fit for purpose Whittaker responded that over last 30 years the gains from GDP growth have been concentrated at very top 10% of the population.  All this seemed a pretty fair summation of the state of affairs for the poorest 10% of the population in contrast with the richest 10% highlighting the vast differential between their daily lives.
The second item on the program related to an organisation called Magic Breakfast which helps schools in the running of breakfast clubs to ensure children have a sufficient and nutritional breakfast before lessons start.  According to the organisation they have a waiting list of schools looking for their help.  Carmel O’Connell the head of Magic Breakfast was interviewed alongside Jill Kirkby, formerly of the Centre For Policy Studies, now writing for the Conservative Home blog.  What Ms Kirkby’s credentials were for giving vent to her opinion on the topic was not clear and it was not pressed by interviewer Justin Webb.  [Indeed Justin Webb’s participation in this interview did him no credit and resulted in my sending a complaint to the BBC that the interviews were not even-handed.  You would have been forgiven for thinking this was a different person to the one who had caused controversy suggesting that people who supported the Conservative Party should not be allowed on the BBC and calling Tracey Emin a ‘Tory stooge’.]

Carmel O’Connel’s argument was that hunger and malnourishment were a barrier to education and that the financial position and time constraints of parents should not put the children at a disadvantage.  Their service has proven popular enough that more schools wish to take part.  Jill Kirkby’s counter argument was that were breakfast clubs to become the norm they would take over the duties that parents should be fulfilling.  She went on to question whether it was really about pressure on families as a decent breakfast such as porridge and an apple was not expensive.  She went on to claim that if parents were not providing this sort of breakfast then they should be fetched into schools in order that they can be given a lesson on spending priorities and what they should really be spending their money on.  Justin Webb here was not constructive is suggesting that this was all more a matter of convenience than necessity.

In truth if a family were to have enough money to feed their children and were choosing not doing so and making no alternative arrangements this would not be a matter for a quiet chat about spending priorities this would be something for a Social Services investigation about child abuse, and such abuse would I doubt be at all confined to the poorest sections of society. Would it not be worth firstly ensuring that those children who are given the opportunity to have a good breakfast are given it and subsequently the reasons why they have not been before are investigated?   To dismiss with a haughty slight of hand the first hand information Carmel O’Connel gave that upon visiting certain houses the cupboards are bear was not only to illustrate the problem of poverty and social exclusion but in addition the ambivalence felt by the comfortable that has caused it.

The final news item was one dealing with the government’s planned cap on benefits, one that they have still not managed to railroad through parliament yet.  Stephen Timms Labour’s shadow employment minister said that Labour were broadly in favour of the cuts but that they should stop short of applying if it would make families homeless thereby potentially costing more than it saved due to the necessary rehousing of said families by local authorities.  Timms said that rather than opposing the bill Labour would be concentrating on their amendment to the motion as outlined to prevent this sort of homelessness.   This at a time when already the Conservatives have been calling for anyone associated with last Summers riots to have their benefits stopped and to be evicted from their council housing.  Leaving aside the disgusting snobbery this shows in the assumption that those rioting were all from a background of welfare and council contributions it fails to address what would happen to those who are not.  Would they have their wages stopped, or be evicted from their parents houses or private rented accommodation?  Is rioting  as well as breakfast now like saving an entirely middle class preserve?

Song Of The Day ~ New Order – Blue Monday