By KD Tait

This Christmas, the UN humanitarian aid agency is helping provide food to thousands of school children over the school break.

In May, before the coronavirus outbreak, 2.4 million, or 17 per cent, of children were living in households without enough food. By October, 900,000 more children had been registered for free school meals. In the London borough of Southwark alone, around 15,000 children are affected by food poverty.

Last year, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty concluded that Britain’s social safety net had been ‘deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos’.

Since 2010, the government’s attacks on the welfare system have plunged hundreds of thousands of families into poverty. Universal credit delays, deductions, and rampant underemployment have left millions without enough money to pay rent, bills, or put food on the table.

The shocking extent of low pay was revealed in a recent survey carried out by the Nurses United campaign group that found 39% of nurses were skipping meals to save money – a figure that rises to 61% of those from a Black or minority background.

Added to this is the punitive No Recourse to Public Funds restrictions imposed by the Home Office as part of its ‘hostile environment’ for immigrants. Denounced by the High Court for the ‘degrading’ conditions it forces families into, NRPF rules prevent migrants from accessing most benefits, tax credits or housing assistance.

Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is worth an estimated £150 million, denounced the UNICEF campaign, saying it was a ‘scandal’ that the agency was donating money to children in Britain instead of developing countries.

It is unquestionably a scandal that in the sixth richest country in the world, millions of working people have to depend on foodbanks because of poverty pay, extortionate rent, and miserly pensions.

But the £25,000 grant pledged by UNICEF is a drop in the ocean compared to the money it spends helping the victims of British imperialism in developing countries.

Thanks to Saudi Arabia’s British-backed war against Yemen, two million children are acutely malnourished and over 350,000 are in need of urgent food aid to survive. 80 per cent of the population depend on humanitarian aid to survive.

Since the outbreak of war in Yemen, the UK has sold £4.7 billion worth of weapons to the Saudi military, which has been waging a brutal campaign of indiscriminate bombardment against civilian areas, killing tens of thousands of civilians. The deliberate targeting of hospitals and civilian infrastructure has triggered the largest cholera outbreak in the world.

Despite widespread evidence of war crimes, assisted by British advisors to the Saudi air force, and despite the court of appeal ruling that the government had illegally signed off on arms exports, the government continues to permit Britain’s multi-billion pound arms industry to profit from the one-sided conflict.

Over the course of 2020 the Tory government have fought tooth and nail to avoid funding free school meals in the holidays – in order to save just £20 million pounds.

Yet in the Autumn spending review, the government slashed foreign aid by £4 billion a year, and raised spending on the military budget by the same amount.

It is the grossest cynicism and hypocrisy of this government to denounce UNICEF for feeding children while working people’s taxes are used to feed the insatiable appetites of the merchants of death.

Britain is one of the world’s wealthiest countries, thanks in no small part to its status as the second largest exporter of weapons, much of which goes to prop up dictatorships defending British interests around the world.

Those who argue there is not enough money to raise the pay of nurses, pay living pensions, and fund decent housing, healthcare and education for all are lying.

The monopolisation of social wealth and resources is built on the exploitation of working people in Britain, and the super exploitation of workers and the rural poor in the semi-colonial world. There is a bloody chain linking the poverty of children in Southwark with the emaciated and choleric children of Yemen.

That system of exploitation, accumulation, and monopolisation of wealth is what the British government and its arms industry is defending. The interests of those who maintain a dictatorship over the economy are diametrically opposed to the interests of working people who produce their wealth.

In 2021 it is up to workers to join the socialist struggle to overturn this dictatorship and fight to take control of society’s wealth into our own hands, based on democratic international planning to meet the needs of people, not the profits of the oligarchs.

It is a sad irony and a damning indictment of capitalism and imperialism that children in Britain and Yemen are the victims of the government that rules over us.

Workers and young people who want to put an end to the catastrophe of capitalism should join Red Flag, and the League for the Fifth International in our struggle for workers’ power and international socialism.