By Lydia Freeman, Socialist Alternative Brighton
A recent survey done by charity organisation UNICEF paints the stark picture of the UK that we are all unfortunately accustomed to. This year, 78% of parents said that the rising cost of living is negatively impacting their family, with them having to cut back on buying books, crafting materials or enrolling their children in beneficial extracurricular activities. These reductions in spending, while detrimental to a child’s development, are far from the worst sacrifices being made by families in the UK.
61% reported to have struggled with their mental health since becoming a parent. Many have said in the last year that they had felt overwhelmed (49%), anxious (43%), unsupported (36%) and lonely (26%) all or a lot of the time.
After decades of cuts, privatisation, and the removal of the support provided by services such as Sure Start centres, working class people are left, in many cases, without any social support. Instead, they are expected to fend for themselves. It is unsurprising that parents are feeling isolated and overwhelmed by the rising cost of living. The epidemic of alienation caused by capitalism’s erosion of our public services, among other things, is weighing down on working class families more than ever. Work life in a capitalist society becomes increasingly demanding, draining and time consuming; according to the survey 64% of parents say they have less time to spend with their children now and 50% receive less help from family and friends. Karl Marx describes this alienation as when a worker invariably loses the ability to determine life when deprived of the right to consider themselves as in control of their own lives and to define relationships with other people. When we are starved of support, handed real-terms pay cuts, threatened with the insuppressible rise in the cost of living, it can come as no surprise when families struggle unaided.
These effects paired with the very apparent and deliberate neglect to our education system, which has soaked through into the actual structure of school buildings (look at the recent RAAC scandal), creates very real concern for future generations. School policies that lend themselves to the exclusion of SEND children (special educational needs and disabilities), reduction in child-care services and subsequently the impossible increase in cost of remaining services, the inaccessibility of mental health support (particularly for the poorest families), amount to an overwhelmingly bleak picture for families today. But we shouldn’t accept that this situation is a given; when pushed by the working class, we can win significant victories, as we are seeing currently in the ongoing strike action at Ash Field Academy in Leicester.
The survey is the latest from UNICEF UK’s Early Moments Matter campaign, which is calling on the UK Government to step up support for children under five and their families, and improve early childhood services across the country by committing to a national Baby and Toddler Guarantee. While this is a minimum that is needed, given the current circumstances, what we really need is a much bigger systemic change to one that values its families over its profits; a socialist society that doesn’t hoard wealth amongst its richest 1%. We need to end the school funding crisis, especially so for schools with SEND provision. We need a massive investment into mental health services to treat mental illness, as well as to help address its causes. We need rent control to bring down rents and a mass council building programme, and retrofit insulation and other green technology into existing housing to ensure that families have a safe place to live. No family can thrive under capitalism. Join us in the fight for a socialist society, where workers will have democratic control that can provide what families and young people need.