Marcus Rashford the Manchester United and England striker has recently led a campaign against food poverty, forcing a U-turn of the Boris Johnson government on the provision of free meals for children. The intervention highlights that despite unprecedented growth in world GDP, poverty -where a family lacks the ability to buy sufficient food remains endemic even in the world’s 5th largest economy.
Marcus Rashford initiated a campaign which highlighted the prevalence of poverty amongst children in some parts of Bolton, and successfully campaigned to continue the provision of free meals over the summer to children from impoverished families.
He explained that in his formative years, his mother, despite being in gainful employment, she still had to rely upon food banks, neighbours and even his coach for help with the provision of food, as his mother struggled to provide adequate nutrition.
Initially, the government rejected Rashford’s pleas, however due to an outcry from the general public who felt that it should be a given fact that those who cannot afford food during term time would also struggle to provide adequate sustenance during holidays. The government eventually capitulated and accepted that it should continue to provide the free meal schemes out of term.
Rashford received praise from the public and his fellow footballers alike. However, this still highlights the fact that the world’s 5th richest economy, despite having an abundance of wealth and with the obvious ability to solve this issue continues to have families that are so impoverished that they struggle to provide adequate food for their children.
Even employees of the state, such as NHS staff and teachers especially in larger cities are in many cases unable to afford to feed themselves and their families as their wages and savings are depleted by the extortionate rent that they have to pay to reside in these cities. This scenario raises several important questions about the nature of capitalism and democratic governance. Why is the government unable to tackle what is for a well-developed economy a simple issue?
Why is it that after centuries of capitalism and the appropriation of wealth from around the world, citizens of the UK still suffer from poverty? Why is it that these issues are being tackled by charitable acts and not by the state who is actually empowered to solve such issues?
We may congratulate Rashford for addressing the issue, although it should in reality be the preserve of politicians and those tasked to oversee the welfare of the nation to raise such issues. His intervention fails to address the fundamental ideas which lay at the root of this and many others which plague Western and in fact all nations today.
The issue is ideological and stems from the dogmatic belief of capitalists that the free market is the best and most efficient method to distribute goods and services in a nation. In their view price alone should dictate who should receive or go without the goods or services that they may need. Those who have the means to pay for the goods and services are those who deserve them and those without the means, have no right to benefit from them.
Their fantasy dictates that the market will buy the magical intervention of Adam Smith’s theorised invisible hand move to make all necessities affordable to all.
Economic dogma rarely stands up to scrutiny, so where goods and services are subject to the price mechanism, to regulate their distribution, so is labour, which by virtue of the inescapable nature of this process, will always ensure that there is a section of society that will always remain unemployed or underemployed. Full employment contradicts the very nature of capitalist economies and without state intervention those unemployed or sub-optimally employed will be unable to fulfil their basic requirements.
As prices for the necessities of life increase year on year and strain the finances of many families: many families have already spent a significant portion of their wages even before the months’ pay cheque arrives. A significant amount of their income will be consumed by indirect taxes like VAT and fuel duties, which unfairly penalises low earners where the majority of their income is spent on essentials and little is saved.
It is an indictment of Western civilization that poverty still persists in nations which possess the means to solve it and it calls into question the assumption that capitalism is a solution to regulate the economic affairs of humanity.