British children on the breadline
Here’s the reality of today’s Britain: 2.2m children are living in households on the brink of extreme poverty, and four out of five teachers see children arriving at school hungry.
The figures emerge this week from The Guardian’s “Breadline Britain” project, an investigation into the human impact of the recession.
It has found that seven million working-age adults – most of them employed, including transport workers, nurses and even teachers – are one bill away from financial disaster, with incomes eroded by wage freezes, benefits cuts, rising utility bills and housing costs, and a 30% increase in food prices over the past five years.
Teachers are reportedly devastated by what is happening to their pupils, with almost 50% of those surveyed admitting that they bring food into school for hungry children, paid for out of their own pockets.
Come off it, Mr Swan
Wayne Swan is claiming that Australia has given Julian Assange “full consular assistance”. No one here has noticed. If the WikiLeaks founder had the benefit of half the consular representation and high-level lobbying accorded in Bali to convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby, he wouldn’t need to seek refuge at the embassy of Ecuador, one of Latin America’s poorest countries.
His mother, Christine Assange, is right to say he is the victim of a failure to ensure proper legal process, by Australia as well as by Sweden. Assange’s bid for asylum is risky because the US will exert massive pressure on Rafael Correa’s government to deny asylum, but what a lesson it will be to Australia if they have the courage to stand firm.
Official neglect of Assange is also a sharp contrast to Bob Carr’s eagerness to take up the case of International Criminal Court lawyer Melinda Taylor, captured in disgraceful circumstances in Tripoli. If he can intervene for her, why not for him?
What the British did for Iran
The new issue of the London Review of Books has an excellent review, by Pankaj Mishra, of “Patriot of Persia”, a new biography of Iran’s Mossadegh by Christopher Bellaigue. It’s a timely reminder, with all the sabre-rattling going on by Israel and its Western allies, of the ruthless exploitation of Iranian oil which drove the British, in collaboration with the CIA, to engineer the coup against the nationalist leader in 1953. In doing so, the review concludes, they provoked the rise of anti-Western feeling which produced the revolution of 1979. Prior to the rise of Mossadegh, Britain had taken a cool 84% of profits from Iranian oil. “Why weren’t they grateful?” is the review’s ironic headline.
As Alex records, our visit has its much brighter side. A rare treat yesterday was provided by another great expat friend, the delightful Mary Ellen Barton, in the form of a visit to the Chelsea Physic Garden, complete with lunch. She is the widow of Gordon Barton, the mercurial entrepreneur and transport wizard. The garden was founded in 1673 by the Society of Apothecaries and ever since has been England’s centre for propagation of and research into healing plants from all over the world. We found echoes of home in the Sir Joseph Banks garden and in the Aboriginal section of the Garden of World Medicine. Just off Chelsea Embankment in the heart of London, the place is full of bird and insect life, its close planting of flowers, vegetables and herbs mirroring some of the basic principles of permaculture. I found it every bit as interesting as the much larger and more famous Kew Gardens.