At a time of pandemic induced recession and nationwide child poverty, Boris Johnson has agreed a £16.5bn rise in defence spending. Sending a clear message of prioritisation to the British public, it’s the military before hungry children.
The increase of the defence budget will mostly be spent on a new Space Command, designed to protect orbiting satellites, and towards the long-delayed National Cyber Force.
The decision comes just weeks after parliament resisted Marcus Rashford’s plea to extend free school meals. The timing of Johnson’s decision has been greatly criticised as in the UK there are currently 14 million people living in poverty.
Combined with the financial stress of the pandemic, food banks are now battling a 122% increase in services. There is a huge level of irony arguing between the latest increase in a defence budget for one of the most powerful countries in the world and the increasing levels of food poverty happening at the same time.
In a statement in October, the Prime Minister highlighted the need to spend money on child poverty but has offered no details about when this will happen or how long it will last for. He said: “We don’t want to see children going hungry this winter, this Christmas, certainly not as a result of any inattention by this Government” and added, “We will do everything in our power to make sure that no kid, no child goes hungry this winter during the holidays, that’s obviously something we care about very much”.
The government allocated £63m to local councils, but not solely for food poverty, this also had to cover hardships caused by the pandemic including the purchase of PPE. The government anticipated the money would run out within twelve weeks and yet still denied a cause to extend the scheme into the new year.
Instead, the focus was piled onto a state-of-the-art defence system. The money it wastes during the five years could fund free school meals over multiple holidays. Increasing the defence budget isn’t the problem, the added £16bn will be incredibly beneficial to the UK and its international stance, with many saying this move will ‘extend British influence’.
It is the poor timing of the decision which has stung the British public.
Whether it is the intention of the government or not, the decision has defined the government as ignorant to the current economic struggles ahead. In his recent Spending Review, the Chancellor said the current “economic emergency has only just begun”. While Rishi Sunak has stated that unemployment is set to reach 2.1million as we draw into 2021, the government has also decided to freeze public sector pay in a bid to recover from the financial stress of the pandemic.
Criticism also lies in the failure to extend the £20-a-week upliftment to universal credit payments, money which would again help lift the pressure off families struggling to put food on the table. The top-up payments would cost an estimated £9bn overall, yet the government said it was currently unaffordable.
Campaigners have reacted to the decision with disbelief, including Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau. She said: “If the government can find significant extra funds for defence then surely they can find money for children in crisis. It’s appalling that hard-pressed families have to rely on food banks to get by, and that the services that might stop them spiralling into further crisis are being cut year-on-year with local authorities facing bankruptcy.” She also stated that “We need the government to take seriously its responsibility to the next generation and have a proper strategy for investing in children.”
As expected, there was of course party politics involved in the decision-making process, Johnson’s choice allegedly came as a way to win over criticising Tory MP’s.
But the real question lies within the homes of the public. When will Johnson make a decision that is going to benefit the lives of normal people struggling to make ends meet?
Cover image via US Government department: Public Health Image Library. Licence here.