A recent study has found that the scourge of child mortality is on the rise in Britain, and that poverty is to blame.
According to the data, the number of infant deaths increased significantly between April 2019 and March 2022. Deaths by trauma – which includes car accidents, knife injuries, drowning, and domestic accidents – are up by a third. And SUDIC (sudden death in infancy or childhood) deaths are up by an eighth.
Of the children who died from SUDIC, it was found that four times as many came from the most deprived fifth of the population compared with the least deprived fifth.
Researchers point to malnutrition and unheated homes as leading factors in this rise. These problems have left children in worse health, unable to fight off infections.
Furthermore, these figures are projected to only get worse. More and more families are being thrown below the poverty line by inflation, and by the bosses’ attacks on pay and conditions. Higher levels of infection are therefore expected for this winter period.
And economists have forecast that the energy crisis will last well into next winter. The choice between heating and eating is facing thousands of families – a choice that isn’t likely to become easier any time soon.
On top of this, it is estimated that over 450,000 houses in England face problems of mould and condensation. The tragic death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak last year was a direct result of damp, mouldy living conditions and a lack of proper ventilation.
And despite the fact that four million children in the UK face food insecurity, the Tories callously blocked a bill last month calling for the provision of free school meals to all primary school students.
This means that some children are being sent to school hungry, often without adequate winter clothing, only to be denied what may be their only nutritious meal of the day.
As one dinner lady said in an interview last summer: “When the cost-of-living crisis really started kicking off, I just noticed I was spending as much time taking food away from children as I do serving it.”
This is the Dickensian reality of life in modern day Britain – the best that capitalism has to offer.
The study has also revealed that homelessness may have been a contributing factor in the deaths of at least 34 children over this same three-year period.
As of October 2021, 95,450 households were enduring life in so-called ‘temporary accommodation’. Almost two-thirds of these households include children.
Parents and children are often forced to cohabit a single room, while dozens make use of a single kitchen. Without cots or suitable beds, meanwhile, parents staying in temporary accommodation must share beds with their children. This can pose additional serious risks under some circumstances.
Cramped spaces, broken heating facilities, and poor ventilation, in turn, can lead to problems like toxic mould, which in turn can lead to respiratory problems and other health conditions.
These are the dire conditions facing thousands of families, who are forced to accept dangerous forms of accommodation over homelessness.
In an advanced capitalist country like Britain, there is a widening chasm between the rich and the poor. And for those in poverty, the risk of ill-health and even death is on the rise.
Is it any surprise that this is the case after more than a decade of austerity and decline?
The Tories’ onslaught of cuts and privatisation has run local governments and social services into the ground. The vital safety net that would ordinarily prevent people from ‘falling between the cracks’ has been ripped wide open.
Of course, these cuts won’t have the slightest impact on Tory politicians and their chums in big business. After all, the multi-millionaire prime minister and his ilk can afford private health care, second homes, and expensive education for their children.
Austerity is not the result of evil, out-of-touch politicians, however, as some argue. Rather, it is rooted in the crisis of capitalism itself. The Tories are forced to make cuts in order to balance the books and keep ailing British capitalism alive.
As long as capitalism remains, it will be big business that dictates to governments, not the other way round. The fact is that the ruling class can no longer afford the concessions of the past, which were won by the working class in struggle. Austerity is the logic of capitalism in crisis.
Poverty amidst plenty
That such backward conditions are found throughout a so-called ‘advanced’ country seems like a contradiction.
And yet this is precisely the madness of capitalism: to have hungry children, alongside the capacity to feed everyone and more; to have homelessness existing side-by-side with hundreds of thousands of unoccupied homes; to have rife unemployment on the one hand, and overwork on the other.
The crisis we are faced with today is summed up perfectly as ‘poverty amidst plenty’.
None of this is inevitable. As one A&E doctor who worked on the study correctly pointed out, the rise in child mortality “is a health issue caused by social factors that can be prevented and stopped”.
As the study itself makes clear, over a fifth of all child deaths might have been avoided if children living in the most deprived areas faced the same mortality risk as those living in the least deprived. This translates to roughly 700 preventable deaths each year.
The wealth exists in society to guarantee everyone a decent standard of living, and to wipe out poverty altogether. But this money sits idly in the bank accounts of the monopolies and the super-rich.
These fortunes must be expropriated and put to use as part of a rationally-planned economy, geared towards need instead of profit.
Similarly, all of the empty homes and buildings that sit empty as a result of speculation should be used to house those in unsuitable accommodation. This could be achieved overnight, if it weren’t for the cold logic of private property.
Lenin painted the bleak reality of capitalism as “horror without end”. This horror is found in the daily suffering that millions face in Britain. But this horror can and will come to an end – when we consign this rotten system to the dustbin of history.