I visited West Earlham Infant and Nursery School and was humbled to see what incredible systems have been put in place to nurture and empower the pupils, all driven by a strong and passionate leadership team.
Using innovative projects and partnerships the school is doing its best to tackle the childhood hunger, malnutrition and social deprivation that is disproportionately high in some parts of our city.
Headteacher Jade Hunter and I discussed the importance of breakfast funding and what a vital difference a good breakfast makes to learning and engagement. For example, the school has partnered with a charity, to make sure breakfast is available to all their pupils.
The school has also partnered with a local dental practice who have screened all the children and provided treatments to those in need, as well as registering every pupil as an NHS patient.
With a high percentage of pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), the team worked tirelessly to ensure consistency and quality of care, something which was evident on my visit.
But whilst this school, like many others, is doing a magnificent job of helping pupils, the reality is it will never be a substitute for universal free school meals, a functioning NHS dental service, a warm home and properly funded public services.
Some of you will be aware of the talks, visits, and roundtables I take part in as your local MP. Many of my visits are celebrations of life in our city – ranging from arts and sporting activities through to new science and pioneering social initiatives. However, a growing part of my job has been to see the work of those dealing with the increasing number of our neighbours who are struggling. Whether finances, homelessness or mental health, it’s become clear to me the social infrastructure of our society has frayed dramatically these past 15 years.
Even so, I was still shocked to read how children are now showing signs of malnutrition here and now, in the 21st century, in what is considered a relatively affluent City in the world’s sixth-largest economy. Indeed, the Norfolk and Waveney Integrated Care Board has recorded a malnutrition rate of 6.7% – the highest of any ICB in the country.
After 15 years of cuts to public services, deregulation and corporate outsourcing, endemic low public pay, pensions cuts, effective moratoriums on new social housing and anti-trade union legislation combined with reduced rights at work and the destruction of any semblance of a functioning social security system, it’s a perfect storm. Not just for malnutrition but for extremist populism.
Because when so-called mainstream political parties consistently fail to undo this mess, those alternatives we once thought were consigned to the history books of the last century become all the more palatable to millions of our fellow citizens once again.
The solution has always been there. Whether Roosevelt and his New Deal or the 1945 Labour Government and the building of the modern welfare state – tackling wealth and power inequality, democratising the economy, and investing in people, works. And it works because it’s based on building an economy that works for all of us – not just those at the top.