Sometimes people ask me whether there is a link between poverty and crime. When they do, my first thoughts turn to my own childhood. I grew up in a very deprived part of an East Midlands industrial town. We lived in a privately rented terraced house without any of the things that people now take for granted.
My children and grandchildren find it impossible to imagine what it was like having no inside toilet, no bathroom, no central heating, no hot running water, no fridge, no telephone, no mobile phone, no television, no computer… The list of things we didn’t have gets very long. For them, this sounds like the Victorian age not the twentieth century.
Although we had what we called ‘poor days’, when we could only eat what we already had in the cupboard and a special treat was a sugar sandwich, I rarely felt really hungry.
Even on ‘poor days’ we had a third of a bottle of milk and a cooked dinner every day at school – and a bottle of cod liver oil and concentrated orange juice every week. The dinners were subsidised, the rest were free. We were poor but not desperate.
But now I meet increasing numbers of people who might have many of those things I never had as a child but are genuinely finding it hard to feed their families. For too many now, the options seem to be: you can pay the rent or feed the children, but not both. It is hardly surprising that food banks have sprung up in all areas of deprivation and that visits to them are increasing.
But a third possibility is opening up – and one we should be very concerned about. The police apprehended a young person – a child – carrying a package. It soon became clear that he had been taking packages to various addresses for a gang member on a regular basis.
His mother – a single parent – knew what he was doing but asked no questions – because he had been bringing in £200 a month. And that was making all the difference to her income. She could pay the rent and feed the children. It is not clear whether the boy knew what was in the packages or not.
This is one link between real poverty, child exploitation, drugs and crime and another reason why the growing gap between the haves and the have nots needs closing.