• 15 Sep - 21 Sep, 2018
  • Shahed Sadullah
  • London Eye

Pakistan’s new prime minister Imran Khan has rightly focused on the grave problem of millions of malnourished children with stunted growth that is largely due to the lack of healthy food during formative years. However, in spite of the vast difference in per capita income between the UK and Pakistan – the UK’s per capita income stands at USD 39,753, while Pakistan’s is USD 1641 – the problem of malnourishment among children of growing age is also acutely felt in the UK, due to ever increasing gap between the rich and the poor.

A recent study reveals that almost four million British children live in households that cannot afford enough fruit, vegetable, fish and meat to meet official nutritional guidelines. These low income families are usually single parent families and the high divorce rate adds to the escalating problem. Single parent families, where the mother is the only earning member, are particularly hard hit because of the gap in wages between male and female workers.

In order to meet British official nutritional guidelines, it is estimated that a family consisting of two adults and two children aged between 10 and 15 would need to spend £103.17 on food per week. The approximate cost per adult would be £41.93 although the cost of food for two adults is not that amount multiplied by two but rather less at £68.74 per week. This is largely due to the portions according to which food is sold by most supermarket chains, designed at huge amounts of wastage so that to increase the expenditure. Thus, a family of two adults and three children aged two, five and eight would need to spend £111.35 on food. That means over £450 per month and given the cost of housing, particularly in the south-east of the country, and consequently the large amounts of mortgage repayments most people are burdened with, it would be a tall task. In fact, the study estimates that as much as 47 per cent of all UK households with children cannot afford to provide their children with healthy food and when it comes to single parent families, the figure rises to 60 per cent. Where the main earner is unemployed, only 20 per cent can spend the recommended amount on food. It may be added here that between 2002 and 2016, income in poor households fell by 7.1 per cent while food prices during that period rose by 7.7 per cent so the problem is getting more acute as time goes by. And Brexit is not going to help.

Brexit: another referendum?

As the dreaded deadline of 30th March 2019, the day on which the UK exits the European Union, draws closer and the awful prospect of a British exit without any deal with the EU seems to be staring the country in the face, there is a growing feeling that the only way out of the conundrum into which the country has landed itself may only be another referendum. This would create a lot of unrest generated by the far right but one cannot see any other way out of the mess if the deal – or a no-deal situation – is rejected by Parliament. How is that situation then going to be resolved?

The problem is that just as the Tories are playing politics with the Brexit question, so too are Labour. In the Labour annual conference in Liverpool later this month, the constituency parties are going to move a resolution trying to make the leadership accept a policy whereby in the event of a deal not meeting the standards set by Labour (which, incidentally, can never be met), Labour would ask for a general election or a referendum. The problem here is that general elections are messy things and projected results do not always come out as projected – a statement that Tory leader and Prime Minister Theresa May would have no hesitation in signing with her blood! Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s left wing economic policies are not liked by many and a recent argument about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party can be guaranteed to make a big splash across the political spectrum come election time. So, in spite of the fact that Labour is currently four points ahead of the Tories in the polls, the chances of a general election returning a Tory government on issues other than Brexit cannot be ruled out. That, however, would be interpreted as a public approval for a hard Brexit which would take the country back decades.

Pakistan’s democracy has been dysfunctional for a variety of reasons but one of them is that any democratic order is premised on the basis of the fact that all parties will put national interest above party interests. When that premise is shot, the entire edifice collapses. That is presently true of the US, of India, and throughout the Brexit episode, it has been true of the UK. Of course, unlike Pakistan both in the UK and US there are other institutions like the judiciary, rule of law, supremacy of civilian rule, freedom of expression etc that provide the glue to hold things together. But how many of these ‘other institutions’ will hold as push comes to shove remains to be seen. The process of finding out may not be much fun. •