Aimee Allan: Walk a mile in 5-year-old Cara's shoes - can you live with it?

As new statistics show child poverty in Scotland has risen by 40,000 in one year to 260,000, children's rights campaigner Aimee Allan depicts the reality of poverty for families in Scotland

EVERY morning Cara wakes up, half swaddled in sheets which have not been washed in as long as she can remember. The first thing she sees is the cloudy frost produced from her breath as she exhales her morning yawn. The first noise Cara hears is the rumbling noise coming from deep within the pit of her stomach. 

Cara is the eldest, some would argue luckiest, of three children. She is five and ate a hot meal at school yesterday, a meal provided for free by the Scottish Government. 

Gas and electricity are expensive and mum doesn’t always have money to top up the meter. Cara hasn’t had a hot meal at home in over a week. Her mum is on a temporary benefit sanction because she missed her review meeting. Her little sister was sick just before the appointment and Cara’s mum had no credit to call and cancel, so instead, she cleaned her sister up and walked the three miles, arriving too late.

Cara’s mum has lived in Edinburgh for almost a year. She reminds herself every day that she did the right thing leaving an abusive relationship, that her children might be hungry but they are safe.

The children in Cara’s class are too young to understand why Cara is late every day. They think this makes her the naughty girl. Cara doesn’t get invited to parties anymore. The other parents have stopped sending invites as her mum never responds. 

The children in Primary 1 haven’t developed a sense of empathy or understanding enough yet to prevent them from asking her why she smells. No one likes to sit beside Cara because of this. Even Cara doesn’t want to sit beside Cara. 
 
Every night Cara’s mum goes to bed with an empty feeling in the pit of her stomach. It could be caused by the fact she skips meals in order to give her children more, or it could be the anxiety she feels that her phone battery has died and she has no alarm for the morning.

If she drops Cara off at school late again the welfare officer will be back around and she might incur another benefits sanction. What’s worse is knowing the other children have noticed and she hears Cara crying about it in bed.

Cara’s mum loves her children, like all mothers she wants the best for them and wants to make them proud. The twins are almost one and not eligible for the free child places at nursery yet. Cara’s mum has lived in Edinburgh for almost a year. She reminds herself every day that she did the right thing leaving an abusive relationship, that her children might be hungry but they are safe. Well, until he finds them ... again. 

Read more – IFS report: Almost 1 in 3 children to be in poverty by 2022 due to UK austerity push

They have no support network so can’t rely on others for childcare and there is no money to top up the meter to warm the babies’ bottles, let alone pay for childcare so she can work. If only she hadn’t been sanctioned this week she could have heated the house a little before bed.

The babies have bronchiolitis and are struggling to recover. She counts her blessings that Scottish water is not contaminated and that the babies are still on formula which does not need to be refrigerated. At least Cara will get a hot meal Monday to Thursday at school. 

She knows Cara would love a play time snack like her friends but she never asks anymore. Every day Cara’s mum watches her daughter line up for class. She watches as the children keep their distance. She knows it’s her fault. She couldn’t afford the present for little Alice’s party so pretended they had lost the invite. 

She buys soap but this week they have not had hot water so the stench of urine is not going away. She dies a little inside as she watches her daughter pull at her jumper sleeves in the hope they will magically grow and fit again. 

Cara still has accidents when she has nightmares about daddy. The parents at the school whisper when they see her, she knows what they are saying. Her gaunt appearance and dirty clothes had started rumours that she must have drug problems. No one has asked her if she is ok - she doesn’t even know the answer to that. All she knows is she has to keep going.

The children in Primary 1 haven’t developed a sense of empathy or understanding enough yet to prevent them from asking her why she smells. No one likes to sit beside Cara because of this. Even Cara doesn’t want to sit beside Cara. 

Cara is like thousands of children in Scotland. One in four of our children are growing up in poverty, this figure is showing no signs of slowing. It is expected that an additional 50,000 children will be living in poverty by 2020.

Our human rights are no longer a sure thing. Our children’s rights are no longer a given. The basic rights to clean water, a meal, safe family homes and the right to play are a thing of the past. In a society that is broken, how can we possibly recover? 

The closure of a further 23 jobcentres in Scotland, benefits being used as a penalty instead of a safety net and the growing need for food banks are all ensuring our children are growing up in an age of deprivation and exponential hardship. 

This is something that needs to be tackled now before we create a generation facing depression, hopelessness and fear. Are these austerity measures working or are they attacking the most vulnerable in society? 

In Westminster we see debates on how to cut back on benefits, how to save money on the NHS and how to limit the expense on education. Instead, our money is being spent on the lavish refurbishments of palaces (Westminster and Buckingham), our money is spent on 'expenses' for second homes for politicians who are defrauding the system and going to maintain nuclear weapons which will never be used. 

Her gaunt appearance and dirty clothes had started rumours that she must have drug problems. No one has asked her if she is ok - she doesn’t even know the answer to that. All she knows is she has to keep going.

This is no longer an argument just based on national pride, on heritage and natural resources. It’s a fight for our children’s basic human rights, for a better future. While we are still part of the EU we need to respect the conventions, namely the UNCRC. 

Enshrined in this is an understanding that adults should do what is best for children (article 3). When our children’s right to a voice (article 12) is stifled we must speak on their behalf. When our children are being badly treated (article 19) we must stand up on their behalf. When our children’s standard of living is compromised (article 27) we must push back on their behalf. 

Our voice is a minority in the UK, as has been most noticeably highlighted in the Brexit vote. In order to scaffold a brighter future for tomorrow’s generations we must take our destiny in our own hands and create a Scotland we can all be proud of.

Picture courtesy of The home of Fixers on Flickr

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