Recent figures published by End Child Poverty have highlighted the problem of rising inequality in our community.
Leeds Central is the 7th worst constituency in the country for child poverty, with 11,520 of our children estimated to be living below the poverty line. Greater demand for foodbanks in recent years is just one consequence of what has been happening, as some people struggle to pay the bills and feed their families.
Faced with this, the question for all of us is what can we do to change things and ensure that every child has a decent start in life? A fairer society would be a good place to begin and a good education is fundamental to that.
On which subject, one of the pleasures of my job is getting the opportunity to visit local primary schools. On my most recent visit, the year 6 class had loads of questions about all the aspects of an MP’s life but we also reflected on Remembrance Sunday because it was coming up and they had recently been studying the First World War.
I told them for me, it is the time of the year when I remember my great uncle Oliver and my uncle Michael who were killed in the First and Second World Wars. Oliver died at Gallipoli in 1915 and because his body was never found he is one of the 22,000 names inscribed on the Helles Memorial.
Michael was an RAF pilot who died three weeks after D-Day when his Mosquito crashed. This year I went to the Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey and put two crosses into the ground with their names on them. Then I stepped back and looked at all of the other names that had been written on all of the other crosses. Each one a son, a father, a sister or a brother, a wife or a husband; the serried rows of memories representing the grief of countless families who lost someone who was very special to them.
I talked with the children about how important it is that we do this every year; not only to remember those we loved, but also to reflect on their sacrifice on behalf of future generations. Sacrifice which our Armed Forces continue to make to this day as we ask them, as a nation, to serve in difficult situations and dangerous places.
It is particularly important that each succeeding generation understands what Remembrance Sunday is all about and why it matters. The children at the school certainly understood that and because of this they will be better equipped to play their part in taking decisions about the future of world as they grow older.
I often rather impishly say “Have your teachers told that you will be running the world when people like me are long gone?” and I get a few funny looks from the bright, keen faces in front of me. But it is true, and the thing that fills me with more encouragement than anything as I take leave of any school I visit, is that I depart in the full and certain knowledge that the future of our community, and of our world, will be in good hands.
Finally, may I take this opportunity to wish you and all those you love a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.