It's a Big Decision in a Town Called Malice.

I've spent most of my life in Stoke-on-Trent. I grew up here. I live here. You could say it's the city that made me. It was once a thriving industrial area and is, of course, also known as The Potteries, synonymous as it is with the ceramics industry. Names like Wedgwood and Doulton, as well as many others, once gave our city something of a claim to fame.
In recent years, however, with the decline in the coal, steel, and pottery industries within our area, Stoke-on-Trent has become a deprived city, with high rates of unemployment, illness and poverty. My mother, who has also lived here all her life, witnessed the city change. She almost can't believe the state of her home towns (Burslem, Tunstall, Hanley, Stoke, Fenton and Longton, which make up the city of Stoke-on-Trent), particularly her own birth-place of Burslem, known as the Mother Town, whose once magnificent buildings and architecture have fallen into disrepair. She also laments the loss of the social and cultural inheritance of the city. People just don't seem to have the same sense of community, and there was once things you could do, with the city boasting a number of wonderful art-deco cinemas and grand theatres, most of which now have either closed or been demolished. What has replaced them seems to be pubs, nightclubs and numerous kebab shops, prompting someone in our local paper, "The Sentinel", to describe Burslem and Tunstall as "Kebab Sentral" (the use of the "S", instead of "C", lampooning the decision to call a new shopping centre in Hanley, "City Sentral").
And now, it seems, we have reached new lows. On our local BBC radio station the other morning, it emerged that, according to a children's charity, two in every class of children were going to school hungry. In my reckoning, that amounts to around one in fifteen kids not being fed properly. This was met with an incredulous response from the presenter, who was shocked and disturbed to learn such statistics, stating that he just couldn't believe that in one of the supposedly richest nations in the world children were going hungry. Indeed, it all sounds a bit like something out of a Dickens novel, but a member of the charity came on the radio and assured us that this was indeed happening. People on the streets of Stoke were interviewed about this, and some attested to having to make very difficult choices, with some mothers saying that they themselves went without meals so their children could be fed. One, who was pregnant with one child, but also had another, said that her maternity nurse had told her off for not eating properly in order that her already born child would not go hungry.
Of course, this was met with a hugely unsympathetic response, with many phoning in to the radio station to say that such people just didn't have their priorities right, that they obviously spent too much money on large, flat-screen TVs, mobile phones, computers, cars and going out and getting drunk while letting their children starve. But, some did phone in, such as social and charity workers, to say that this was not the case, and that many people were facing such decisions through no fault of their own, and that it was easy to sit back in judgement when we are comfortable ourselves. Indeed, they tried to remind people that such things are particularly affecting 16-25 year olds, some of whom get as little as around £54 per week in benefits to live on. There is also, of course, now around 1.1 million young unemployed.
Only in my last post on this blog, I wrote of what I see as the huge unfairness and inequality in our country in this age of austerity. Now it seems that in places like Stoke-on-Trent people can't even afford to feed their children properly. This, to me, is a cause for both anger and sadness, and my mum remarked that even though she had known times of poverty she had never known anything like this, and she even lived through the Second World War. Our once great city, I feel, is on the brink of true destitution. Something needs to be done. But it seems for some that the most that can be done is to choose between feeding yourself while pregnant, or feeding your other children first. After all, it's a big decision in a town called malice.        


bazza said…
David, this is heart-breakingly sad to read but I know that you are not exaggerating. Many towns and cities in the western world are becoming urban dust-bowls.
If we had politicians who genuinely cared about their electorate more than themselves something could be done because, although times are tough, the collected wealth available in this country is enough to alleviate real suffering.
There just needs to be the political will. Not much chance then.
Click here for Bazza’s Blog ‘To Discover Ice’
klahanie said…
Dear David,
I could go on a profanity-laden rant in my echoing your article.
However, in your own emotive and eloquent way, you have stated the disgraceful plight that is impacting so many in Stoke and like bazza alludes to, many a once proud town and city has become an "urban dust-bowl".
And the latest potentially "lost generation" of youth is encountering poverty that does truly seem like something out of a Dickens novel. I know, because of this economy and my son only receiving a pittance in benefits, I have found the ripple effect of this to be impacting my life. I go without decent food in order to make sure he is well fed.
With kind wishes and hope, Gary
David said…
Dear bazza,
Unfortunately what you say appears to be true. In Stoke the council have recently announced their "mandate for change", which is a response to the deprivation in the city. But, the council have also faced massive budget cuts from central government, so just how much they can do is questionable. As my post attests, Stoke-on-Trent has been hit hard by all this, and as you say, it is terribly sad.
Thanks bazza.
Very Best Wishes,
David said…
Dear Gary,
I know you have personal experience of just how difficult things are for the younger generation in this country. I would hope that things get better soon, for you, your son, and others so adversely affected.
Very Best Wishes, your way,
Dixie said…
Dear David,

Sorry to respond so late; I had to go away and contemplate what I might say.
Over here when school needs to be dismissed early, due to some emergency, they pack lunches for some kids to take home with them. It might be the only meal they have for the day.
Your post made me want to cry and yet I always feel the urge to remain hopeful. I don't know how to explain it.
I understand when it 'hits' home. For the first time in my life, I am glad I don't have children.
I send good wishes for you and your friends, family, and neighbors.
In peace,
David said…
Dear Dixie,
Thank you for your comment and concern. Things are getting pretty bad, I think, when some people can't afford to feed their children properly, but, as you say, one has to remain hopeful that things will improve.
Very Best Wishes, your way,

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