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Camila Batmanghelidjh

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The Aspirational Blame Game

Posted: 29/11/2013 18:34

Young people surviving in the ghettoes of Britain are at the receiving end of humiliating insults from politicians. The Prime Minister, with the best of intentions, advocates for people of any community to rise to the top - in the media, judiciary, armed services and politics. He describes progress as slow, and recommends that we go "further and faster". He suggests that aspirations "need to be raised". Simultaneously, the Mayor of London says that 16% "of our species" has an IQ below 85, and 2% of the population have an IQ above 130. He goes on to conclude that inequality is essential "for the spirit of envy and a valuable spur to economic activity... The income gap between the top cornflakes and the bottom cornflakes is getting wider than ever". But between the lines, he is suggesting that those with higher IQs - and sometimes higher greed - will invariably achieve greater things, and that is just the way it is.

What our political thinkers don't realise is that these statements highlight more the flaws in their own thinking, than the failings in the people they describe.

One third of the children who come to Kids Company street-level centres asking for help have no bed to sleep on. Eighty four percent are homeless, escaping abuse. Some 85% of them rely on us for their main meal of the day. We hand out food vouchers, worth £10 each, to 1,000 children every week, otherwise their entire family budget for food would be no more than £40 a month - and that is if no crisis befalls them.

These kids do have aspirations, but they are for food, for a bed to sleep on, and for somewhere safe to live. Their wishes are relevant and intelligent, and are based on the circumstances that they are enduring. When their bellies are rumbling with hunger, they cannot think about which university degree they should be studying, or which apprenticeship they should apply for. How can you be excited about work experience when you can't afford the bus fare to get there?

The Prime Minister and the Mayor are not hungry. They don't have to survive assaults on the street; and as children they were not members of a community in which one in five young people were being shot at and/or stabbed, or one where 50% witnessed shootings and stabbings in the last year. From the safety of their offices they can aspire to the levels of excellence that are valued in their environment. When all your basic needs are being met, you can imagine yourself at a higher level of functioning and aspire to achieve it.

When your needs are not met, you congratulate yourself on staying alive. That doesn't make it any less worthwhile. It doesn't mean that you are any less intelligent. It just means that you are at the bottom of the survival pecking order.

The Prime Minister's parents were brilliant and caring, providing a neurobiological infrastructure that facilitated calm, and the motivation to learn whilst meeting all his basic needs. The Mayor benefited similarly.

The child who lies in bed at night terrified of horrific violations, whose mind becomes perturbed by the legacy of that abuse, and whose sense of the world is one of negotiating threat, has a very different experience of childhood. These children survive every day in need of human tenderness. They shouldn't be at the receiving end of derogatory insults from our leaders. They don't have the money to pay lobbyists and election strategists or for adverts to balance the debate. And because their voices aren't being heard it doesn't mean that they are no less deserving of dignity.

It is now widely recognised that achievement is just as much influenced by care environments as it is by IQ. The really intelligent politician would go looking for some genuine solutions to the misery that is condemning a section of our society to deprived ghettoes, where the primary aspiration is survival.

I am writing this article to give a voice to vulnerable kids. We have some 3,000 children and young people at Kids Company who don't have a winter coat. Please donate - if our children are warm, they might become aspirational in a way that the Prime Minister and the Mayor would approve.

 
 
 

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