When I was very little I moved from England to Scotland.
Where I ended up living was one of the country's most notorious Housing Schemes.
My family were very obviously English. When it came time for me to start school it was recommended for my own safety that I delay the start in my education and try and cultivate a Scottish accent before enrolling. Luckily my very tiny, very kickass Mam marched me down to that school gate and told me in no uncertain terms my accent was just fine. My dad simply gave me the advice "If somebody hits you because of the way you talk, hit them back harder".
I could see their point. School was shaping up to be no picnic. But then neither was the Housing Scheme. The constant posting of dog sh*t through our letterbox and the barrage of requests for us to "f*ck off back to where we came from" was a bit wearing.
By a stroke of luck my dad's work gave him a car to get to the mines in. A new car. We had never seen anything like it. My baby brother and I just used to sit in it and pretend we were princesses (he being too young to have a say in the matter). As soon as the new car turned up everything changed. People backed off with the threats. Left us alone. Turns out they assumed the weird hours my dad kept, coupled with the new car, could only mean one thing: the English family were clearly drug dealers and not to be crossed. So yes, things definitely improved for us after that.
I had never been to a school before so I didn't know it was unusual for teachers to hand out toothbrushes and combs.I didn't know that it wasn't normal to have at least one child out of class at a time with pneumonia because of their horrible living conditions and not having a coat of their own. Or proper shoes.
I lived on this Housing Scheme during Thatcher's reign and at the height of the Mining and Teacher's Strikes.They would simply close the schools and send the kids home. We got quite good at finding our way home even at the age of four because it was so commonplace for us. Off we would march, tiny hand in hand practising the chants we had learned in the schoolyard "We hate Statcher. We hate Statcher". None of us really sure of who Statcher was, or what a Prime Minister did.
All the kids I went to school with learned to eat huge amounts at lunchtime. Incredible amounts given they were little more than toddlers. If there was any fat left over from the meat it was always portioned out at the end of dinner time. No one ever ran outside to play. Everyone stayed in their seat at the cafeteria until it was clear all the food was gone.
I may have had friends who ate meals outside of school. But I honestly don't remember seeing it. I was really aware that I ate breakfast and that there was always hot food when I came home from school. That I had my own toothbrush and hairbrush so I didn't need them from teacher. Our cupboards had things in them. We were okay.
This was during the time of terrible droughts and famine in Ethiopia. And let me tell you a secret. Despite having nothing. And I do mean nothing. Every single child would bring in bags of lentils to send to the starving babies in Ethiopia. We felt so sorry for those little African babies with the swollen tummies. Imagine having nothing.
Imagine being that poor.
I gave a talk at a school recently. I live hundreds of miles from that Housing Scheme now and this talk was in South London, but the look doesn't change. The look a child has when they are really, truly hungry. how thin they are. Massive black circles under their eyes. shoes that don't fit properly. The overwhelming sense of lethargy that surrounds them like smog. Until the bell goes for lunch. Then they come to life like little puppets who's strings someone has decided to pick up play with.
I asked their teachers how often they ate. I knew the answer. Once a day. I asked them if they still kept toothbrushes and combs in the stationary cupboards. If they still get a massive response to sending food parcels abroad from these children, despite them having nothing themselves.
They still do.
There will be much talk now about where this government will take us. People are unhappy. Disillusioned. Frightened about a future that may include a privatised NHS. Massive tuition fees. Mounting debt. No chance to own a home. I don't know how to fix that. It's too big for me.
What I do know is that if children who live below that poverty line can find a way to feed children in Africa with even less than they have? Then we can find a way to feed the children on our own doorsteps.
An extra box of cereal in our shopping trolley.A bottle of cordial. It makes a huge difference. There are so many food banks now that we all live near one. They are getting easier to find with directories like these.
Pop into your local school. Take a few packs of toothbrushes. Old coats your kids don't wear anymore. Shoes, PE Kit. I guarantee you the stuff charity shops turn down because they are too worn will be gratefully received and put to use that day.
Some changes really are instant. And if four year olds, with no voting power at all, living under the poverty line can still find a way to give lentils to starving babies? If they can feel powerful, purely because it never occurs to them that they don't have the power to change the world and help others?
None of us have any excuse. Irrespective of who our Prime Minister is.