1980s >> 1987 >> no-1000-december-1987

A tale of two cities

“The flight of the poor from the countryside into the cities shows every sign of continuing to the end of this century. But like so many previous waves of urban migrants, very few will find the streets paved with gold; often all that awaits them is hand-to-mouth existence in an overcrowded shanty or slum.” The writer is not talking of industrialising England of the 19th century but – in this case – Sri Lanka. The street children of Colombo cannot even aspire to such meagre shelter, where a recent survey showed that some 2,000 children and one-parent families live literally on the streets; their number grows daily. Some of these are so poor that they are forced to put their children into institutions as the only way to get them clothed and fed. Unemployment is high and heroin addiction a major problem among the young unemployed.

Nearer home migration has been in the opposite direction but results are very similar. The purpose of building Kirkby, seven miles from Liverpool and set in open spaces, was to attract people who’d lived in poor housing conditions in the city and in that the planners succeeded. However, today unemployment runs at 50-60 per cent for adults and a frightening 90 per cent of young people are on the dole. “Lack of [money] is one of the cruellest causes of social deprivation, which leads to marital stress, sometimes family break-up and increased isolation.”

The facts and quotations above are taken from the September 1987 issue of The World’s Children, magazine of the Save The Children Fund. Against this desolation and deprivation suffered by children throughout the world dedicated, often voluntary, Fund workers attempt alleviation, education and schemes of self-help. When also reading that the number of refugees world-wide is 13½ million, half of whom are children, it is easy to realise that even by the most effective use of income from their appeals to the consciences of governments and the “better off”, together with the most devoted hard work, the dent which can be made in the misery of these deprived millions will be minimal. Of course, every life saved or reclaimed to a less miserable existence even under capitalism is worthwhile. There is no question that those who work in the Save The Children Fund and other relief organisations are contributing more to the wellbeing of society than manufacturers of armaments or the administrators of capitalism. However no-one should be misled into thinking that they can solve the problems of the system which gives rise to this poverty, deprivation and misery.

Eva Goodman