I listened to a radio feature yesterday about child poverty, which successive governments have promised to abolish by 2020. Apparently, there are 4 million children living in poverty in the UK today. The problem is that they keep moving the goalposts. According to the last Labor government, child poverty is relative. To escape child poverty today, a child should have at least one family holiday a year - though not necessarily abroad; the ability to go swimming at least once a month; a hobby or leisure activity; friends round for tea or a snack once a fortnight; enough bedrooms for every child over 10 of different sex to have his or her bedroom; sports equipment or a bicycle; birthday parties and Christmas parties; play-group of alternative for all children of pre-school age; a school trips at least once a term.
These were 2003 Guidelines. The radio presenter updated them. Children should be able to go on such as foreign exchange trips to help them learn a foreign language and field trips for geography or history lessons. It goes without saying that they should have a color TV and so as not to feel excluded, a games console and access to the popular games. School uniform should be available where worn - the child should have access to a new uniform every year and not have to rely on hand-me-downs or home-made substitutes.
It is only now that I realise how poor I was as a child. During my entire childhood we had only two family holidays: both in a caravan by the seaside about 30 miles away. I went swimming about five times before I was 11 - this was provided freely by my school. The pool was unheated and I never even got a 10 yard swimming certificate. I remember once having a friend round to share my bread and jam for tea and once having it reciprocated. I had friends, but food was scarce in the 40s and 50s and nobody had enough to share. Besides for a lot of that time it was rationed. I shared a bed, not just a bedroom, with my younger brother until I left home for University. I finally got a bike when I was 12 - it was a rusty sit-up-and-beg machine that I sanded down and repainted. It cost £4 and when I grew out of it I never had anything better - just rusty machines that others had thrown away and my father salvaged. The same with sports equipment. Even my gym shoes were secondhand.
I did have a hobby. I collected train numbers. It cost nothing. Later I graduated to arranging cities in size of population - you could find the the numbers from the 1951 Census in an old AA book. When I finally got 6 pence a week pocket money, I used to go to football matches. I was pleased to find that libraries were free. They still are. Birthday and Christmas Parties were family affairs - we never had friends over for these. There were no pre-school groups in my day, but my parents taught me to read before I was 3 and I was doing cursive writing at home before I was 5. I went on my first and only school trip when I was 15. I soon learned that I was unable to take part in any school activity that cost money.
At home we never had a bathroom until I was 13. Before that it was a sink bath in the kitchen with hot water boiled in saucepans on the cooker. The WC was outside requiring a short, cold walk in the winter. The house was heated by a coal fire in one room. Our first black and white TV appeared when I was 13; it was so small that we couldn't all watch at the same time. We actually preferred to listen to the AM radio, even though it had to keep being adjusted as it lost the station. Games Consoles? We played Hangman or Noughts and Crosses with pencil and paper. Our clothes were home-made and hand-me-downs. My parents worked day and night at two jobs. There were no luxuries.
It's just that I never really knew I was poor. I was very happy.