I find the suggestion that “most of us living in the UK” have more than enough food rather glib. Almost 1 in 3 children in the UK now live in poverty (most of them in households with at least 1 adult in work) and well over 1 million households have used food banks in the last year. Are these people not part of “us”? I rather think that Eglantyne Jebb would think they are.
I find much to admire in the life and work of Eglantyne Jebb, and much I would wish to emulate. She was a formidable woman by all accounts – unafraid to stand up to those in authority, and willing to go to the heart of the establishment to get what she knew people needed. She spoke up for, and worked for, the poorest and most forgotten children, and knew that ‘helping’ wasn’t enough – they needed (and still need) a legal basis to guarantee the essentials they need. Otherwise they are too easily forgotten again.
All of us who continue to “strive to sweep away this iniquitous child suffering” are in some sense the spiritual and political heirs of Eglantyne Jebb. And what a great legacy she has left us to build on. But there is much still to do.
I take issue with the author’s assertion that “Over the last 20 years in our own country it feels that such ‘rights’ have become moulded into a firmly set stone.” This is so far from the reality I currently experience in my own ministry that I had to check the book’s date of publication – but yes, apparently in 2017 some people do feel that children’s rights are stronger than ever. I wonder if we are living in the same universe, let alone the same country?!
Education, healthcare, and basic standards of living are all under threat. More children than ever are being forced into poverty. And the essential ‘safety net’ of services such as Children’s Centres, CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) and domestic violence refuges are facing rapid and severe cuts, just at the moment they are needed most. Life for children in the UK seems more precarious now than it has been in a long time.
So where, I wonder, is the Eglantyne Jebb of this generation? Or better, a whole workforce of Eglantyne Jebbs, ready to pick up the pieces at the same time as taking on the powers that be? And the answer is – they are here, in our local communities, our schools, our foodbanks, our children’s centres, our political meetings and protests.
Pray for those God is calling to stand up for the rights of our children in this age. And let that prayer include the words “here I am, Lord, send me”.
This year for Advent Book Club we are reading “Unearthly Beauty” by Magdalen Smith. Join in on Facebook or Twitter using #AdventBookClub.