Tory politician and player of politics Jacob Rees-Mogg has accused global children’s charity UNICEF of “playing politics” by fulfilling its mission of helping to feed hungry children.
Rees-Mogg made the comments in the House of Commons, claiming UNICEF should be “ashamed” of providing £25,000 to Southwark community organisation School Food Matters, contending that a single grant is a stunt. They came after a long media hiatus for the MP, whose last notable foray into the discourse was accusing residents of the Grenfell Tower of lacking common sense. He also did some crisp shithousery in February 2020.
In reality, that grant is part of a larger, £700,000 package split across 30 U.K. organisations, with UNICEF saying that it is responding to a “domestic emergency” in the U.K. for the first time in its history. The Leader of the House of Commons’s outburst followed Labour MP Zarah Sultana addressing him when denouncing “gross inequality” in both the Commons and the U.K. at large, in the context of that funding announcement.
These comments are little more than trolling to some degree, and Rees-Mogg is likely still bristling after the UN labelled poverty in the country which he governs “systematic” and “tragic” in 2019. But Rees-Mogg’s point falls into line with the government’s overarching approach to child poverty and hunger, pandemic or no pandemic: abdicate state responsibility in favour of normalising charitable interventions and initiatives, while celebrating those interventions when it suits as fine expressions of “personal responsibility” and communal spirit.
This is why one of the smartest aspects of footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaigning is its apolitical face — asserting that there is a child hunger crisis that needs to be fixed, without asserting who caused it and who should be fixing it. Charities — including UNICEF — are required to be apolitical by law. Rashford will never be accused of “playing politics,” and indeed, Matt Hancock memorably called on Premier League footballers to “play their part.” While this gives Rashford’s campaigning a political ceiling, it also ensures that it works — while also a tantamount reminder to people that a footballer driving the response to institutional food poverty is, objectively, an absurd and abject state of affairs.
For charities like UNICEF and food bank networks like the Trussell Trust, which has repeatedly reported unprecedented need since February, the balance between support and normalisation is more precarious. COVID-19 has not just exacerbated food poverty; it has also further undermined mutual aid networks in spreading them so thin. Both are ultimately consequences of the austerity politics of the Lib Dem-Conservative coalition, entrenched by the latter party’s decade in government.
While Rashford, and the food charity FareShare on whose behalf he works, are personally and professionally dealing with the results of those same policies, where Rashford’s primary job is playing football, food banks and UNICEF’s entire mission is to feed people. For Jacob Rees-Mogg, and the Conservative Party at large, to praise Marcus Rashford’s fundraising and normalise food banks while decrying UNICEF’s, might seem counterintuitive, but it is actually a keystone of their thinking: that the volte face, the generous bonus, and the community spirit are the terms of aid. State baselines and institutional safety nets are not.