Tony Blair is a divisive figure. The ideology that drove his leadership of the Labour party is now criticised as much by members of the party as it was by the Conservatives when they faced him in opposition. Yet despite this, and the criticism of New Labour’s foreign policy that inevitably come up whenever his name is mentioned, the former Prime Minister did occasionally make some good points.
At no time was this truer, in my opinion, than in a 1999 speech during which Mr Blair discussed the stark differences in the life chances of children born in Britain and beyond. This was a speech, as I’m sure any student of modern politics will know, in which the Prime Minister promised to ‘end child poverty within a generation’ (fun fact – he actually never said this). Yet, beyond this headline grabbing soundbite, the content of this speech was, and remains, extremely powerful. Mr Blair said…
“There is no more powerful symbol of our politics than the experience of being on a maternity ward.
Seeing two babies side by side. Delivered by the same doctors and midwives. Yet two totally different lives ahead of them.
One returns with his mother to a bed and breakfast that is cold, damp, cramped. A mother who has no job, no family to support her, sadder still – no-one to share the joy and triumph of the new baby…a father nowhere to be seen. That mother loves her child like any other mother. But her life and her baby’s life is a long, hard struggle. For this child, individual potential hangs by a thread.
The second child returns to a prosperous home, grandparents desperate to share the caring, and a father with a decent income and an even larger sense of pride. They’re already thinking about schools, friends she can make, new toys they can buy. Expectations are sky high, opportunities truly limitless.”
Of course this point – that a child’s potential for success is determined from the moment they are born (if not before) – was not a new idea in 1999 and certainly hasn’t become any less salient since Mr Blair left office. It is for this reason that volunteering is such an important undertaking.
As policy-makers and politicians continue their research and struggle to come up with methods to of equalising life children’s life chances, it is crucial that those who can do all they can to address these imbalances in the meantime.
It’s not for me to tell you which organisation you should volunteer for and it certainly wouldn’t be right for me to suggest that you should do so in an effort to increase social mobility (I can see how that might come across). I am writing this to make clear how just how unfair the system can by and how important it is that when we have the time, resources and wherewithal (however limited) to make an effort to give something back somewhere along the line.
Regardless of whether that’s getting involved a charity at home or an NGO abroad, the point is that volunteering can be hugely impactful.
And if you need some more motivation, imagine if you were the other child. The one that shares your birthday. The one that quite possibly shared the same delivery team as you. The one that didn’t have access to the same resources (many of which will likely have involved some element of volunteering) to get to where you are now.
James Thomas Bonner
Follow James – @JamesTBonner