In December last year a post on the BBC website asked:
'With the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens quickly approaching, and an entire series of events planned, what is the lasting legacy of his work and his causes?'
Child neglect as a result of emotional & educational impoverishment at the poorest end of British society remain a fact of life. Today, we read that, due to an overworked, underfunded social services, the number of children referred into care has reached a record high.
Why is this? And why are these children being referred in the first place? Neglected children grow into dysfunctional adults. Sooner or later this will affect all of us. So why aren't the 'failing' parents being helped more? We all know that a child's best place is beside its mother. And that a child who is loved, however imperfectly, is all the better for it. Why then is there no money to be found for this shadowy side of society? And why, may one ask, do we seem to have gone back 200 years to the time of Dickens?
When the current Prime Minister first came into power we heard about his love for his family, his late son, his concern for the smallest, the most vulnerable in Britain. Where is that concern now but forgotten in his lip-tightening climb up his personal privileged ladder of fame.
There are children in Britain today who live in the most appalling conditions. Everyone has heard about Baby P. and his soft, curly-haired gaze, now long removed from this world. Everyone knew, once it was too late. And, while we are dished out the platitudes about the recession, while the rich give themselves reward upon unbelievable reward, the poor of course do what they have always done. Get poorer.
Here is a photograph I found on a flea market stall a few weeks ago. It was taken in the 1960s. Look, here is a child, marked by neglect, sitting on a filthy hearth. He or she has the same innocent look of Baby P. An English child, born in this sceptred, green and pleasant isle. A baby, really. Dickens might have written about him 200 years before. If he were here today, Dickens might still be writing about him because he remains amongst us, still.
With all the advertising hype of his approaching bicentenary, should we not be addressing some of the human issues Dickens once cared about? Hasn't the best of literature always highlighted social injustice?