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Our children or profit – what matters more?

The juxtaposition of two articles in today’s Herald raises questions about what sort of a society we are becoming

As the page lead we are told that ‘the evil children of the poor are costing business owners tens of pounds’ while further down the page we find ‘businesses say that the breakfast cereals they are selling children may be virtually lethal but they have the choice not to eat the carefully marketed and highly addictive product’. OK, I am paraphrasing a bit here, and I do need to kick of with some caveats, but this is not very far from the sense one might get from one page in a broadsheet newspaper.

The caveats: violence is a terrible thing and nothing in this post is intended to belittle the experience of violence faced by many small shop-owners. They deserve to be able to run their business without fear, full stop. And businesses selling legal products which are socially harmful cannot carry the primary blame for the impact of those products.

Having got that out of the way, let’s instead focus on the presentation of the two stories and what it tells us. Crimes against small businesses (from the story it appears that this is focussed on theft from small retailers and some vandalism to the exterior of other businesses) cost them something a bit below £3,000 each year. This, the paper informs us, is the work of ‘neds’.

Meanwhile Which? has concluded that breakfast cereals probably belong in the same supermarket aisle as biscuits and sweeties. Even I must admit being startled to discover that Kellogs Frosties are 37 per cent sugar. Hell, the bits of flaked corn in the box seem like an afterthought. We know that childhood obesity costs Scotland, society, the NHS and many individual families dearly. Certainly a lot more than the sum lost to the business community. But a spokesman for Kellogs mockingly tells us to get a grip because there is a ‘choice’ of cereals so no sort of moral responsibility attaches to his particular big business.

It shouldn’t surprise us – children acting badly is a big problem, big business pumping them full of sugar, fat, alcohol and tobacco is not. So the children are responsible for their actions and in effect they are also responsible for the actions of the big business. And the money is the big reason for condemning the children but simultaneously the money is the reason for not condemning the big business.

The demonisation of the young is bad enough, but when we see the word ‘ned’ we know that in fact it it the poor and the working class who are being demonised. This is a group which faces an onslaught of advertising, marketing and product promotion of an intensity which has until now never been known in human history. They are sold every single product needed to create a disaffected, alienated and chemically-altered generation, to the benefit only of the big businesses. Who then absolve themselves but expect us to point an unwavering finger of condemnation at poor kids.

There is something deeply wrong with a society which expects a higher burden of social responsibility from children than it expects from rich people running big businesses. And to simultaneously convert this into an attack on social class lines as well is just one more layer of wrong.

Robin McAlpine