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It’s an increase in the supply of child labour

Summary:
It’s rather worrying when a major newspaper can’t quite grasp a very basic economic distinction. An increase in supply is different from an increase in demand.Covid-19 prompts 'enormous rise' in demand for cheap child labour in IndiaNo. What the article itself goes on to describe is a rise in the supply of cheap child labour in India as a result of the coronavirus:Before the coronavirus pandemic, Kumar had been enrolled in grade four at the school in his small district of Gaya in the impoverished Indian state of Bihar. But when Covid-19 hit and the country went into lockdown, the school gates shut across India and have not opened since. With his parents, both daily wage labourers, unable to make money and put food on the table, last month Kumar was sent out to find work. “During lockdown,

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It’s rather worrying when a major newspaper can’t quite grasp a very basic economic distinction. An increase in supply is different from an increase in demand.

Covid-19 prompts 'enormous rise' in demand for cheap child labour in India

No. What the article itself goes on to describe is a rise in the supply of cheap child labour in India as a result of the coronavirus:

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Kumar had been enrolled in grade four at the school in his small district of Gaya in the impoverished Indian state of Bihar. But when Covid-19 hit and the country went into lockdown, the school gates shut across India and have not opened since. With his parents, both daily wage labourers, unable to make money and put food on the table, last month Kumar was sent out to find work.

“During lockdown, my parents had no jobs, and after lockdown, my parents had no money to arrange food for us,” said Kumar, the eldest of seven. “My entire family somehow survived on one meagre meal. Most of the time, I either slept with a half or completely empty stomach. So, I joined a group going out for work. I thought, ‘If I work, I will get money and at least eat good food.’” His home district of Gaya is now thought to have around 80,000 children working as labourers.

As one of us has explained elsewhere in the past. In a truly subsistence economy then a hit to incomes will lead to more children being sent out to work. Simply because that is the alternative to starvation for some or all of the family. It might be that the child brings in money to feed siblings, or even just that the child itself - and its food bill - is off the strained family budget.

This is not mere pedantry. Getting this the right way around is important. Knowing the cause enables us to craft policy which will deal with what we all agree is undesirable. It isn’t some rise in the capitalist hunger for cheap labour that is the driving force here. It’s the inability to feed the children if they go to school, not work.

The solution is to feed the children at school of course. As charities like Mary’s Meals do. The feeding of the child is lifted off the family budget, the child is fed, the child is not working and is in school.

No, this isn’t the same as breakfast clubs and Marcus Rashford. Feeding British children more at school might be a good idea, might not be, but it’s entirely a different set of circumstances from those out there who will starve if they don’t give up education for a working life.

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Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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