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Laurie Penny: As they welcome their new daughter, the Camerons should think of the children

The Camerons might consider how coalition cuts will affect the babies born in Britain today

Along with 2,000 other women in Britain and approximately 450,000 women across the world, Samantha Cameron gave birth to a child today. The baby is a girl -- and she is lucky. Her parents are lavishly well-off members of the political ruling class in one of the richest nations in the world, with a combined yearly salary that puts them well into the top 1 per cent of earners. Mum and Dad own a property empire worth millions, and hold the keys to No 10.

Little Miss Cameron will spend her earliest years in the media spotlight, but she can at least count on an excellent education at a top state primary school, such as St Mary Abbots in Kensington, which her sister Nancy currently attends, alongside many privileged sons and daughters of the financial and political elite. She will have every possible attention paid to her developmental, emotional and physical needs; she will have plenty of good food, presents, holidays in the sun and lots of love and care from her parents and an army of support staff.

She will have no problem paying for university, even though, thanks to her father's government, the costs of attending are likely to be significantly higher by the time she enters. She will easily be able to finance herself through internships and work placements to buy her entry into an elite job. She will never know hunger, or hopelessness, or financial uncertainty. For the newest addition to the Cameron clan, life will be easy and comfortable. For most of the other babies born today, however, the outlook is less rosy.

On a day when his new government's approval ratings are lower than at any point since the general election, Cameron's new bundle of electoral joy may well serve to remind dillusioned Tory defectors that the Conservatives really are the party of "the family" -- especially the heterosexual, heteronormative, married, double-earning, higher-income, upper-middle-class family. Let's not forget, however, that on the day that David and Samantha Cameron welcomed their fourth child, 700 babies were born into poverty in Britain. And they are in for a tough ride.

The austerity cuts imposed by Cameron's coalition government will hit these newborns' families hard, meaning that many of them will enjoy a much lower standard of living than they could have expected under Labour. Their parents may not be able to afford to feed them a healthy, balanced diet or to give them birthday and Christmas presents. They will attend whichever local school can afford to take them, including some 200 state schools whose promised funding for badly needed building restoration has just been withdrawn by the coalition. After the signalled cuts to housing benefit come into force, many of them will grow up in cramped, unhealthy, substandard accommodation far from local amenities.

The babies born to poor families today will be less likely to achieve their potential at school, less likely to be able to afford to attend university or further education and more likely to suffer from mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and panic disorder than those born to wealthy families. Before 24 August 2012, these poorer babies will already be significantly more likely to exhibit lower levels of attainment and well-being than children from better-off families; by 2016, less able children from families such as the Camerons will have overtaken more able children from lower-income families.

In addition, the children who were born today in inner Manchester are already likely to die six years earlier than babies born to families in the Camerons' Notting Hill quarter, in London. Child poverty and inequality were not eradicated under Labour, but the austerity cuts imposed by David Cameron's government could spell disaster for the hundreds of children born today into less fortunate households -- particularly those born to single parents, over whom the axe of economic judgement is casting a long shadow.

David Cameron and his family will be celebrating the birth of their daughter today, and rightly so. If he is serious about building a society in which every child can thrive, however, the Prime Minister may want to remember those 700 babies being born into poverty in Britain in the course of the day, and ask himself how his policymaking will affect their future. Cameron the family man has a duty to protect every child in Britain, not just those who, like his new baby girl, are fortunate enough to be born to wealthy couples.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear