Last week, chancellor Philip Hammond published the Budget for the coming year. In spite of claims that ‘austerity is ending’, recent events have clearly proven otherwise. One of the Budget’s most controversial elements was a promise of £400 million to schools so that they could buy ‘little extras’.
Understandably, this announcement had attracted anger from teachers, parents and students across the country. Hammond’s choice of phrasing makes it sound as if the government are kindly providing schools with a treat. They are not.
This is a deliberate attempt to placate cash-strapped schools and direct attention away from the real crisis of school funding. This time, however, it will not work. Teachers, parents and students have had enough.
The Save Our Schools campaign denounced Hammond’s words as ‘patronising’. Shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, said that they were ‘utterly insulting’. Not only do the chancellor’s words highlight how out of touch he is with the gravity of the situation, but his offensive rhetoric reflects the contempt that the ruling class has for the many who are suffering at the hands of continuing austerity, including our children.
The British education system is horrendously underfunded. ‘Little extras’, with Hammond helpfully providing the examples of ‘a whiteboard’ or ‘a couple of computers’, are not going to resolve this.
Schools are under more pressure than ever. Some have to ask parents to buy books for their children themselves. Many have cut subjects, including classics and the arts. Numerous schools have reduced teaching hours for A-Level students. And the Association of School and College Leaders union even said last year that a few schools were considering closing early on Fridays to save money.
This is a direct result of the crisis of capitalism. Capitalism is an economic system that serves the interests of the ruling class, putting profit before people. When the system inevitably fails, as it did spectacularly in 2008, austerity is demanded. And it is the working class who suffer the most, as the ruling class preserve their wealth at the expense of the millions of people who rely on public services. Education is just one casualty of austerity and capitalism.
Ultimately, resolving the problem of decent funding for schools – and all public services – means going beyond the capitalist system. With one of the world’s highest GDPs, Britain has more than enough money to fund a sustainable education system that works for everyone. But the bulk of this wealth in society sits in the hands of a parasitic few.
A future socialist Labour government needs to definitively guarantee proper funding for schools, not just offer ‘little extras’. This means breaking with austerity and overhauling the current system that has failed the working class for so long.
Our public services should be run in the interests of the ordinary people who run them and rely on them, not the powerful bosses and bankers who are far removed from the lives of the rest of us, stealing our money and spending it on private services.
In short, we need a Labour government that puts the needs of the many over the profits of the few.
By Eleanor Davis, Norwich Marxists