By Layla Moran
School should be a place where young people are given the experiences and tools to get on in life. That’s what parents expect. That’s what teachers want to deliver. That’s what the Budget failed to deliver.
As a former teacher myself, I know the reality is all too different. The mental health of hard-working teachers is at risk, with rising numbers of absences linked to stress and anxiety. That is not an environment to give young people the best start in life.
But it hasn’t always been this way. Why has it got this bad? The responsibility falls square at the feet of this Conservative Government.
The Tories have slashed school budgets by £2.8billion since 2015, according to education unions. This means an average cut of £45,000 for each primary school and £185,000 for each secondary school.
No wonder over a thousand teachers marched on Westminster last month in protest. They should never have been abandoned by Tory ministers and forced to cut staff numbers, drop subjects from the curriculum and even ask parents to chip in with donations to make ends meet.
Surely, then, the Budget should have prioritised our schools, teachers and young people? In my year as an MP, I have grown to learn not to expect too much from this Government.
The best the Chancellor could offer was £400million to schools for “that extra bit of kit”, when nearly £3billion is actually needed. How patronising, condescending and obtuse.
Giving tiny amounts to schools and saying it will help them cover ‘little extras’ is an insult. Teachers and pupils deserve better, and Liberal Democrats demand better.
One-off payments of £10,000 for primaries and £50,000 for secondaries will not replace teaching assistants, teachers and special educational needs staff, nor will it repair crumbling buildings or help schools cover the rising costs like National Insurance contributions and the apprenticeship levy.
It is also totally unacceptable that the Budget had nothing for special educational needs and disabilities. More than 2,000 children are still awaiting appropriate provision, and it sticks in the throat that the Tories have not lifted a finger. It is the worst kind of Halloween trick to play.
The Chancellor has disgracefully ducked the difficult issue of long-term school funding, meaning schools will have to continue to cut staff, axe extra-curricular activities and ask parents for money to pay for the basics like books and pens.
This kind of investment in education makes a mockery of claims that the Chancellor has brought an end to austerity. In fact, he is just passing the problems of this generation onto the next.
So, what can be done to solve this? At the bare minimum, the Liberal Democrats would have immediately reversed the Tory cuts to schools. And we would have been honest about what that means.
It means having a grown-up conversation about the need to reform the tax system. It means being honest that for better public services more money will need to be raised through tax. According to the IFS, an increase in taxes worth just 1% of GDP – or around £20billion – would allow a real “end to austerity”.
The Tories want to invest more but ignore taxes. Like Brexit, they want to have their cake and eat it. It won’t work.
And Brexit is in fact what worries me most about this Budget. How much worse will it get for families because of the Tories’ Brexit mess?
Well, Hammond and May cannot even agree on what Brexit will mean for the Budget. Frankly, I can no longer work out if that is because they are misleading the public or just being incompetent.
But, the OBR has already told us that Brexit uncertainty is weakening public finances by £15billion annually. Clearly, no matter the Brexit, any Brexit will be a disaster.
It means the pittance offered to schools will translate into even less. It means the expectations of parents will not be met, the pressures on teachers will not be alleviated, and school will not be the place we need it to be to ensure young people get on in life.
That will be the legacy of this Brexit infected Tory Budget. We don’t just need changes to this Budget, but we need an exit from Brexit too.
Layla Moran is the Lib Dem MP for Oxford West and Abingdon