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The 2017 general election: Its effect on the education & social work sectors

As June 8th gets closer, which political party will emerge in power?

 

Following Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to hold a snap general election in April of this year, the future of policy within the UK has once again been subject to much scrutiny. At the beginning of the political campaign, many commentators believed that the election would result in a convincing win for the Tories, with much of the population considering Labour under Jeremy Corbyn as unelectable. However, within recent weeks, several cracks have begun to show in May’s campaign, notably the alleged U-turn on the controversial “dementia tax” as well as her education policies. At Tempest, we aim to examine how each of the three main parties’ pledges will affect the Education and Social Work sectors.

 

Conservatives

Brexit negotiations have been one of the issues at the forefront of May’s tenure in office, with the official invocation of Article 50 being weeks away. The PM has repeatedly stressed that “no deal is worse than a bad deal” for the UK, as she claims to seek the best possible outcome for Brexit. Many have argued that in a time of uncertainty, calling a general election will only serve to rock the boat further. May, however, has maintained that her reason for holding a snap election is to ensure she has the backing of a united Britain for the years to come post-Brexit. Sceptics, however, have questioned whether May would indeed be the right person to do this, given the fact that she was a staunch “Remainer” during last year’s referendum.

The main message of the Tory campaign so far has depicted May as the only credible candidate, leading Britain into a “strong and stable” future. Her critics have remarked that this catchphrase has been somewhat overused during her campaign, with the slogan being parodied through numerous guerrilla advertisements across London. Little evidence is shown as to how she will strengthen the country amidst further cuts and austerity measures. She has also recently targeted areas of the country considered to be Labour strongholds in a bid to rally support for the Tories, which has been met with much protest.

 

Education

Perhaps considered the most controversial education policy in recent history, May’s plans to reintroduce grammar schools to the UK education system continues to be a source of much debate. The Blair government abolished the creation of new grammar schools and legislated to define the 167 schools that were permitted to select by ability in 1997, to allow for more educational equality amongst classes. May’s main argument in favour of their reinstatement is to create a “meritocracy” affording every child the opportunity for enhanced learning.

Against a backdrop of a worsening national teacher shortage and further budget cuts, many have commented that this will serve only to further exacerbate the situation. As well as ending the ban on selective schools, May plans to build at least 100 new free schools a year and to enlist the support of universities and independent schools in helping to run state schools.

May has stated she will increase the overall schools budget by £4bn by 2022, which is just over half of what the Lib Dems have pledged to invest. Her Tory government also plan to redirect £1bn of national funding formula to help schools. Many teachers have remarked that this sum barely plugs the gaps created by Tory austerity and budget cuts over recent years.

Finally, May has proposed the end of free lunches, scrapping a key Lib Dem achievement in favour of free breakfasts for primary school pupils, which have been budgeted at 6.8p per meal.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union the NAHT, has said “There are vital domestic issues to tackle; many school leaders will fear that education has been forgotten at the expense of Brexit.

 

Social Work

The Conservative Party Manifesto set out plans for more pensioners to contribute to the cost of their care. Under the Tory manifesto, the elderly must pay for their own care if they have combined savings and, for the first time, property worth more than £100,000. Under this proposal, the elderly could be forced to sell their homes in order to pay for their care. This issue has been a main topic of contention covering social care around the Tory campaign.

The reforms have been nicknamed a “dementia tax” due to people with dementia living at home having to pay for their care, whilst people with cancer in hospital would not be required to.

May has recently announced what many call a U-turn on her party’s social care policy by promising an “absolute limit” on the amount people would have to pay for their care, but this will not be announced until after a successful general election.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies warned that this complex system “makes no attempt to deal with the fundamental challenge of social care funding,” and rather, forces more elderly people to pay for their own care.

The Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, branded the proposed changes a “savage attack on vulnerable pensioners.” 

 

Labour

Some would observe that the Labour Party has been in turmoil following their defeat in the 2015 general election.

Just last year, following the results of the EU referendum, key figures of the shadow cabinet resigned from their posts and a motion of no confidence in leader Jeremy Corbyn was passed. Despite this, he chose not to resign and has subsequently generated much support from the public in the current electoral campaign.

Traditional Labour voters have been divided over Corbyn’s leadership, with many doubting his credibility as a reputable leader and potential prime minister of the United Kingdom, questioning his capability to make difficult decisions, especially given the current uncertainty surrounding Brexit. Theresa May recently remarked that Corbyn, if elected, would be “alone and naked” in Brexit negotiations as he does not have the “determination to deliver the will of the people and make Brexit happen successfully.”

Corbyn has also been accused of having a soft stance on terrorism, previously being accused of being an IRA sympathiser and having links to its most prominent members. In the wake of the devastating terror attacks in both Manchester and London within the past couple of weeks, he too has been criticised for alleged U-turns; in this case, for his policies on security.

The Labour manifesto is a simple one; “For The Many, Not The Few.” Whilst the Labour policies seem ideal and very beneficial to the most disadvantaged in society, many have argued that this is at the expense of higher earners, and any extra spending will only put the UK in further debt.

 

Education

Labour pledges to inject over £6bn a year into the education system, in order to create a “national education service” in England, funded from extra tax revenue.

Jeremy Corbyn plans to abolish university tuition fees, reintroduce maintenance grants and restore the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), whilst providing free school meals for all schoolchildren.

For early years, Labour promises 30 hours of free childcare during term-time for all two-year-olds; currently, 15 hours is available to the poorest 40%. They also plan to reintroduce the Sure Start centres, many of which have now been closed as a result of austerity cuts.

Labour have hopes that the pledge to scrap tuition fees will appeal to the aged 18-24 voting demographic, which has one of the lowest turnouts.

Corbyn also plans to scrap May’s plans to build more grammar schools, which he has vehemently opposed from the outset.

In theory, this will afford everyone with the very best chances, as opposed to only those that can afford it. However, these plans may be heavily idealised; many issues have been presented regarding how this will be funded, and the Tory opposition have accused Labour of increasing the national debt that they have tried to reduce during the recent years of austerity.

 

 Social Work

A Labour government would invest £8bn in adult social care, establish a National Care Service and ring-fence mental health budgets, according to their election manifesto. This extra funding for adult social care would be spread across the next five years, to alleviate the current “crisis” present in the social work sector. Following this investment, Labour intend to create a £3bn-a-year National Care Service, where budgets and working arrangements would be pooled with the NHS, with the view to create a more unified healthcare system for users.

Children’s social care is also prevalent in the Labour manifesto, with an emphasis on adequate levels of care being afforded to our future generations. The party intend to refocus children’s social care, working with families in local areas and ensuring early intervention.

Another key aspect is that services will be taken out of the hands of private sector organisations, and will once again be controlled wholly by the public sector.

Again, these plans have been criticised as being ideal in theory, but unrealistic to implement given the fact that again, spending and deficits will be increased. Again, Labour have pledged to receive funding for this by raising extra from new taxes on the nation’s highest earners.

 

Liberal Democrats

Some may argue that the Liberal Democrats have all but faded into political obscurity, given the fact that it has almost been a century since they were one of the main contenders for power. Although still considered a major political party, the Lib Dems currently have 9 seats in Parliament; whilst the Tories, Labour party and SNP each have 330, 229 and 54 seats respectively.

In the 2010 election, a Nick Clegg led Liberal Democrat party formed a coalition with Cameron’s Tories, the first since 1945. Clegg’s achievements as deputy prime minister have largely been overshadowed by his controversial decision to go back on his promise of not raising tuition fees; they were indeed raised to £9,000 by the 2012-13 academic year.

The Lib Dems are currently led by Tim Farron; their campaign has been targeted at the 48% of the country that voted to remain in the EU referendum last year, with a pledge to hold a second referendum. This is contrary to the “Brexit Means Brexit” stance of the Tories. The next key point in their manifesto is to legalise cannabis as a means to generate more tax revenue and to “break the grip of criminal gangs.” 

 

Education

The Lib Dems’ education policy has vowed to “put children first,” ensuring each child has the best possible start in life. They believe that the Tory education cuts have made it so children’s chances are too often determined by their parents’ income, with many schools struggling, having to let go of teachers and shortening the school day. As such, they have pledged to invest an extra £7bn in education, increasing school budgets and pupil premiums. This is more than the amounts pledged by both Labour and the Conservatives, and will be funded through hiking up corporation tax and axing spending on new grammar schools.

Like Labour, the Liberal Dems oppose May’s plans for grammar schools, believing instead in adequately funding state schools so that they can improve their teaching quality. The party have pledged to invest in teacher training, end the 1% cap on pay rises and to ensure high quality professional development for teachers. Farron has also committed to inject extra funding into the local authorities that have been the most severely impacted by the cuts, many of which are in London.

 

 Social Work

Along with Labour, the Lib Dems intend to integrate health and social care services, with plans to have one budget for both by 2020. In their manifesto, they state that the current government has left NHS and Social Care professionals feeling embattled and undervalued.

The Lib Dems also commit to enhanced training and development for social workers and introducing a code of practice that will be enshrined in statute.

They again intend to raise taxes by 1p per £1, in order to raise £6bn a year for the sector, as part of a 5-step plan.

 

Conclusions

It appears the Lib Dem and Labour policies are largely similar, with only a few key differences separating them. Critics may regard their plans as romanticised versions of what can realistically be achieved; increasing taxes is one of the only mentioned means to raise extra funding, at the expense of higher earners. The Conservatives remain committed in reducing our national debt and delivering a Brexit deal to cement a “strong and stable” future, although many may argue that this fixation can work to the detriment of the country, with funding not being allocated to the sectors that need it most.