No one can doubt the Conservative Party’s commitment to children living in poverty and overcrowded homes with inadequate diets writes Andy Stowe. The Child Poverty Action Group says 4.1 million , 30% of the UK’s total number of children, were living in poverty in 2017-18, a figure expected to rise to 5.2 million by 2022. Even the government’s own numbers say 2.8 million children were living in families that don’t have enough money
You will hardly need to be reminded that the Conservatives have been in power since May 2010, a decade in which they have cut benefits and wages and overseen a huge increase in zero hours contracts and job insecurity.
Michael Gove has been at the heart of Tory governments for most of that time. He’s now saying to teachers “If you really care about children, you will want them to be in school”, a message that is being endlessly repeated in the Tory press and by their supporters in the academy world.
But let’s remember the real victims in all this. Parents who send their children to top flight private schools can pay more than £40 000 a year in fees. There is no sign that Winchester, Eton or any other private schools are going to open anytime soon. While it’s fine for working class children to be sent into underfunded, often dilapidated school buildings the offspring of Britain’s rulers aren’t being encouraged back to their Latin classes and playing fields.
If the pandemic has reminded us of one thing it’s that Tory politicians lie. They lie about teachers being safe in school; they lie about the preparations they made to prevent the slaughter in care homes; they lie about having a vaccine ready for this September.
Parents see through these lies. Those schools which are currently open rarely have more than a handful of pupils turning up. That’s not going to change until parents are confident their children will be safe.
NEU gains 7000 members in a week
The National Education Union (NEU) has got them rattled. When papers like the Daily Heil aren’t running stories about Keir Starmer being a decent son, they are doing hatchet jobs on the union’s leaders with startling revelations that some of them are a bit left wing and supported Jeremy Corbyn.
One consequence of this is that 7500 new members joined the NEU last week. On Monday May 18th almost 20 000 union members took part in an online meeting. They’ve heard the union’s leaders Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney all over the media saying that the union wants children back in school. But that can only be when it is safe for the teaching assistants, premises, canteen and office staff, teachers and most importantly the children and their families. There is no doubt that the union leaders are speaking for their members on this.
It is the poorest children who live in the most crowded and unhealthy homes, very often with three generations of the same family sharing the space. School staff, especially in cities, will have to use public transport. They will get infected and they will infect others.
The NEU has produced detailed advice for its members, many of whom have gone to work throughout the lock down to provide face to face teaching to disadvantaged pupils and the children of key workers. Government ministers – not to mention David Blunkett – are either ignorant of this fact or choose to ignore it because it doesn’t fit their narrative.
It’s workers against the Tories
The union is insisting on testing for staff and intensified cleaning regimes. Children will have to be guided towards a whole new way of interacting in schools with frequent handwashing, avoiding physical contact, not using other people’s equipment. And it’s just not possible to socially distance fifteen reception and year 1 children. These children have the cognitive level of five-year olds because they are five years old. In special schools, some children soil themselves, bite and spit at staff and other pupils. The Tories are saying nothing about this.
Even the headteachers’ union is saying that the arrangements for a return “are likely to prove impractical and unworkable in most schools” and a growing number of local authorities are resisting the pressure for a June 1st return.
The Tories are not saying anything about the greater vulnerabilities of black and ethnic minority staff or family either, despite their much higher death rates working in hospitals and care homes. Only the unions are speaking up for these workers.
Education workers are facing enormous pressure to put their lives and health at risk.
The Tories are desperate to get as many people back to work as possible. This is a massive conflict between a group of unionised workers who are interested only in the best interests of their children and stopping the spread of the pandemic and a Tory government which has condemned millions to poverty and tens of thousands to death.