Of those who said they were likely to study for a degree, around half said they were worried about the cost of higher education [Image: Getty].
This is what it means to vote Conservative in the UK: It is now impossible to get the education you need for a good job without going deep into debt, possibly for your entire working life.
The proportion of young people who think they are likely to go to university is at its lowest level in years, new figures suggest, with many citing cost as a primary concern.
According to a new report, the prospect of going on to higher education has become less desirable for many young people – news that closely follows separate figures published on Tuesday revealing a decline in student satisfaction levels overall.
Responding to the annual Sutton Trust poll – which questioned more than 2,600 11 to 16-year-olds in England and Wales – around one in seven (14 per cent) said they were unlikely to go on to higher education, compared with 11 per cent last year and eight per cent five years ago.
Of those who said they were likely to study for a degree, around half (51 per cent) said they were worried about the cost of higher education, up from 47 per cent last year.
The biggest money concern was tuition fees, followed by having to repay student loans for up to 30 years and the cost of living as a student.
The figures have fuelled concerns over a lack of social mobility within higher education, and come amid growing debate on the future of tuition fees, which rose above £9,000 to £9,250 in English universities for the first time this year.
“If you’re a student, and you have to pay a fee to go to university… You end up with a debt of 12,500 quid, you marry another student – £12,500, well, 25,000 quid; you then try to get a house because you want to start a family – that’s 40,000 – you start life with a debt of £60,000! I tell you, it would be great, convenient, to a future employer because someone with a debt of 60,000 quid is not going to cause any trouble; otherwise they might lose their job and so on.” Tony Benn, speaking circa 2002.
One has to admire Tony Benn for his powers of prophecy!
Clearly, he was able to look nearly a decade into the future to foretell the coming of a government for whom the imposition of a £9,000-per-year tax on learning – by universities themselves, not the government itself – was a desirable outcome. Right?
Wrong. He was talking about the introduction of those fees by Labour in 1998. The Labour government increased the amount it was possible to charge in tuition top-up fees in 2004, a couple of years after Mr Benn uttered the words I quote above.
Labour was on the slippery slope, even then. The party of the people had lost sight of the effects such policies would have on them. Why? Because the lure of business-oriented advisors was so strong. “Here’s where the money is,” it seems they were saying. “Come with us.”
What a shame they were talking about money for them, rather than the UK as a whole. Mr Benn’s prediction about student debt was – if I may be so tasteless as to say so – bang on the money and now we’ve got a lot of people labouring (sorry!) under serious debt.
It was a mistake.
Look at the credit boom in the early 2000s, when banks and other organisations were throwing money at people willy-nilly (or so it seems today). We know from analyses made after the 2008 crash that little attempt was made to evaluate borrowers’ creditworthiness, and hindsight suggests we should not be surprised that so many of them proved to be completely unable to clear those debts, with many borrowing even more in order to meet the interest repayments they had incurred. Eventually, people started to default, and in huge numbers. What did the lenders expect?
That was a mistake – not just by our (and others’) government, but by the major lending institutions of the UK and the western world.
Look at Workfare. Labour wanted to bring it in, despite the results of repeated studies before the 2010 election that showed workfare programmes did not increase the likelihood of finding paid employment and could instead reduce that prospect by limiting the time available for job searches and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers.
Then the 2010 election happened and Labour got the boot. So instead, the Conservative-led Coalition government brought it in. Interesting, that.It’s almost as if the same people had been advising both parties on employment policy, don’t you think?
We all know the effect of Workfare. By going into organisations – including profit-making companies that are perfectly capable of employing staff in their own right – and providing free labour for them, the government not only stops those firms from actually taking on new staff – it depresses wages by ensuring current staff cannot ask for a pay rise; bosses can now simply give them their marching orders and ask for more support from Workfare.
In a nation that desperately needs to increase its tax income, to pay off a rocketing national debt, that has to be a mistake, right?
We can see that it is planned because the effect of the Coalition’s Benefits Uprating Bill will be the same – by ensuring the unemployed must chase every job available – no matter how low-paid – because benefit no longer covers their costs and they run the risk of losing everything they own, the government is also ensuring that people who are already in low-paid jobs live in fear that their contracts will be dropped in favour of employing people who will take less.
So: not a mistake, after all.
Or is it?
The UK economy has taken three major hits over the last week or so. First Honda cut 800 jobs at its factory in Swindon on January 11, blaming a sales slump across Europe. That’s an effect of austerity – people have less money to spend on cars which, apart from houses, are the most expensive investments ordinary working citizens can make.
Then camera retailer Jessops closed its 187 stores with the loss of 1,370 jobs on the same day – apparently blaming the rise in camera phones. That’s another effect of austerity – people won’t buy specialist photographic equipment they don’t think they can afford when they’ve got cameras as part of their mobile phones; lack of disposable income means they must try to make their purchases wisely.
Now HMV has run into trouble, seeking insolvency protection and putting 4,500 jobs at risk. The 91-year-old record store chain couldn’t compete with online firms such as Amazon, it seems. And no wonder – Amazon is cheaper, people can do their shopping at home and, of course, Amazon don’t pay their taxes.
I reckon that’s around 6,670 people whose jobs are either lost or in serious jeopardy, because of austerity policies fuelled by managers’ greed. It is heads of industry who advise the government, and their advice (as I’ve previously stated) has always been to ensure that workers’ pay is low, so their own salary increases can be high – 800 per cent more over the past 30 years. I keep harping on about that because, as figures go, it’s such a whopper that it needs special attention.
But the policy has backfired because these people have failed to account for the fact that it is the working and unemployed poor who spend most of their money on the products their companies sell. With no money to spare, the companies lose revenue and have to make cutbacks. Now even fewer people are economically active and there is even less money to spare.
More companies hit the wall. Without sincere and concentrated effort to halt the process, a cascade effect could kick in, leading to – as I mentioned only a few days ago – economic ruin.
I take no pleasure at all from seeing my own prediction coming to fruition so quickly.
So, returning to Mr Benn’s comments at the top of this piece, what will Labour – Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition – do about it?
And the answer is: More of the same.
What are they playing at?
Labour’s ‘Job Guarantee’ will, according to Boycott Workfare, “give billions of taxpayers’ money to subsidise big private businesses – probably the likes of failing and government contract-reliant A4E, and workfare-users ASDA – helping them to drive up their profit margins. It guarantees to further undermine real job vacancies as companies replace job roles with subsidised compulsory short-term placements.
“Labour, like the Coalition government, also now guarantee to undermine the idea of a living wage, which just two months ago Ed Milliband appeared to champion. After all if a company can get staff forced to work for it, both provided by and subsidised by the state at minimum wage, why pay the living wage?”
In spite of all the evidence, it seems Labour wants to make matters worse.
This is no good at all! When it comes to 2015, at this rate, voters won’t see any difference at all between Labour and the Tories.
It’s time for a complete change of plan. Labour needs to jettison all the nonsense it picked up during the New Labour years – along with any Shadow ministers who are still spouting it – and go back to its roots.
Work out a policy that actually supports industry, employment and prosperity, rather than the fatcats who are clearly corrupting all our politicians.
Among a cabinet of fools, the Education Secretary – Michael Gove – seems to be leading a charmed life.
His department has won praise for its “radical” policies, which have led to the creation of ‘free’ schools, plans to impose performance-related pay on teachers, the development of the EBacc exam, and the introduction of £9,000 university tuition fees.
Hang on a second!
‘Free’ schools are nothing of the kind! They cost a fortune, and suck desperately-needed money away from state-maintained schools!
Performance-related pay for teachers? How do you measure that? It isn’t a manufacturing job, you know! School pupils’ abilities vary, their temperaments vary, their concentration levels vary. They may have any number of other issues interfering with their learning experience and you can’t pin any of the above on teachers’ performance! How perverse!
The EBacc exam has been widely criticised ever since it was first suggested! Just do a quick web search for it – four out of the first five results are about reforming it! Many of the others are complaints: “EBacc has forced arts off curriculum”, “PE should be part of Ebacc exam system, experts warn”, “EBacc threatens creativity”.
And as for the introduction of university tuition fees… life is too short to discuss the dire threat to higher education in the UK that this represents.
Now we have confirmation of our worst fears about the Schools’ Dunce and his department – from teachers themselves, in a new YouGov poll.
You know there has to be something wrong when 77 per cent of teachers in the NUT – that’s the National Union of Teachers, the largest organisation representing the profession – say the current government is having a negative impact on education.
Morale has plummeted, with 55 per cent – more than half, saying their confidence in the future of their profession was either low or very low. Only 15 per cent said their morale was very high.
Taking this further, 69 per cent said their morale had declined since the 2010 general election and 71 per cent said they rarely or never felt trusted by the government.
Academy and ‘free’ school programmes were taking education in the wrong direction, according to 77 per cent of respondents.
Cuts and austerity measures were harming some or most children and their families, according to 76 per cent of those asked – and that’s before 2013’s toxic cocktail of cuts has even arrived!
And the performance-related pay argument suffered another hit when 74 per cent said children’s educational achievements were affected by their family’s income.
The EBacc was being rushed through without enough consultation, according to a staggering four-fifths of secondary school teachers (81 per cent).
Only five per cent – one-twentieth of those asked – thought the Coalition government was having a positive effect on schools.
The general opinion is that Mr Gove is rushing through changes according to an outdated philosophy, rather than taking the time to gather evidence on what might, in fact, work.
According to The Guardian, it’s called “new public management” and is a Neo-Liberal idea calling for public services to mimic the market in order to ensure high standards and accountability. The only problem is, it doesn’t work. Managers are brought in, to keep the ‘producer interests’ – teachers and academics – from controlling the system, but they then distort the system with league tables and performance targets; instead of providing a varied and engaging education, teachers are coerced into following government-imposed incentives. Education suffers as a result. And that is what we’re seeing here.
The Education Department’s response? Teaching is an “attractive” profession with vacancy rates “at their lowest since 2005”.
The changes will raise standards by giving more power to head teachers, attracting the best graduates and professionals, and helping those teaching now to do their jobs even better. How? They didn’t say. I don’t think they’ve got the evidence to back themselves up.
So teachers are the latest professionals to go on the state-starved sick list – along with the police, doctors and nurses, and anyone working in the public sector.
And Mr Gove? All things considered, if we were to tell him to modify his own surname into a word describing what he should do, he’d probably spell it “goe”.
This is what ‘money’ looks like. Enjoy the sight because you’ll probably be seeing increasingly less of it in reality from now on.
How many different ways can the Coalition find to shoot itself in the foot?
Today, inflation is the cause of the embarrassment. Just one month after it dropped to its lowest level in three years, the pace of price rises leapt up by half a percentage point, which is well above expectations.
And what’s the reason for this unexpected turnaround? Why, it’s because of the sharp rise in university tuition fees!
They rose by 19.1 per cent after the cap on charges was lifted by the government to £9,000 from £3,375.
In response, the Consumer Price Index rose from 2.2 per cent to 2.7, while the Retail Price Index went from 2.6 to 3.2 per cent.
What does it mean for you?
Well, it’s still September’s rise that is the important one, because it is those figures that part-time Chancellor Gideon George Osborne uses to work out the rise in benefits, starting next April. He’ll announce the amounts in December, but he’ll be guided by the September CPI rate.
These include Jobseekers’ Allowance, Income Support, disability benefits, maternity benefits, Incapacity Benefit, Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit and Child Benefit.
With inflation rising again, those on benefits are likely to suffer an even greater squeeze on their wallets than is already expected – remember, the bedroom tax and the ‘Pickles Poll Tax’ are both being imposed on us in April 2013.
Energy bill increases, water bill increases, food price rises, and the increase in fuel duty that members of the Coalition dutifully and brainlessly supported only yesterday will add to the agony for the many.
Mr 0 has already announced an intention to squeeze Jobseekers’ Allowance, as he is keen for those in work to see greater reward than those on the dole. Notice that he doesn’t say anything about whether that reward will be adequate to their needs. The living wage is not a factor in this Chancellor’s thinking!
Even last month, when inflation fell, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber warned that real wage drops mean families have been getting poorer every month for the last three years.
It’s not all bad, though!
Pensions – which are drawn by those who are most likely to vote (and most likely to vote Conservative) – are protected by a government guarantee, and will therefore rise by 2.5 per cent.
Never mind the playing field sell-offs for a moment; they’re only a small part of the economic mess over which the UK’s Conservative-led government is presiding.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics have shown that in July the government borrowed £3.4 billion more than on the same month last year. Net borrowing was £557 million (according to The Guardian), but the government made a surplus this time last year, and the figures were a serious disappointment for economic analysts, who had been predicting another surplus of about £2.5 billion.
So far this year, public sector net borrowing – excluding banking interventions and a one-off boost from a transfer (some say theft) of Royal Mail pension assets to the Treasury – was £47.2 billion, up from £35.6 billion during the same period in 2011.
The Office for National Statistics said net debt was 65.7 per cent of GDP. The BBC said this amounted to £1.032 billion, but I think £1.032 trillion is nearer the mark.
The Treasury says disappointing Corporation Tax receipts are to blame, especially after the closure of the Elgin oil platform.
Some analysts say the government may now overshoot its target for reduced borrowing this year, of £120 billion, possibly by more than £35 billion (excluding the Royal Mail effect)
I say that the Coalition government’s economic mismanagement has reached new heights.
We know what’s happening: This government has left open tax loopholes – such as exempting profits earned in overseas subsidiaries from taxation – that have allowed corporations to sit on hundreds of billions of pounds in retained profits.
It abolished the bankers’ bonus tax, so the financiers who caused the mess are not only still paying themselves average salaries of £350,000, but also enjoying billions in bonuses.
It has abolished the 50p top tax rate – creating a tax break for the rich. Executive pay has risen by more than eight per cent this year.
The richest thousand people in Britain own 25 per cent of its wealth – £1.5 trillion.
At the same time, benefits have been slashed, leading to mass suicides and health-related deaths.
VAT has been increased, helping to stall the economy.
Inflation has risen.
Income tax and National Insurance have increased in real terms.
University tuition fees have been tripled, meaning students face years – perhaps decades – of work to pay off the loans they have to take out, simply to get an education.
Public sector pay has been frozen.
Tax avoidance is only seen as a problem if it’s done by a satirical comedian with a talent for humiliating the Coalition government.
And then there’s that massive Royal Mail pensions raid.
And we see that the government is borrowing more, due to a fall in corporation tax payments.
We know why it’s happening: The government wants to cut public services down to (if David Cameron has his way) nothing apart from the judiciary and security services. Everything else is to be sold off to private corporations in order to fleece the general public of whatever they have left – wages, benefits, savings.
Some people are saying that the Tory economic policy has failed. They say George Osborne, as Chancellor, set out an economic goal and a method for achieving it – only to find that his methods have made the problem far worse. They say that his stubbornness in pressing on, even after being told his plan is a disaster, makes him the very definition of a failure.
Silly, silly people.
They forget how much the Conservatives love the private sector and hate public services. Their instinct is to ensure that large corporations (the kind that are happy to give funds to the Tories) have as much opportunity to make as much money as possible. They don’t want to balance the nation’s account books; that would mean taxing the rich and the corporations – in essence, biting the hands that feed them.
As long as the UK is in the red, they’ll have a perfect excuse to do as much damage to public services – and the vast majority of the population that relies on them – as they possibly can.
Let’s go back to the playing fields now. The decision to spite the legacy of the Olympic games by selling off 31 of these fields – 10 more than the Department for Education had previously admitted – was a gift on a day when the economy was shown to be utterly unfit while in Tory hands. They provide so many opportunities for clever wordplay, don’t they?
For example, I could say that, instead of levelling the playing field (in terms of the deficit and national borrowing) the Tories have made it steeper – possibly to match the slope at sold-off Woodhouse Middle School in Staffordshire.
But it would be more accurate to say that these Conservative Party hooligans have got onto the pitch – and spoiled it for everyone else.
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