Commentators are describing the General Election on May 7 as the most important for a generation and they are right. The result will affect profoundly the future of public services, the future of children and young people, the lives of working people and their families, and the pay, pensions, and conditions of service of public service workers.
Since 2010, teachers have endured five years of pay cuts, had their pensions plundered and their working conditions attacked. As a result there is now a teacher recruitment and retention crisis with falling applications and more than three-quarters of teachers stating that they have considered quitting the profession in the last year. Resignations are at an all-time high, morale at an all-time low.
Young people have also been under attack with the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance, trebling of tuition fees, downgrading of vocational education, and the failure by the coalition to make business step-up to the plate and play its part in providing high quality work experience and Apprenticeships.
As many as 3.7 million children now have their lives degraded and derailed by poverty and the number is set to rise if the current policies continue. Poverty and homelessness are not incidental to teachers. These are factors which have the most profound effect on educational progress.
Three quarters of teachers report teaching children in the last 12 months who have come to school too hungry to learn. More than a quarter of teachers have provided money, food and equipment out of their own pocket to support children they teach. Teachers and schools are being left to pick up the pieces of callous social and economic policies.
Across the UK, it is areas of deprivation, not affluence, which have faced the biggest cuts and people already in poverty are bearing most of them, along with those who need the support of health and social care.
Child and adult mental health services have been slashed by a third or more. This at a time when teachers are not only expressing serious concerns about the mental health issues affecting their pupils and the lack of access to external specialist support, but also about their own health and wellbeing –
91 per cent of teachers report experiencing more workplace stress in the last 12 months. This figure has risen year-on-year since 2010.
During the lifetime of this government, the pay of top directors has increased by 26 per cent, while one in five working people now earn below the living wage; 9,000 headteachers now earn over £100,000 per annum, yet almost two-thirds of teachers eligible for pay progression last year were denied it and almost 50 per cent of teachers report not being paid even the derisory one per cent annual pay award they should have received in September. Two in five workers are now on zero hours contracts, earning less than £100 per week and unable to qualify for sick pay. Many supply teachers have fallen victim to these exploitative provisions which the private agencies are allowed to employ.
The impact of the cuts to public services has already been devastating and yet only 40 per cent of the planned cuts have been made so far. In his Budget presentation, the chancellor made a virtue out of even more deep cuts to public spending. If these cuts continue as the coalition has planned, by 2017, the UK is set to have the lowest share of public spending among major economies.
The 2015 General Election will be as important for public services and for ordinary working people as the 1945 General Election, which swept into office a government which gave us the NHS. Voting therefore matters. So those who value the NHS, education and our other vital public services and who believe in social justice must vote on May 7 to secure a change of government.