Longer Term Decline in Education Standards to Follow

Issue date
06 Sep 2012

There is quite clear evidence that the less well off people are, the more they depend on public services. Whether it is health services, social care or education, the wealthiest are much less reliant on public provision, while average income families recognise demonstrable benefits from these areas of public service and the quality of life of communities with the lowest incomes is disproportionately affected by the availability of and access to publicly provided support.

The relationship between income and quality of life is perhaps obvious, but at a time when constant and significant reductions in public spending is the main plank of government policy, leading to quite substantial reductions in public service provision, it is worth restating some basic observations. People from the least well off families are likely to endure the worst health outcomes, disadvantaged in this area even before birth as impoverished mothers are much more likely to give birth to low birth-weight babies; children from low income families are much less likely to achieve good quality educational outcomes; as a direct result of these two factors, children growing up in low-income households are much more likely to depend on welfare benefits when they reach adulthood.

These observations are worth revisiting given the Journal's expose last week of the drastic scale of households, families in this region, without work and the admission from central government that this is likely to continue for some time to come. The legacy of this economic and social failure of government is likely to last for generations.

As the 2012 school term starts teachers will be reminded of a 2005 study which showed the direct relationship between income and reading ability of five year olds. Children in households with more than £67k income are 4-5 months ahead of those in households with average incomes, while those in low income (less than £15k) were a further 5 months behind. This is not, as a previous chief inspector of schools once suggested, because of 'genetics', but because children in wealthier households generally tend to experience an environment where there are more books, more reading and an inclination to value education more.

One of the best antidotes to the environmental disadvantage that children from poorer backgrounds can experience has been the previous government's Sure Start programmes, plus the availability and quality of local public libraries. The reductions in public spending are dramatically affecting both of these services. Despite the Prime Minister's commitment to Sure Start hundreds of centres have closed and many more are vulnerable as budgets are consistently squeezed. Right across the north east library services are under severe pressure, many already relying on volunteers to be able to operate.

These short-term measures will have long-term consequences. Many are rightly concerned about current levels of youth unemployment, at its highest levels for over 30 years. The generation behind that one is also facing a tough future to this lack of investment in raising educational standards now.

Kevin Rowan

Regional Secretary

Northern TUC