The Observer’s take on the cost of cutting education spending | Editorial Observer
Sometimes a single decision reveals a multitude of failures and this is how the government announced last week that it would only make available £ 1.4bn of catch-up funds for education. This is less than a tenth of what was recommended by Sir Kevan Collins, the “czar” of educational recovery, and a fraction of what some other governments are investing in catching up post-secondary education. pandemic. The rejection of his comprehensive, evidence-based package of additional support for children and youth resulted in Collins’ resignation, accompanied by an attack on the government’s “timid approach. [which] risk of failing hundreds of thousands of students ”.
Much of the blame for a broader failure to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on children and youth can be blamed on the Prime Minister and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson. But this particular decision also reveals a lot about the bad decisions of Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who, like his predecessors, wields great power over spending policy. Sunak reportedly blocked Collins’ recommendations for more funding because he viewed evidence of additional investment in children as “thin” and because he said the government had no way to pay them. Collins is the longtime former CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation, established by the government to provide regular and independent evaluations of evidence.
That says a lot about the fact that Sunak might assess his own assessment above that of an internationally renowned independent expert. But it is also economically illiterate to argue that all recovery decisions in a pandemic must be paid for by higher taxes or spending cuts, rather than borrowing to invest – not just to improve children’s lives, but also by reducing the long-term costs of the pandemic to the nation’s finances. The Institute for Fiscal Studies says education costs for the pandemic could be in the order of £ 350 billion in lost income for life for this generation of children.
This is symptomatic of the flawed economic thinking at the heart of government, embodied in Sunak’s tax forgery. He deserves credit for quickly setting up a generous leave program last spring, even though he left too many self-employed workers without support. But so many decisions have been dangerously misguided. It refused to fund a decent level of sick pay for those who must self-isolate, slashing compliance levels for those for whom the choice was between going to work or not feeding their children. Her “eat out to help” program prompted people to mingle in closed spaces late last summer. He reportedly clashed with those in cabinet in favor of a lockdown earlier last fall in line with expert scientific advice. His reasoning was based on a misunderstanding of basic math: that an exponentially spread virus chooses not between social restrictions and economic costs today, but social restrictions and economic costs today against restrictions. social worse and higher economic costs later. The delay in the lockdown in the fall, supported by both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, was one of the worst decisions of the pandemic and partly explains the more serious death toll in Wave 2.
Sunak’s Tory predecessors left the NHS with the tightest funding regulations in its 70-year history, overwhelmed and with barely enough capacity to handle a bad winter flu season, let alone a pandemic early enough to be near the peak of national risk Register. And the education funding decision is symptomatic of its broader approach to post-pandemic recovery: false economy today, even if it costs money tomorrow.
Boris Johnson has expressed his desire to “upgrade” the country by reducing regional inequalities. Yet 10 years of conservative spending cuts have disproportionately hit poorer areas, and cuts in financial support for low-wage parents have deepened income inequalities and increased levels of child poverty.
There is little evidence that Johnson or Sunak are willing to commit the levels of investment necessary to address some of the greatest regional inequalities of any wealthy nation.
The bad economic decisions of the past year are mostly political, but there are deeper, long-standing institutional problems with too powerful a Treasury. The Chancellor has vast powers vested in him through the Treasury, which sets the government’s budget, determines what departments can spend, thus giving him significant decision-making power. It controls fiscal policy, sets taxes, manages the national debt, and is responsible for economic policy designed to maximize long-term growth. This contributes to short-term and overly centralized decision-making.
A recent proposal by the Nesta think tank to split the treasury into ministries of finance and the economy, with budget decisions absorbed by the prime minister’s office, in order to improve the quality of long-term economic decision-making, deserves serious thought.
The bogus savings of conservative chancellors have proven to be costly over the past decade, but during the pandemic these effects have been magnified. Sunak’s economic approach has not only hurt the country’s finances over the past year, it has cost people their lives. And its failure to invest more in education will reduce the life chances of a generation of children.