A constituent has kindly allowed us to share her recent e-mail correspondence with Damian Collins MP regarding the government’s education and housing policies. Please find the exchange below:
Dear Damian Collins
Thank you for your reply to my last email. I appreciate your giving time to answer correspondence from your constituents and recognise the importance of using the opportunity to discuss the issues with my MP which are of high importance to me.
I welcome your support for doctors and nurses but cannot agree that the nurses’ pay settlement was adequate compensation for the loss of earnings in real terms over the last decade.
It is also important to remember that there are other NHS workers whose work is vital to the proper running of our health service and these key workers should also be properly rewarded.
No employees of the NHS or any other service should be forced to go to food banks to feed their families.
Another matter which is of great importance to me, having taught in primary and special schools, is the education of our children and young people.
A keystone of Boris Johnson’s policy making is “levelling up”.
I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on how this is to be achieved in the schools in our area, bearing in mind that we have independent, free, denominational, grammar, academies, comprehensive, secondary and primary schools and preschool provision.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Jane then sent a follow-up e-mail:
Dear Damian Collins
Further to my email of yesterday, l am writing in response to your comments on plans regarding green energy and grants to house owners.
Whilst these iniatives are welcome, it is disappointing that there appears to be an absence of a more ambitious plan to build new local authority housing stock to rehouse the many who are bringing up children in inadequate, often unhealthy, privately rented properties or worse still, expensive bed and breakfast accommodation at huge cost to councils.
There are many empty properties in our towns which could be converted into decent living accommodation if councils used their powers to compulsorily acquire these.
This pandemic is throwing into sharp focus the increasing level of inequality in our country, one of the richest in the world. Should we be content to allow children to grow up in conditions you or l would not deem acceptable?
I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you for your attention.
Damian Collins MP replies:
Dear Ms Darling,
Thank you for your emails. Regarding education, I very much agree with you that this is an important part of the Government’s ‘Levelling Up’ agenda to improve life chances and opportunities across the country for children of all backgrounds. Every child should receive an excellent education which allows them to achieve their full potential. School standards are rising. As at December 2019, 86 per cent of schools were judged good or outstanding, compared to just 68 per cent a decade ago.
A good education can be the single greatest transformer of lives. That is why I am so pleased that the latest Programme for International Student Assesment results show that pupils in the UK perform better than the OECD averages in reading, Maths and Science. Thanks to the hard work of teachers across the country, in 2018 there were 163,000 additional six-year-olds are on track to be fluent readers, compared to 2012 when the light touch phonics screening check was introduced. This will go a long way to helping every child reach their full potential.
In addition, steps have been taken to guarantee a funding boost to increase per pupil funding levels across the country. Per pupil funding will reach at least £4,000 at primary schools by 2021/22 and £5,000 at secondary schools for 2020/21. The Pupil Premium scheme is also providing support to disadvantaged pupils.
Regarding building more council housing and properties being made available for people, I support the change in the law to allow local authorities to charge higher rates of council tax on homes that have been left empty for years, which took effect in April 2019. Councils will be able to charge double the rate of council tax on properties empty for two or more years, triple the rate on properties empty for five to ten years, and quadruple the rate on properties empty for more than a decade. I welcome that there are now over 100,000 fewer empty homes than in 2008.
The Government has been encouraging local authorities to build more housing. The recent Budget announced £12 billion in funding to build more affordable homes including homes for social rent in the coming years – the biggest cash investment in affordable housing for a decade. I hope this shows you that the Government is taking action on this.
Member of Parliament for Folkestone and Hythe
Jane and her partner Brian then respond:
Dear Damian Collins,
Thank you for your response to my recent email.
However, the OECD notes that the gap in achievement between state and private schools in the UK is amongst the widest in the West.
The “Spirit Level” (2009: Wilkinson and Pickett) reported on 30 years of research showing that inequality in the UK (with the USA and Portugal) was the highest in the world, and is the greatest determinant of poor outcomes (health, social, educational, work prospects, housing and mobility etc.).
Adequate housing for all should be one of the first “levelling up” properties and it will only be met by local authority building programmes. Tinkering around with a few “social housing” homes tacked onto a new housing development will not suffice.
As well as blighting the lives of many children at the bottom end, inequality generates huge costs to the economy.
“Levelling up”, if it seriously addresses these fundamental issues, should improve the environments, early physical, social, emotional and intellectual development of disadvantaged children, many of whom a national study found to have been nearly a year behind at age 3.
A brief look at the availability of ante-natal and pre-school services for children and families in Kent, gives the impression of very variable provision, much reduced during the years of Austerity.
It, all too often, becomes very hard for schools to compensate for these inequalities in such crucial areas of development. Good Sure Start centres famously helped such children and their families.
A report by Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar (2006- “A Comprehensive Future: Quality and equality for all our children) states “One of the biggest problems facing British schools is the gap between rich and poor, and the enormous disparity in children’s home backgrounds and the social and cultural capital they bring to the educational table”.
For decades, even centuries, inequality, the cycle of deprivation, problem families, have been the focus of study. However, little has changed since I completed my teacher training in 1971. Many solutions have been proposed. Since the advent of the Welfare State, huge amounts of money have been spent on supporting people who cannot support themselves and their children. The fact that we are still talking about the ever widening gap, seems to suggest that inequality has a function in our society and that there is a lack of political will to eradicate it. Other countries have made huge strides towards achieving the ethical and moral objective of reducing inequality.
“The historical evidence confirms the primacy of political will. Rather than greater equality waiting till well meaning governments think they can afford to make societies more equal, governments have usually not pursued more egalitarian policies until they thought their survival depended on it”. (“Spirit Level”)
Please could you outline this government’s policies to not only “level up”, but to level down so that the very small number of very wealthy landowning people could share a bit of their largesse, contributing more to benefit their fellow citizens?
We look forward to hearing your comments.
Jane Darling and Brian Westcott