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Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Ever-Meaner Britain

I will spend part of today at a meeting of Trustees who are trying to plot a viable future for a thirty-odd-year-old Charity that faces ever-harsher financial circumstances; as does almost the entire charity sector. Local authority funding is rapidly drying up, even for the local public library which we took into our premises when the purpose-built facility was closed in an earlier round of spending reductions. Well endowed grant-making charities are overwhelmed with requests for assistance to be given to worthy causes. In our own case, after a heavy investment of resources, especially highly specialist human resources that were unstintingly supplied by our brilliant staff, a package approved for the Health Service has not been implemented because of the cuts that are decimating the options available to the clinical commissioning groups. We will be able to plan for constrained survival of the charity; but we will also, of necessity, discuss how best to dispose of our [not inconsiderable] residual assets if the future becomes unsustainable for the organisation as an independent entity.

Similar issues have been discussed repeatedly by thousands of charities around the country over recent years, and the unremitting pursuit of George Osborne's squalid policies makes nonsense of the May government's rhetoric about about 'a country that works for everyone'.

Schools have reverted to the Victorian model of asking parents for a few pennies a week [now translated into a few few pounds] to supply the children with reading materials and outings that the state no longer funds. Research shows how important it is that ALL children have access to the same basic facilities. The strictly stratified performance of children in tests and examinations according to parental income, which is only marginally affected by differentials in innate ability, has become horribly clear in recent in-depth studies. In order that all children have the best chance of not falling completely into a poverty trap it is essential that they all have the same minimal provision in school. The gap between the most affluent and the poorest children on entering school is apparent in their vastly disparate degrees of socialisation, articulation, body mass and susceptibility to discipline at age five. Hundreds of thousands of children arrive at school hungry every day, and the funding of breakfast clubs is increasingly uncertain: so another burden falls on the goodwill of better-off parents and charitable sources in the neighbourhood. Of course, parental fecklessness and failings, ethnic differentiation and associated misunderstandings make their contribution to stretching the bottom of the achievement scale downwards; but society accepted the need to address these issues for over a century: until the Osborne axe reduced the resources that could be applied to that fundamental work.

So the government is continuing with Blair's policy of free schools, which do not readily bear comparison with the mainstream of educational standards and attainments. And, all on her own, Mrs May has resuscitated the idea of establishing grammar schools: a distraction in which the Education Secretary has become fully embroiled.The partial implementation of this daft policy will further denude the resources from all other schools - including free schools.

Britain is well beyond the point where social norms can be maintained. Britain is becoming a meaner society. Sharp-elbowed educated parents with modest means will continue to bag the best for their children, in a vicious contest for the crumbs that will not affect the really affluent who can still send their children outside the state system into private schools. The differentiation between the haves and have-nots will widen and can become a lifelong experience due to the evanescence of private charities; unless the policy is drastically changed in the near future. The apocalypse is coming close. Mr Osborne can write about it in the Evening Standard and Londoners can use his journal in substitution for the toilet paper they will no longer be able to afford.

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