Teaching economics teaches young people who to blame for their problems

No wonder Michael Gove wants to stop doing it.

While young people in Europe rise up in the wake of economic crises, in Britain they seem to have swallowed the rhetoric that someone else is to blame. They have no stake in the systems that govern them and Michael Gove wants to keep it that way.

You've heard about The Economic Crisis, right? How could you not, everyone's worrying about it. Open a newspaper, turn on the television, tune in to the radio or zone in on social media, and there they are, worrying. The Economic Crisis is always lurking nearby, threatening to breathe fire on us at a moment's notice. Governments have boldly tried and failed to slay it, losing limbs and public confidence along the way.

Our current government ministers set themselves up as bold knights guarding the people, keeping them at arms length from operations lest they get their own ideas and jeopardise the mission to calm everything down. They tell us The Economic Crisis was spawned by previous, incompetent knights and fed by the lazy and feckless, and we believe them. But the new crop of knights is better and bolder, they tell us.

And Gove the Barbarian is one of the boldest. He will smash down everything that gets in his way. He will use his might to protect the delicate workings of the State from the course and lowly masses. Teaching them too much about how it works is at best a distraction from the important business of moulding the compliant workforce that the government's economic plan requires, and at worst - well, I suspect he shudders to think.

So, in spite of vigorous lobbying behind the scenes, he has taken economics out of the citizenship curriculum and replaced it with personal finance. In itself, personal finance is a very welcome addition to the National Curriculum: I wish I had left school with some understanding of banks and budgeting. But, for Mr Gove, that's as far as it goes. He wants people to be responsible with their own money (after all, personal debt is no help to the economic situation), but he doesn't want to let people anywhere near the economy itself. Keep the plebs in the dark about politics, a little knowledge will only lead to trouble.

How irritating it must be, then, that trained teachers have their own ideas about teaching. He’s giving schools more freedom because he wants to free up the market, not because he trusts teachers. (I doubt he wants to ‘let a thousand William Tyndales bloom’, as Fred Jarvis pondered in the Independent.) It's time someone stamped out such subversive tendencies. It's time someone whipped schools into glorious mirrors of business that turn out neat, fragmented packages of knowledge and manners with ruthless efficiency. Little packages that expect nothing from the State; little packages that are eager for the System to gobble them up and fart them into the only bedroom of the last remaining council house. And Gove the Barbarian is the man for the job. 

But what happens if the slaying fails? Or if our knightly overlords lose their remaining credibility? So far, this government has only proved that politics can be pretty hopeless against such beasts as The Economic Crisis, which will likely turn on the people with vigour in the end. The failed attempts of politicians are simply evidence that mainstream politics does not hold the answers. So, people will look elsewhere to protect their own interests, as we have seen with the rise of the far right in Greece and rioting on the streets of Spain. Britain, so far, has got off lightly; we are kept in our place effectively. But for how long? And when our politicians lose their grip completely, do we really want an uprising of people who have been kept alien from political life?

So, put the economy back on the curriculum, Mr Gove. Fulfil your promise to ensure citizenship 'is even better taught' in schools. Prepare our young people properly for economic and democratic life. Otherwise, it will be each for themselves when the fire gets too hot, and your government's precious economic plan will be toast.

Michael Grimes is Online Communications Manager for the Citizenship Foundation.

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.