Never mind the EBacc - the arts are already second class subjects

Tough on art, tough on the causes of art.

"When I hear the word culture I reach for my gun": Goering, the James Bond franchise, and now the UK government.

The new EBacc has left art and music out of its core curriculum, providing such a disincentive for these subjects that 27 per cent of schools have withdrawn related subjects from the curriculum, according to Ipsos Mori research.

A number of high profile figures in the arts expressed their concern to the Guardian. If the trend continues "we risk ending up with a two-tier system where arts are regarded as second-class subjects", Cultural Learning Alliance's Lizzie Crump told the Guardian.

Too late Lizzie Crump! The arts have been second class subjects for some time. In 2011, the postgrad places for trainee teachers were reduced by 220 places for art and 180 places for music. 206 arts companies lost their core funding last year, according to the 2011 spending review, and one in ten shut down as a result. And last week 117 jobs were cut at the Arts Council England, which has reduced internal costs by half. (It plans to cut a fifth of its workforce by July).

The way the trend is going, even if we can save art qualifications there'll be little use for them in a few years time. No wonder the Guardian's commenters are arguing for the arts on the basis of their psychological benefits, rather than their career prospects.

Shooting the arts in the face. Photograph: Getty Images

Martha Gill writes the weekly Irrational Animals column. You can follow her on Twitter here: @Martha_Gill.

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.