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Does a pay cut change the way you vote?

Theresa May decided to call a snap election during a time of falling real wages. Is that wise? 

Amid the cacophony of the general election campaigns, Torsten Bell of the Resolution Foundation has noted something strange

Although politicos have been talking up the idea of an early election ever since she was anointed Prime Minister, Theresa May’s decision to call one comes at an extremely unusual time. 

Pay is falling sharply, and this has only coincided with a general election five times before – in 1910, 1922, 1923, 1945 and 2010. In all those years, the ruling party lost seats. In 1945, voters were fed up enough to kick out the war hero Winston Churchill in favour of the Labour party. In 2010, New Labour’s 13-year grip on power ended. 

As Bell observes, this is probably no accident. Prime Ministers call elections (even after fixed-term parliaments have been passed into law, as we recently discovered), and “Prime Ministers don’t do the whole Turkey and Christmas thing, unless five years is up and they have to". 

The correlation between household income and voting intention is well-documented, and relatively easy to track. The links between wage growth and how you vote are less well understood. However, the Brexit vote is already shining a spotlight on this area. 

The voters most frustrated with the European Union were concentrated in areas where wages had stagnated, according to research commissioned by the Financial Times. In one borough, Castle Point in Essex, where Ukip took 31 per cent of the vote share in 2015, real median wages had dropped by 13 per cent since 1997. 

This is not a hard and fast rule – research by the Resolution Foundation found that some areas with big pay boosts also voted for Brexit, and geographical inequality was more of a factor. But a study of local elections in the noughties by Declan Turner of Leeds University found that as real wages fell, support for the extreme right rose.

Whether or not an economist will ever provide definitive proof of the link between wage growth and voting intention, one thing is clear – voters have a few concrete indicators of how the economy is working, and whether or not they get a pay rise is one of them. 

Meanwhile, Brexit is starting to bite. Thanks to the collapse in sterling, inflation is at 2.7 per cent, the highest level since September 2013. As a result of rising inflation, the Resolution Foundation expects real pay to have fallen by 0.3-0.6 per cent in the three months to April. Meanwhile, benefits for working age people are frozen, including tax credits that top up low wages. In short, if pay is falling now, it’s likely to fall harder and faster in the near future. 

Perhaps May’s decision to call a snap election isn't so odd after all.

 

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. 

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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