“The era of austerity is finally coming to an end.”
Just because the Chancellor repeated variations of this assertion seven times during his Budget speech, that doesn’t make it true.
And he didn’t give much to disguise the lie, simply announcing minimal dribbles of cash for the sake of the soundbite.
Take potholes. Our roads are in such a state, the Chancellor knew he had to say something. The frustration it creates for motorists means it’s a key swing voter issue too: indeed, England’s ten most-potholed highway authorities, topped by Surrey, are all Tory-run.
Schools is clearly another issue the Tories would like to have a handy funding soundbite for. It’s another subject that exercises large swathes of voters of every stripe, and – like poorly maintained roads – starkly highlights the crumbling of the public realm.
So what did Hammond offer? An additional £400m to “help our schools buy the little extras they need”.
The Chancellor argued that, “School budgets often do not stretch to that extra bit of kit that would make such a difference”. But this funding hardly scratches the surface: the current funding shortfall in schools is £2bn per year, according to the worst-funded education authorities (again, most of them Tory). According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, spending per pupil in England has fallen by 8 per cent since 2010.
And so, schools are crowdfunding and fundraising for basic equipment, parents are paying for school supplies, headteachers are being forced to raid their budgets meant for special needs services and disadvantaged pupils, charities are propping up essential subjects, schools are cutting their opening hours (closing on Friday afternoons, for example) across the country, and some are struggling to afford hot meals.
England’s schools face a severe teaching shortage, and about 60 per cent of teachers will receive pay increases below inflation this September, according to the IFS.
The notion that they need only an “extra bit of kit” to fill this funding void is a perfect summary of Hammond’s penny-pinching Budget.