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Still not quite getting that Tory ‘levelling up’ agenda? That’s completely understandable, because it is just a vile, deceitful Tory PR scam. In exactly the same way that the euphemistically named “peace keepers” were sold to the American people as a benign tool of protection while remaining deadly weapons capable of horrific carnage targeting innocent civilians; so too is the fake ‘levelling up’ agenda providing cover for an insidious program of targeted social deprivation that is set to rival Dickensian era Britain! While the BBC and Mainstream Media continues to promote the totally defunct fallacy of levelling up, the harsh reality of the pervasive extreme deprivation throughout already seriously deprived areas of the UK will rumble on, totally crippling the life chances of our brilliant young people. The next generation of political leaders requires a few of those intentionally oppressed to somehow survive this onslaught and win positions of influence on order to shape our future as a more progressive and equal society.
When I was in school there was that compulsory bottle of milk one was expected to consume despite its frigid mid winter chill as you sat in a spartanly heated classroom; it was not universally popular. What I failed to comprehend at the time was that low blood sugar significantly contributed to my muddled thinking as a dyslexic pupil who was serious disadvantage in school. Much later in life I realized that I could not afford to risk dips in my blood sugar if I wanted to pass tests and I took proactive measures seriously. Impoverished hungry school children are not stupid, but they are rendered unable to think properly due to low blood sugar as the brain requires fuel to function. This is why programs like ‘Sure Start’ providing a good breakfast, have proven so effective and why Free School Meals for disadvantaged children make such an important difference. Those forced to self isolate at home or unable to attend school due to a Covid outbreak or lockdown should not be suddenly put at increased disadvantage learning at home.
But this is not the only disadvantage inflicted on less affluent children trying to continue their studies at home. The Government loudly announced that it would be providing Laptops to children to enable remote learning, but as always with the Tories, it is the follow through that soon disintegrates into a token gesture following their bold televised PR presentations. After a well publicized announcement that sounded far too good to be Tory, the reality was that a token number of the Laptops promised to schools were actually provided. But realizing that their PR stunt had accomplished its goal it was time to quietly scale back while they hoped no one was paying attention. In the Canary Article entitled, “The government quietly U-turned on a key pandemic promise just before going on a week’s holiday,” they highlight the regressive backpedalling on a promise made to disadvantaged school children.
The Canary report that, “Laptops were promised for all students in years 3 to 11 who had to self-isolate and needed access to a device.” But, “By 7 June, head teachers were worried that this promise was not going to be fulfilled with the Observer reporting: most heads say they haven’t received a single device yet for disadvantaged year 10 pupils. Then, on 23 October, head teachers across the country were told that the allocation of computers for disadvantaged pupils would be cut by around 80%. This comes despite knowledge that the poorest children are much less likely than their richer peers to have a digital device to access home learning.” Of course this massive scaling back with regard to an earlier Government commitment did not get picked up in the compliant Tory dominated Media or mentioned by the BBC, disadvantaged school children are an extremely low priority. The ‘handyfloss’ is still focused on the deprivation of the last hour of pub drinking time: who cares about poor kids!
The Canary claims that this is “Emblematic of the government pandemic response.” They say that, “Independent Sage has urged the government to stop cuts to laptops given to schools to prevent increasing educational inequality. In a statement, it said:
This episode is emblematic of the Government pandemic response which lays duties and requirements upon sectors (such as education) but without providing the support necessary to implement them. While it is clearly desirable that students unable to attend school should be provided with remote education, this is an empty aspiration without ensuring that all pupils have the necessary resources.” They say, “Meanwhile, people on Twitter expressed their anger and frustration with the decision.” According to the Canary, “As of 15 October, the Department for Education (DfE) reported that 21% of state-funded schools had at least one child self-isolating at home. All schools are required to have a remote learning plan in place for these students.”
The Canary report that, “Without sufficient provision of laptops, many disadvantaged pupils are unlikely to be able to access learning while self-isolating. This adds to fears that missing school has significantly widened the educational attainment gap between the richest and poorest children. Combined with the vote against free school meals for children, concerns have been raised that the poorest children are being left further and further behind. This comes after a spokesperson for the DfE told The Canary earlier this month: Our focus is on levelling up the opportunities available to every young person in this country, and we will do everything possible to make sure no-one is left behind as a result of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The lack of concern shown for the education and wellbeing of poor children has become staggering. U-turns on both decisions are imperative to stop inequality growing even further.” This is clearly more evidence of the Tory Government’s “Decimating Down” agenda!
The damage inflicted on the working poor of this country by this ruthless and incompetent Tory Government while they continue to make the fictitious claim of ‘levelling up’ is incalculable. It is occurring at speed and by stealth with scant mention and zero criticism from their shills in the right-wing media. Beyond the shocking headlines focused on their current most serious breach of duty to the citizens of this country over free school meals for the poorest children in our nation there are the constant assaults on city councils ability to cope financially with the impact of rising infection rates caused by Tory mismanagement of the Covid crisis. Schools kids are being used as vectors to drive the virus increasing the impact on multigenerational households in cramped homes; hence the hard line on meals during the holidays. But beneath deceptive propaganda radar even programs that have helped to workers to up-skill and earn higher wages have been targeted for removal to keep the working poor permanently oppressed in Tory Britain.
A Left Foot Forward Article entitled, “Union learning provides around £1.4bn to the economy – but the Tories want to scrap it” Kevin Rowen, Head of Organising, Services and Learning at the TUC, highlights Gavin Williamson’s latest forcible restraint on upward mobility in the Government agenda of “Decimating Down.” Not content with trying to sabotage the future of students with a marking algorithm designed to wreck the life chances of bright pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds he has unleashed an equally incomprehensible restraint on learning. Left Foot Forward say of Union Learning that, “It boosts jobs, wages and productivity but Gavin Williamson wants it gone,” Why? It must be that dangerously disruptive word ‘Union’ that unleashed the Education Sectary’s mental tarantula! But beyond the Tory abhorrence of Union solidarity is the overall agenda of dumming down the working poor to keep them ignorant and slavishly compliant with the increased levels of exploitation that lie ahead.
In the Left Foot Forward article Rowen identifies and presents the case of one typical positive example of the successful and well established Union Learning program. He says, “Jodie works at Tesco. After recently meeting a union learning rep, Sue, at a Checkout Learning Day, and asking about courses that might help her support her children with their homework, Jodie started some courses. She did the National Numeracy Challenge and Get Online via Usdaw courses, quickly catching the learning bug. Sue then encouraged Jodie to take a level 2 customer service course. Her confidence grew and soon she was embarking on a level 2 apprenticeship in IT, which helped her land a new job as admin clerk. The store manager said her commitment to raising her skills made her an excellent choice. All of Jodie’s opportunities were made possible through the Union Learning Fund, which supported 200,000 learners last year. Since its launch in 1998, it has supported a total of 2.5 million learners.”
Despite this very obvious resounding success with the program, Rowen reports that, “earlier this month, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said he will scrap the £12 million annual fund at the end of the current funding year (March 2021). The TUC was stunned to receive this news. The Union Learning Fund is achieving its targets while also being supported by employers. It provides an estimated net contribution to the economy of more than £1.4 billion by boosting jobs, wages and productivity. From basic skills and helping people learn English, to retraining for the jobs of the future, union learning transforms lives. And it has received glowing endorsements from a series of independent evaluations.” So why would a Tory Government whose loud public proclamation of wanting to ‘level up’ and create a more equal society not support this program? Why after the serious challenge of huge redundancies, businesses going under and people needing to re-skill not invest in a well established program like this?
The Tory Government are outright lying to the British people and their real agenda is “Decimating Down” to reduce the working poor in this country to helpless slave labourers with no rights, working zero hours contracts and subsisting on pittance wages. Just the word ‘Union’ deeply unsettles the Tories as it implies workers banding together in solidarity to demand safe working conditions, fair wages and basic benefits for regular hours worked. Unions limit the potential for rampant Corporate exploitation of the entire workforce which in turn might reduce the obscene profits expected by the wealthy elite. The intentional dumming-down of minimum wage earners is imperative to keeping profit margins as high as possible; the price in human misery is totally acceptable to a Tory!
Rowen list the known, “Benefits of the Union Learning Fund
• 68% of union learners with no previous qualifications got a qualification.
• 47% with entry or level 1 qualifications got a higher qualification.
• 80% said they gained skills that could transfer to a new job.
• 53% of employers at union learning workplaces saw an increase in employees gaining qualifications.
• 77% said that union learning had a positive effect on their workplaces.
• 68% said unions could reach and inspire reluctant learners to engage in training.
Value for money. For every £1 spent on the Union Learning Fund:
• Workers gain £7.60 through better pay.
• Employers gain £4.70 through higher productivity.
• The Exchequer gains £3.57 from welfare savings and revenue gains.
• Employers are stunned at the plans to scrap the fund too. They think union learning is ‘brilliant’”
On a hopeful note, Rowen reports that employers are “Supporting the Fund,” the above benefits are tangible. They say, “That’s why several major employers are backing us today as we launch our #SaveUnionLearning campaign. Tesco, Heathrow, Tata Steel, Hinkley Point C and Arla Foods are among those signed up already, and we expect more to follow.” They quote industry leaders who have commented, “’It’s as disappointing as it is perplexing,’ said Paula Stannett, Heathrow Airport’s Chief People Officer. ‘The unprecedented impact that this pandemic is having on jobs across the UK means there has never been a more critical time to invest in upskilling. We urge the Government to rethink its decision.’ Tata Steel see union learning as a fantastic additional resource. HR Director Chris Jaques said: ‘This brilliant initiative allows us to raise the capability of our workforce. It makes us a more effective and productive organisation. The loss of the fund would certainly be detrimental.”
According to Rowen, “SaveUnionLearning is also backed by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and other lifelong learning experts, including the Workers Educational Association and the Learning and Work Institute. CIPD Chief Executive, Peter Cheese, credits union learning with switching people on to learning who might not have done so otherwise. ‘The Union Learning Fund has demonstrated its success at reaching organisations and individuals who would not otherwise have engaged in learning,’ he explained. ‘It has never been more important to ensure that we are investing in the skills of our workforce. This fund should continue to be supported to play its part in this vital agenda’.”
Rowen reports that, “So far, the only explanation given for the cut by the Department for Education is their wish to consolidate learning through further education. But this fails to appreciate the unique role it plays – especially with the potential learners who are never going to research or sign up for courses without support and encouragement. News of the cut comes at the time when participation in learning and skills continues to fall to an all-time low. Only union learning has been able to reach workers that so evidently need help right now to upskill and retrain. Union learning reps are trusted workmates.” That is without doubt the Tory Government’s primary reason for sabotaging the scheme as they say, “it’s this trust that make it the Heineken of adult learning – it gets to people other approaches cannot reach.”
Rowen stresses the strong positive drive behind keeping the scheme in place, “We want to help more people understand why it is unique, why it is vital to ‘building back better’ after the pandemic, and why it must be central to the Prime Minister’s recent promise of a Lifetime Skills Guarantee. To do this, we will be putting learners and learning reps at the heart of our campaign. It’s hard not to be moved by the transformation stories they tell about what it has done for them.” Author of this piece, Kevin Rowan says, “You can sign the #SaveUnionLearn petition here and support the campaign on social media. You are encouraged to share you’re story if you’re a union learner.” Dean Dixon’s Petition is to the attention of: Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education calling on him to “Reverse the cuts to union learning, saying, The government’s plans to cut the Union Learning Fund in England means hundreds of thousands of workers will miss out on skills and training.”
Dixon appeals for us to, “Sign the Petition calling on the government to reverse cuts to union learning and ensure working people can access education and skills training.” He elaborates under the heading, “Why is this important?” In a heartfelt personal endorsement he says, “I saw first-hand the difference union learning made for hundreds of my workmates and friends. So when I heard the news that the government planned to cut the Union Learning Fund, I was devastated. I thought of everyone I’d supported as a union learning rep and what they would have missed out on without this programme. I thought of the workers getting our country through this crisis, who deserve an opportunity to access education and learn new skills in the workplace. It’s impossible to list all of the benefits of union learning I’ve seen, but I can honestly say it’s changed lives.”
In outlining another important aspect of the program Dixon says, “Our training around mental health helped normalise talking about it at work. People who missed out at school learned English and maths in union learning courses, skills they’ll have for life.” He says that, ‘those who came to learning centres and engaged in courses came back over and over again, earning apprenticeships and higher qualifications.’ He further adds that, ‘independent reviews have consistently found union learning to be effective and transformational for the workers who take part, their families, and communities’ and insists that, ‘The government must reverse its decision immediately’.” We must attack the Government over the sheer hypocrisy and brass neck of Tory Ministers when it comes to proven strategies that are genuinely doing a fine job of helping to ‘level up’ and re-skill the many people who have been forced into unemployment through no fault of their own due to Covid 19: we must embarrass the Tories into another U-turn on this issue.
Sadly “Build Back Better” is just another one of Boris Johnson’s shallow sloganeering ploys to dupe the British people into thinking we are “all in this together” when in reality the Tories are milking the Covid cash cow dry and exploiting the crisis to plunder public finances hand over fist. We must disrupt the Tory propaganda by challenging their statements, demanding that their claims must amount to more than empty Tory promises. We have to change the narrative by debunking the ‘levelling up’ scam as a deceitful lie and exposing the truth of the underlying “Decimating Down” agenda. We must demand accountability for the eye-watering sums of money being squandered including the public funds used to pay a charity to create defamatory propaganda targeting the Labour Party. Even without a full Investigation into the Covert 2019 Rigged Election such blatant corruption is sufficient to remove this Tory Government from office. This corruption has still not been dealt with, but we cannot give up or the Tories will drag us all under. DO NOT MOVE ON!