Thursday 26 August 2010

Education, Equality and Environment

I’d like to challenge the notion that the two sacred cows of schools and hospitals should always be the most important when it comes to government spending. Yes, they are very important but they are not always the most important.

If we are to create Jerusalem, the equal and fair society that those of us on the left hope and strive for we are not going to create it just through education and the NHS. Economic equality will not be achieved by throwing large wads of cash at education and health. You can’t build robustly if the foundations are made of sand. In my opinion there is an area that qualifies for just as much priority on spending as education and health if not more. That area is environment.

It must be some strange middle-class fetish, which I clearly don’t understand, that demands that ‘Education’ should triumph over nearly all else in the government priority spending stakes. If you are middle-class then education is important. If you are middle-class, spending on education pays dividends. If you are working-class it’s a bit more hit and miss.

As I’ve said before my approach to politics and my political beliefs are influenced by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow’s fundamental ‘Biological and Physiological needs of air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.’ need to be adequately met before a person can then be concerned with moving on to the next level. Economic equality for all won’t be attained until everybody has passed up through all of the levels.

If people are consigned to live in poverty and inadequate housing then their environment will never be conducive to learning and good health. If you have the misfortune to be born into a poverty-stricken, dysfunctional family then your chances of becoming a brain surgeon or a captain of industry are extremely remote.

I was brought up on a council estate in the fifties through to the beginning of the seventies. The only heat in our council house was a fire in the living room plus the odd electric fire when we could afford it. I was lucky. I came from a loving family and we were slightly more prosperous than many of my contemporaries, but it was still a struggle financially for my parents, who both worked full-time. In winter it was damned near impossible to do homework at home. It either had to be completed in the living room in the warm with the telly blaring or in the arctic temperatures of my bedroom. Concentration was an issue. Personally I think I did well to ingest and attain the level of education that I did. Going to university or getting a degree just didn’t feature on my radar. So when people harp on about ‘social mobility’ and how education is somehow going to single handedly increase it they are talking out of their arses.

Yes keep building schools and hospitals* but more importantly build social housing and lots of it. And, let’s spend some serious money so that we enable all children to be brought up in a stable and disciplined** family style environment. Only that way will you start to help break the cycle of poverty and facilitate true social mobility.

* fat chance of this with the ConDems in power of course
** discipline as in ‘structure, rules and responsibilities’ rather than some Victorian notion of ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’

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