The only area of public policy that competes with housing and welfare for utter insanity is the funding of education for those aged nineteen and over. Yesterday, the Coalition reduced funding for those who don't go to University by 11% and by 24% for college-based skills provision. Whilst construction, creative arts and engineering are being cut, the net migration figure reached 300,000 or so in the last year. Can you join the dots?
This is a betrayal of the majority who don't go to university. It's economic insanity and socially corrosive. We have a grotesquely unequal and divided society. Not only do we seem happy with that, we want to worsen the situation.
First you’ve heard of this? Yesterday, there was barely a peep out of the Labour Party or any other part of the left who seem completely relaxed about this appalling approach to our national future. The media, other than the education press, was utterly silent.
Today, the Labour Party will announce a policy that is likely to cost £2billion- the reduction of tuition fees to £6000 a year. A great progressive cause you might think. Only it isn't. The entire College-based, community-based skills provision amounts to £1.5bn. We spend £17billion on universities. Now Labour is bunging £2billion towards graduates. If it was towards childcare that would be great but, no, it's towards graduates, ie those with the greatest earning potential of all.
Having devoted an entire conference speech to the 'forgotten 50%', the leader of the Labour Party is announce a spend of £2billion a year on the top 70% of male earners and the top 50% of female earners. Of course, there will be some increased charging of the top couple of deciles or so to hide the overall distributive impact - so it might just be focused on the middle 50% or so. But the targeted group is nonetheless not the group you’d instinctively devote a scarce £2billion of investment to. Having blithely let yesterday's ferocious cut on skills pass by, today Labour devotes its attention to those who have some relative advantage in the labour market. This is not socialism as anyone would recognise it.
Yes, but without this £2billion the national debt will swell comes the reply. Please, don't pretend this is motivated by some rediscovered fiscal conservatism. It is motivated by focus group. Secondly, it is debatable whether the existing policy is 'unsustainable'. It all depends on the cost of government borrowing. Thirdly, investing in higher education is a good use of the national debt- it raises our economic and social potential.
The irony is that Labour attacks the SNP in Scotland rightly for diverting resources from colleges to universities. Its policy in England now has precisely the same effect.
So that puts Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, and, also, the Greens in the same philosophical position of supporting the strongest instead of the least advantaged. UKIP would be the same if they had a policy. Who should the 'forgotten 50' turn to? It's not entirely clear.
This article is the personal view of the author and not that of the RSA.
Update: The policy will actually cost £2.7billion so more than outlined above. Higher earning graduates will pay a higher interest rate to fund a £400 uplift in the maintenance grant. That is justified but it could be done in isolation without spending £2.7billion a year to benefit the top two-thirds of graduates to the tune of the equivalent of a couple of pints a week.
The policy also states that Labour will ensure an apprenticeship for every school leaver with the requisite grades. This would be better described as an aspiration than a policy.