Labour selling out the needy

19th May 2006 at 01:00
Now I hate to kick a man when he's down. But in this case I'm going to have to make an exception. Anyway, it's not really a man I'm looking to put the boot into, but that whole bunch of new men and new women collectively known as New Labour.

You see the problem is, I'm beginning to take it personally. Yes, I know they've been squeezing adult learners for some time now. And, yes, I have noticed too how the value of my salary has been on the slide for as many years as I care to remember.

But it's never really got to me that much. By which I mean, really got to me. Not, that is, until now. Let's start with those adult students. Like most things emanating from the labyrinthine corridors of the Learning and Skills Council's Coventry HQ, this isn't a straightforward issue.

A number of the students I teach - mostly on one-year access-to-university courses - claim benefits and so pay only a token registration charge.

Others, deemed to be on a low income, can have up to a third of their fees paid for them.

And now, from 2007 if I read theJChancellor'sJrecentJbudget measures right, students up to the age of 25 will join the under-19s in having their level 3 course fees waived. Too bad, of course, if you're over 25 - and most access students are - but then getting older always does seem to have its downside doesn't it?

But it is what's happening in the here and now - that is, to the students I'm signing up to start this September - that has really hit home. Despite the concessions, there's still a good chunk of them who will have to pay the going rate. And at pound;725 the going rate for this year is almost exactly double what it was last. True, the college has some leeway in individual course pricing; but they, like all colleges, must dance to the tune of the LSC, which in turn sings its siren songs strictly from the Government's hymn sheet.

But ah, we are told, adults can afford to pay more. Don't we know that down every leafy suburban lane can be found an adult college stuffed full of stockbrokers paying tuppence ha'penny a night forJrecreationalJcoursesJon Cordon Bleu cookery, wine tasting and the like? Perhaps. But I have to say that very few of my inner city students desperate to make good on their lost education actually make their livings from broking stock. True, many of them are broke (and about to be made even more so) but that's not quite the same thing is it?

Often they are people who are battling to bring up a family, work long hours at a menial occupation and study, all at the same time. For them there are no loans or grants of any kind available. If ever there were students facing hardship, surely these are they. Yet here is a Government, a party (once, ironically, known as the People's Party) doing its best to ensure they will have things even harder still.

Now let's consider the money that's in my pocket. Or rather the money that isn't. Why is it that the image that always comes to mind when considering lecturers' pay and New Labour is that of the US government and the native Americans? Or, to put it another way, you give us Manhattan and we'll give you this nice shiny string of beads! And do the palefaces speak with forked tongue? You bet they do. Our "Manhattan" is to be found in all those concessions made -workloads increased, conditionsJerodedJandJholidays trimmed - over the past ten years or so. And the beads must surely stand for the magnificent sum of 1.5 per cent, which is on offer by way of recompense. Except of course that, with inflation running at more than 2 per cent, what we're really being offered is a lovely string of "minus beads".

As with the native Americans too, the forked-tongue promises have been many and various. Most recently they have centred on that word parity - pay parity with the school teachers that is - which more than one government paleface has conceded we surely deserve.

But the justice of the case means nothing to New Labour. The nurses and the school teachers have received their real rises in pay because they have clout. If they take action then pretty soon the public will be clamouring for it to end.

By contrast, if Natfhe calls one of its occasional one-day strikes (money in the employers' pockets, bonus holiday for the students) they just laugh.

So what do I say - what should all teachers in FE be saying - as Blair's woes mount and the knives come out for New Labour across the land? Whoopee! With knobs on.

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