Sunday, March 30, 2014

Tuition Fees versus a Graduate Tax - A False Choice

So the student loans system, of which I was one of the first members, begins to unravel. Who would have thought that the government lending money, with no guarantee of payback, at low rates of interest, and increasing the threshold for repayment, would result in the government losing out? Perhaps somebody with a GCSE in maths? I’m pleased Labour has started to address the problem with today’s announcement that we’re pledging to cut tuition fees to £6,000.

But this isn’t a long term solution to the crisis in funding, and Labour knows it. Now the idea of a ‘graduate tax’ is gaining traction as a way of paying for our world-beating education system, and a real alternative to loaning money on economically obtuse terms. I must confess a layer of bemusement covering my steadfast opposition to this idea – as somebody who is fortunate enough to pay back a significant sum out of his pay packet every month, the current system already feels like a graduate tax to me. Despite the macro-jiggery-pokery of changing a loan to a tax, there does feel to be something deeply unjust about me paying the same amount for a university education I’ve barely finished as O do to a pension that I will likely barely claim, while property-owning baby-boomer colleagues prepare for a well-earned retirement, founded on modest incomes built by university education they’ve never directly paid for. A graduate tax couldn’t practically find every graduate working today, and so its arbitrary start point will simply perpetuate this frustrating and unjust system of taxing those graduates who can afford it least.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Getting HS2 on the Right Track

And so, with the ConDems struggling to fill legislative time, much parliamentary attention is turning to the building of the controversial HS2 rail link, and quite rightly. On the surface, developing a railway network that brings us up, in part, to standards that in the rest of Europe and most developed economies met almost a quarter of a century ago seems like a no-brainer. Indeed, anything that makes the UK smaller, the centralised capital less far away, and invests serious cash into our still struggling economy is certainly a good thing. Much of the debate now centres on the cost, with Labour showing real fiscal credibility on scrutinising promises to keep to the £50bn spending limit (not to mention the fact that our Olympics guru, who delivered 2012 on time and on budget, has been tasked with doing the maths).

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Young Workers' Month

March is a big month; Lent begins on Wednesday, Cheltenham races the week after, and the scramble for three birthday presents in between will occupy a lot of my time. However, if I can distract you briefly from your studying form in the Racing Post or daily Holy Hour, there is a brilliant initiative running for the full 31 days – Young Workers’ Month.

Set up by active, young trades union members (from the grassroots, no astro-turf here), the idea is to stop hand-wringing over the problems faced by young workers and start meaningful, innovative organising to fight back and get over them. Of course, much of the effort will be about young people talking, engaging and organising together, and using our shared generational experience to point out the rough deal young workers are getting under this Liberal/Tory government and in the increasingly unchecked free market.

However, let’s remember that the intention of the current government is to set worker against worker, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the generational divide. Tory talk about ‘gold plated pensions’, the tuition fee betrayal of the Lib Dems, the spectre of removing benefits so as to deny independent living from young people on the basis of their age alone can make it feel that the government reserves a special hate for youth. But we can’t have this distract us – it’s past generations who built our NHS, older workers who struggle to find support for training to keep them up-to-date and employable, and older people who are under-represented on our screens and in popular culture. The feeling that your age group’s voice is marginalised and your skills side-lined is one that’s held below 30, over 50 and everywhere in-between.

Young Workers’ Month is our opportunity to reply with one voice to this strategy of division. Young workers don’t get a rough deal because they’re young – they get a rough deal because they’re workers. Young Workers’ Month is as much about building solidarity between all working people, regardless of age, as it is about young people standing together.