Ashley Pearce is a secondary school economics teacher in a comprehensive school just outside of Reading. Last year he was elected as a councillor for the Labour party for an area in South Reading. He is also a Reading FC fan and keen reader of educational literature.
I viewed my (now online) payslip yesterday and was pretty annoyed. My pay had been cut. Well, to be more precise, my tax burden had risen which meant what I take home has fallen. I have to say I was pretty demotivated for the rest of the day. To most people the composition of tax they pay is not a concern to them. I don’t care which taxes I am paying but I do care how much tax I am paying overall. I should also put this into my personal view, I don’t actually mind paying more tax, I’m happy too if this is funding public services to help others. What has angered me so much this week is that my tax burden has risen in the same week that NHS staff are on strike due to its funding being choked and the Government decided we couldn’t afford to take in 5000 Syrian child refugees. So my tax has gone up, public services (including schools) are being squeezed of funding so where is this money going? National debt is still rising and deficit reduction faltering but we can afford to cut corporation tax for the UK’s biggest firms and lower income tax for millionaires. These are not “tough choices” as the Government keeps telling us; they are conscious choices to redistribute from poor to rich and to make public assets sellable to private firms.
Let’s go into the Government’s tax changes in more detail. They are keen at every turn to tell us that the income tax allowance has risen to £11,000 taking the poorest out of income tax altogether. This is very misleading. Firstly, the poorest earn under £11,000 a year so this is irrelevant to them. Secondly, one of the first things the Government did when it was back in power as a coalition in 2010 was to raise VAT to 20%. This is a regressive tax meaning the poor are hit more by this. So great, I get to “keep” more of my money after income tax so that I can give it back to the government in VAT. No change to me. The Government also stopped the national insurance rebate this month. national insurance is just a tax like any other in reality, and stopping the rebate just means I pay more out. Put simply, it is a tax rise.
Teachers (and other public sector workers) have been hit particularly hard by the Government’s policies in the last 6 years. Firstly the pension changes which occurred in the first couple of years of the coalition. Now there was some industrial action in terms of work to rule and a strike. But unlike the BMA and the Junior Doctors strike, the government won this battle easily. Pension contributions were almost doubled in most cases, working life extended and final salary became average salary (note MP’s still enjoy their final salary pensions). For a teacher earning £35,000 a year that meant paying £100 a month extra, a not inconsiderable amount. Added to this were the years of “pay freezes” or “pay restraint” of 1% rises. These of course are not freezes at all, they are cuts. Inflation across the last 6 years has been as high as 5% despite its low levels now. The Government also uses the CPI measure of inflation for this 1% rise not the RPI level which includes housing costs. Now most teachers have housing costs so this is the actual measure. I would estimate the combination of pension increases and pay cuts have lost teachers around 25% in income over 6 years.
This needs a comparison to the people that inflicted this upon us, namely, members of parliament. The “independent” (I’m sure there is no Government influence here at all) School Teachers Pay and Review board decided that a 1% pay increase for teachers was appropriate and fair. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority that decides on pay rewards for MP’s, decided that a 10% increase was appropriate for them however. This took their pay to £77,000 basic plus their lovely expenses and final salary pensions. These same MP’s that preach pay restraint, of course happily voted this through. So my 1% pay rise will help massively to cover the 10% increase in my housing costs, rising energy bills and food costs.
This Government is ignoring the recruitment crisis in teaching, no wait, it’s actively encouraging it. Nicky Morgan recently said “If I were a young person making a decision about my future career and I saw some of the language coming out from the NASUWT as well as some of the other unions, would I want to become a teacher?”
Ms Morgan went on: “If I read about a profession ‘standing on the precipice of a crisis’, would I consider a life in teaching? – No I would not.” If our Government really believes Union rhetoric is the reason graduates are not going into teaching rather than the long hours, poor pay and constant Government meddling, we will have a crisis for a long time yet.