Since 2010, inflation has risen by 25%, even at the lower rate of the Consumer Price Index, whilst public sector wages have been capped at just 1% a year.
So a higher pay rise for some groups of workers this year is welcome, although with inflation running at 2.4%, the 2% pay rises for police, doctors and dentists are even below this year’s price increases.
Those in charge of running our public services will be even more concerned that the government is not funding the pay rises directly. Schools, prisons and police forces that are already overstretched will have to find the money for the pay rises from existing budgets.
Wages account for 80% of school budgets, and with school funding already so much reduced, reducing staff is the only way for many schools to make up the shortfall, leading to higher class sizes and even less support in classrooms.
Last week I held a meeting for parents of children with special needs who were being denied the support they needed and heard chilling accounts from dozens of parents.
Whilst teachers usually tried their best to help children, they struggled to cater for children with extra needs in classes with at least 30 children and a very demanding academic curriculum.
For a school to apply for extra funding from the County Council to help a child with extra needs, they need to prove that the school has given £6,000 in support first.
But with school budgets so tight, that just isn’t possible for most schools. One of our secondary schools told me that this initial support for each child with special needs would cost them £720,000 a year, saying “we don’t have £20,000 to spare, let alone £720,000”.
Even where schools scrape the £6,000 together, and spend the huge amount of time needed to apply to the County Council for extra funds, they are refused in almost every case.
So many schools have given up going through the rigorous but demoralising process of making applications. And children fall further behind, often being labelled as ‘naughty’ or receiving vast numbers of detention for behaviour linked to a condition such as autism.
I am collating the huge amount of evidence from scores of parents and staff, for children in almost every school across High Peak and I will be taking it up with both the County Council and the Secretary of State for Education, who seemed surprised when I informed him that children with autism were being refused support.
I believe very strongly that every child matters, so I will be taking up these cases while I hope the children themselves are enjoying a very welcome break from school.