Monday, 2 February 2015

A poorly educated population: the disadvantages are obvious, but the advantages may be more telling...

It was interesting to hear a senior executive from a building firm telling the BBC that there were 200,000 applications being processed right now for new houses around Britain. As he pointed out, that meant that for the first time since the cry was raised, the country could be poised to build the 200,000 new homes required each year to meet housing needs.

Except that there’s a problem. 

There aren’t enough skilled building workers. So even if every single application were authorised, the houses wouldn’t be built. People will go homeless because we simply don’t have the training structures, the apprenticeships, in place to make the builders available to provide them with homes.

Whatever other problems there may be,
one difficulty in housing is:
a lack of well-trained building workers
Meanwhile, last year the NHS recruited 3000 doctors from abroad. And over 6200 nurses, against nearly 4400 who left this country: the net gain was just 1800. 

Why are we recruiting so many foreign nurses and doctors? Because we simply don’t train enough of our own. In nursing at least, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t: nursing courses are massively over-subscribed and the present government has reduced the available places. The result has been a shortfall of 8000 nurses from within the country.

This leads to all sorts of glorious consequences. Because we don’t train enough of our own people to fill the jobs that need to be done, we have high unemployment and a dependence on benefits that the very government that created it loves to decry. The Conservatives suggest that people can be driven off benefits and into work by cutting benefit levels, as though somehow that would turn the untrained and unskilled into the qualified workforce industry needs.

Meanwhile the inflow of skilled workers from other countries that goes some way to staunch our worst needs has led to a huge rise in xenophobia. The battle cry of the anti-immigrant movement is that many British citizens are unemployed because foreigners have taken their jobs, even though in reality a depressing proportion of the unemployed couldn’t take the jobs in the first place, because they don’t have the training for them.

So we have the spectacle of UKIP, the cheerleader for this kind of xenophobia, denouncing immigration while at the same time looking for the kind of reduction in government which would make it still more difficult to train our people, to their advantage by providing them with a living, and to ours, by filling the posts that need an educated workforce.

Even more shameful, or perhaps shameless, are the politicians on the right of the Conservative Party, supporters of the government that has done so much to deepen the crisis, joining in with the same kind of denunciation of the immigrants who didn’t cause it, but are in fact are mitigating its effects by coming here and doing work that badly needs tackling.

Which brings me to today.

David Cameron, Conservative Prime Minister, announced his plans for education if he is re-elected (or I should say, “elected”: though he emerged as leader of the biggest single party at the last election, he didn’t win a majority). He intends, he told us to great fanfares of publicity, to protect education spending at today’s levels. Sadly, that’s “protection” of much the same kind that the men in fedoras and long overcoats with bulging pockets offer: holding spending at today’s levels means a real cut year after year, in schools that are already struggling to make ends meet.

We saw the same trick in healthcare. Budgets have been “ring fenced”. Hospitals are receiving more than they did when the present government came to power. But that ignores the constant increase in treatment costs and in demand for healthcare. The NHS may have more money than it did, but far too little to make good the extra pressure on its resources.

That’s what will happen to education too if the Tories are returned. Budgets protected in nominal terms, falling increasingly behind in real terms. And a deepening crisis in the mismatch between the available homegrown skill base, the needs of citizens for work, and the needs of us all to see that work done.

What amazes me is that a great many people suffering from the effects of the crisis still seem intent on voting Tory, or even UKIP.

Perhaps that only reflects the problem we have in teaching some of our citizens to understand just how the world really works. So the government that creates the knowledge gap benefits from it in votes. If the Conservatives had ever shown themselves skilful enough to contemplate it, that would leave me wondering whether there wasnt some method in this apparent madness.


Kit Grindstaff said...

Unfortunately, lack of education probably makes people less inquiring /informed generally, therefore more susceptible to the fear tactics of such governments. Which, one could argue, is precisely the goal... Keeping people in ignorance, suppression = the ability of a small faction to elbow its way in to power and stay there.

David Beeson said...

i couldn't agree more. And lack of education also breeds deference, a key element in the strategy the "elite" follows in maintaining its hold on power.