While not all of those elected will have direct powers over education, these elections are crucial for the union at a time when local authorities are coming under even more pressure to solve the numerous problems in our education system.
Successive years of real-terms funding cuts to education have led to rising pressures on local authorities to protect their schools. While the 2019 Spending Review began to address some of these funding pressures, the 2021 Spending Review signalled a return to austerity with the real-term growth rate slowing from 2.5 per cent to 2 per cent. This funding situation has led to a large number of schools being left in deficit, including over a quarter of secondary schools.
Furthermore, the current cost of living crisis will push more families to the brink financially. As energy bills skyrocket more parents will be faced with the devastating choice as to whether to heat their homes or put food on the table. Child hunger is already an epidemic in our schools. Last year 2.5 million children in England went short of food. This is not good enough.
Every child should have a healthy school dinner, every day. When children are hungry they cannot learn, It is hard for them to concentrate, their behaviour suffers and they struggle to keep up. Free School Meals for all would help every child learn and succeed.
That is why this year the NEU has launched a pledge calling for all candidates in this year’s election to commit to everything in their power so that no child is left behind. This will include calling for the UK government to introduce free school meals for all children of primary school age in England.
As we get closer to polling day it is essential that all NEU members make their voices heard, as collectively we have the power to end child poverty. We are encouraging all members to register to vote to make sure that they can elect local councillors who will stand up for our children.
The NEU has partnered with Hope Not Hate to support our efforts to get people registered to vote and get the vote out on 5 May. Together we will engage with our supporters across social media and through emails and texts to get people in their local areas registered to vote.
We will also be working together to combat the rise of the far-right. In recent months numerous government scandals have eroded the public’s trust not only in the Conservatives but also in the political system as a whole. Recent polling conducted by Hope Not Hate found that 57% of people are not satisfied with the way democracy is working in the UK, while 74% do not feel that politicians listen to them.
It is highly likely that the far right will attempt to exploit this sentiment, as well as the cost-of-living crisis, around a toxic mix of anti-immigrant sentiment and racist rhetoric to garner support at the ballot box. Groups including For Britain, Britain First and UKIP have already shown that they will be fighting with considerable force in some areas. For Britain has been lifted from the political wilderness and a state of turmoil by the recent endorsement of well-known far-right activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson), who emailed his sizeable list and exhorted them to join the party.
The NEU will be collaborating with Hope Not Hate to mobilise activists in those areas where the far-right presents the greatest threat. We will be producing leaflets to dispel the lies that they sow and supplementing these with an online campaign to activate our supporters opposed to the far right.
Collectively we can combat the rise of the far-right and ensure that these elections are a chance to vote for local councillors who will stand up for teachers, parents and children. In order to support these efforts, you must make sure you are registered to vote by Thursday 14 April. It is really simple and only takes five minutes. Register to vote here.