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CLASS Panel Reacts To Boris Johnson As Prime Minister

Our expert panel reflect on what Boris Johnson as Prime Minister means for immigration policy and rhetoric, our children living in poverty and our schools.

 

Maya Goodfellow, journalist and author, on immigration policy and rhetoric:

Remember when politicians promised a positive change in the UK’s damaging immigration policy and rhetoric? Over a year ago, when the ‘Windrush scandal’ made visible some of the sharp realities of the immigration system, the same politicians who had a hand in creating the hostile environment promised they would change the debate and change the system. With the hostile environment still very much in place, with people still being subjected to the earnings threshold and with thousands indefinitely detained, that change is yet to materialise. And now Boris Johnson is prime minister, it doesn’t look it will come any time soon. 

The UK’s new prime minister, who was at the forefront of a Leave campaign fuelled by anti-immigration messages, has pledged to look into an ‘Australian style’ points-based system – just like New Labour minister, Liam Byrne promised over ten years ago and then implemented, in a way. As well as being dehumanising and highly problematic, when Johnson made this claim about a ‘points-based system’ he was signalling – like so many that have come before him – that the UK would ‘control’ immigration, implicitly reinforcing the fallacy that certain types of immigration have been bad for this country.

Johnson was repeating the same worn outlines we’ve heard for decades; the UK should be open to ‘highly skilled immigrants’ and ‘tougher’ on people who “abused” the country’s “hospitality”. The same “hospitality” that means people are denied access to healthcare or housing simply because they don’t have the ‘right’ documents. The kind of system that runs off this logic will only entrench inequality and discrimination that already exists in the UK’s immigration regime. 

A politician known for comparing Muslim women wearing the burqa to letterboxes, Johnson has argued that “foreigners who want to work in Britain will have to be able to speak English and must have a job before they arrive” and that it’s a problem that “English is not spoken by some people as their first language” (so anyone who speaks multiple languages where English isn’t ‘the first’ is a problem, apparently). Focussing on English has long been used as a racialised test of who does and doesn’t belong. 

Despite all the talk, Boris Johnson will not be a ‘one nation’ prime minister, to improve migrant rights we need a change in government and a fundamental change in how we understand immigration.

 

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, on child poverty:

4.1 million children are growing up in poverty in this country – children are missing out on things most take for granted and are now facing worse life chances. Poverty restricts children’s opportunities and can mean that they are left behind. 

The new Prime Minister needs to halt the rise of child poverty and take urgent action to reduce it. The Prime Mininster ought to take action to reform social security so that it works for families. This includes scrapping the two-child limit and benefit cap; reducing the taper rate in universal credit and adding a work allowance for second earners. Furthermore, the value of support for families needs to be restored after years of benefit freezes and then protect that support so it rises with living costs; increasing child benefit by £5 a week to help it recover to its 2010 value. And the new Prime Minister needs to tackle the high costs families face for housing and childcare. Indeed childcare is the single most expensive item in the budgets of many families with small children. We need a national childcare strategy, including a comprehensive extended schools programme, which ensures that the cost, quality and availability of childcare is not a barrier to work. 

We know that when tackling poverty is a priority across Whitehall, it can be reduced significantly. Tackling child poverty is a national priority – we need to see a commitment to end child poverty from the Prime Minster backed up with action. 

 

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, on our schools:

Much was made in the Conservative Party leadership election of the need for more school funding. Boris Johnson made it his second pledge in the TV debate. The new Prime Minister now needs to act to implement a programme of funding that will make a difference to schools and colleges and addresses the years of underfunding and ensures teachers’ pay rises are fully funded. 
 
Schools need more than promises on the side of a bus. Schools need real money for real children in real schools now. The NEU, with the f40 local authorities group, ASCL and NAHT, has published a complete assessment of the extra funding needed to reverse the cuts made in recent years.  We are proposing an immediate increase of £3bn in order to restore half of the £5.9bn current funding loss, followed by a 3.5% real-terms increase every year for the next six years. 
 
The teacher recruitment and retention crisis is also a fundamental problem of the Government’s own making. A huge driving factor, aside from schools not having the money to employ all the educational professionals they need and the reduced real terms salary levels, is the workload.  The long hours worked into the evening and weekends is made up of largely unnecessary bureaucratic accountability and assessment exercises driven by Government policy and high stakes Ofsted inspections. While some steps have been taken to address this, they do not go nearly far enough.  
 
If the new Prime Minister does not act effectively and swiftly on these issues the education our children and young people receive will continue to be undermined.

PHOTO: Jordhan Madec

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