Young people know all too well the impact that austerity has on us – it affects our education, it affects our healthcare, and it affects the opportunities we have in life. So it came as a surprise to see that the government bloated its no-deal Brexit war chest by another £2.1bn, bringing the total spending to an extraordinary £6.3bn so far.
In a time of austerity, why are we spending money that the government has repeatedly said we don’t have – especially when it’s on a pointless and futile attempt to reclaim a vague idea of ‘sovereignty’? You can’t have sovereignty for dinner.
I asked some friends of mine where they think we could put money instead of Brexit. The answers were varied and tended to be quite specific, but they were focused on a few general topics: healthcare, transport, and education.
We’re spending £6.3bn on a no-deal Brexit. Let’s fund our NHS instead
Regarding healthcare, a friend told me about a trans person who had their appointment at a gender identity clinic rescheduled five times due to one doctor at the clinic being unwell. Waiting times for appointments at these clinics can take two years, which can be incredibly damaging to the mental health of trans people. The terrible stress they experience could be avoided if money was spent on employing more doctors.
There have been countless news pieces and a lot of focus on the annual winter crisis of the NHS, and political parties have squabbled over it. A short-term investment of, say, £6.3bn would go some way towards training and hiring new hospital staff in order to deal with the crisis.
Given the ageing population, investment is sorely needed in adult social care. Leaving the EU leaves us with both less money to entice people into careers in this field, and fewer staff coming from other EU countries.
As somebody who has had to jump through hoops, poor organisation and bureaucracy trying to get mental health support, I believe more funding is needed in this area as well. The suicide rate amongst 15-19 year old men in 2017 was 7.1 per 100,000, and among women of the same age group it was 3.5 per 100,000. This needs to change.
We’re spending £6.3bn on a no-deal Brexit. Let’s fund our railways instead
In a world afflicted with climate change, clean transport – both public and private – needs investment so that it becomes a viable alternative to environmentally damaging cars. The government has already taken positive steps towards doing this, particularly in the North where the Prime Minister has pledged to fund the Leeds–Manchester section of the planned Northern Powerhouse Rail route. This route would free up capacity on existing lines, but this is not enough.
The North needs money for its railways. Pacer trains, which are effectively modified buses, were introduced as a ‘short-term’ solution to a shortage of train production but they’re still common in Greater Manchester, where I live, and in the North in general. When they’re full, trains, even diesel ones, are more environmentally friendly than having people in multiple cars, but it tends to be more expensive to travel by train. Travelling by coach, for its part, is often cheaper but incredibly time-consuming.
No-deal Brexit funds could be spent on regulating prices set by train companies, who at the moment seem to be almost unaccountable. They could also be spent on subsidising train tickets to make travelling by train more appealing.
We’re spending £6.3bn on a no-deal Brexit. Let’s train teachers instead
According to the Education Policy Institute, English schools are facing a ‘severe shortage’ of properly qualified teachers. Many subjects have to be taught by staff without a relevant degree, and bigger class sizes are becoming more common. In 2013 the average class size in state secondary schools was 20.3 pupils but by 2018 this figure had risen to 21.2.
In my secondary school, and in other schools across the country, students were encouraged to go to university. There was not much of a focus on other post-secondary school options such as apprenticeships, entry-level jobs and traineeships. This has caused the percentage of secondary school students who go to university to rise to 32.6% in 2017, the highest on record.
I’m not, of course, saying that schools shouldn’t tell students about the opportunities that going to university can provide, but university is not the be-all and end-all of education.
The government could be spending no-deal Brexit money to fund people who go into teacher training. It could also give financial incentives to businesses who run apprenticeship schemes for school leavers – or even simply building more schools and improving the ones we currently have.
Let’s fight for our say
It seems clear, then, that there are plenty of ways that the government could be spending its no-deal preparation money if Brexit were halted. I for one believe health, transport and education are far more important than a costly and failing attempt to show the rest of the EU that we don’t need them.
The topics I have mentioned are only a small sample of what the £6.3bn could be better spent on. It is important that young people fight for a future where this is possible, and fight for their right to have a say on government spending – preferably within the EU.