STEPHEN HEPBURN: The party of privilege is attacking aspiration

Chancellor George Osborne
Chancellor George Osborne

Look at the schools near you and what do you see? Usually new or renovated buildings, classrooms and halls we are proud of.

The last Labour Government replaced old schools with leaky roofs with modern centres of education under a programme the Conservatives immediately scrapped in an act of unforgivable vandalism.

Sadly the Tory axers have learned nothing and a party of privilege that scrapped Educational Maintenance Allowances for kids staying on at 16, 17 and 18 is intensifying its war on study.

That David Cameron went to Eton, a private school charging parents nearly £34,500 a year, matters a lot when he runs an out-of-touch Government dominated by schoolboys like himself that cares little for the 93% of the population going to local and state schools.

Labour transformed almost 4,000 schools we use, including many in South Tyneside and Gateshead within my Jarrow parliamentary constituency.

New facilities and computers, smaller class numbers and record numbers of teachers – 42,000 extra plus 123,000 teaching assistants – was a fantastic Labour achievement.

We saw more pupils leaving able to read and write. They got better GCSEs and A-Levels. And for the first time in some families a son or daughter went to university.

I’ll be the first to admit more needed to be done to overcome years of neglect, deprivation and underachievement under the Tories but Labour put Tyneside and Britain on a road to aspiration and higher standards.

And what have this lot of Con-servatives done? The last Budget will probably be best remembered as the moment Chancer of the Exchequer George Osborne (incidentally another wealthy private schoolboy) invented a supposed pay rise which slashes incomes.

Experts at the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies calculate under the Tory Osbornomics his social security cuts, which I totally oppose, transform a higher minimum wage into lower living standards.

Boy George’s policies will rob 13 million families of £260 a year and 3 million will be an average £1,000 worse off.

His income-cutting 1% pay limit on teachers will harm classroom morale and is another four-year attack on the staff who’ve already paid a five-year price for the financial chaos created by bailed-out millionaire banksters with their snouts back in the bonus trough.

Behind those headlines Osborne’s also assaulting aspiration by hitting students from poorer working families with the Tory Treasury equivalent of a giant hammer.

The poorest 40% of students going to university in England will now graduate with debts of up to £53,000 from a three-year course, rather than up to £40,500, as a result of the Tories replacing maintenance grants with loans.

They’re not my figures. Or those of the Labour Party. The statistics are, like those on Budget lower living standards, from the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Respected, independent and a body exposing the truth behind Con-servative spin.

Repayments for most graduates will go up too by Osborne freezing the £21,000 repayments threshold.

I want kids from Boldon Colliery to go to university as much as those from East Boldon, those from Jarrow and Hebburn or Pelaw as much as those in Cleadon Village.

But we all know higher debts make some think twice, especially from hard-up families. The Tories, a party of privilege, are the enemy of aspiration