The impact of austerity on schools and children’s education and well-being

Anti-austerity march by bjpcorp. Sourced from Flickr and reproduced under a Creative Commons CCby2 licence.

The impact of austerity on schools and children’s education and well-being. Cutbacks in government-sponsored services, growing inequality and falling real wages, and changes in housing and income support are impacting upon the lives of children and creating major challenges for schools and colleges in the UK. Mark K Smith explores some key areas of concern and growing worries about the effects of direct cuts to school budgets.

Contents: introductionausterityausterity and hunger in the classroomausterity and children’s access to books, equipment, uniform and extra-curricular activitiesausterity and children’s academic achievementausterity and the growing need for early intervention and family supportdirect cuts to school budgetsconclusion – austerity and children’s well-beingfurther reading and referencesacknowledgementshow to cite this piece

As one Oxfam Report on austerity put it, in the UK many people are experiencing a ‘perfect storm’:

The combination in the UK of economic stagnation and public spending cuts is causing substantial hardship to people living in poverty. This amounts to a “Perfect Storm” of falling incomes, rising prices, public service cuts, benefit cuts, a housing crisis, and weak labour rights. By making different political choices, the government can both protect people in poverty and help to stimulate economic recovery in the short term, and set the UK on the way towards economic, social and environmental sustainability in the long term. The UK is the sixth richest country on earth yet one in five of its people lives in poverty. Before the financial crisis and the economic recession prosperity was not shared. The UK is one of the most unequal rich countries in the world, with the poorest 10th of people receiving only 1% of the total income, while the richest 10th take home 31%. (Haddat 2013)

At the time of writing, assessments of the impact of austerity on schooling and children’s education were beginning to appear (e.g. Lupton et. al. 2015b). However, from talking to heads and a number of people involved broadly with inclusion and child protection in schools, it was already clear that cutbacks in government-sponsored services, falling real wages, and changes in housing and income support were impacting on the lives of children and creating major challenges. In this piece we outline some key areas causing concern for education but first we review the general situation facing individuals and families living under austerity in the UK.


In the immediate period after the near collapse of the banking system in 2008 the costs involved in propping up and rescuing banks – and paid for by governments – was not that obvious to many people. Governments poured money into the system, a meltdown was averted or at least postponed, and many benefitted. However, there was always a time when it had to be paid for. In the UK with the arrival of coalition government in 2010 that moment came more quickly than necessary. The coalition government made ‘fiscal austerity its raison d’être, to differentiate itself from – and fix the blame for the crisis upon – its predecessor’ (Wolf 2014: 39). The crisis in Eurozone finances which led to retrenchment in member countries gave further impetus and ‘frightened policymakers elsewhere into following their example’ (op. cit.).

In economic terms, ‘austerity’ is usually used to describe the measures taken by a government ‘during a period of adverse economic conditions, to reduce its budget deficit using a combination of spending cuts or tax rises’ (Financial Times undated). Mark Blyth has described austerity as ‘a form of voluntary deflation’. In it:

…the economy adjusts through the reduction of wages, prices, and public spending to restore competitiveness, which is (supposedly) best achieved by cut­ting the state’s budget, debts, and deficits. Doing so, its advocates believe, will inspire “business confidence” since the government will neither be “crowding-out” the market for investment by sucking up all the available capital through the issuance of debt, nor adding to the nation’s already “too big” debt. (Blyth 2012: 2)

Blyth believes ‘austerity’ is a dangerous idea as what may be a common sense action when taken by individuals and organizations – can make a lot less sense if all do the same. In fact – in this case – it makes no sense. As Martin Wolf has argued, a gap between the amounts governments take in via taxes etc. and expenditure (a so called ‘fiscal deficit’) did not crowd out spending by the private sector.

On the contrary, the private-sector cutbacks crowded in the fiscal deficit via the decline in GDP and consequent rise in spending and fall in revenue: thus, the austerity forced on private individuals and businesses by the financial crisis caused rising fiscal deficits, as private spending, output and government revenue fell, while spending on unemployment benefits and other adverse consequences of recessions automatically rose. (Wolf 2014: 40)

The adoption of austerity measures by governments in the hope that ‘balancing the books’ would stabilize the situation and bring about real economic growth proved to be wrong. While there was been some recovery there is not likely to be significant growth for some years – and many will remain poorer in real terms than they were before the banking crisis. The slump (and we could say austerity measures), ‘has converted unequal economies into unequal communities, hammering happiness and putting strain on families across great swathes of both the UK and the US, and most particularly their poorest streets’ (Clark and Heath 2014: Kindle Locations 199-201).

Government ministers claimed that drastic cuts to public spending were fair and reform of the welfare state necessary, but this was, in fact, also a fallacy (O’Hara 2014: Kindle Location 165):

What was implemented was a regime that disproportionately affected the most vulnerable people in society while leaving the well-off unscathed… [P]olicies were deftly propped up by a shrewd political narrative which both painted cuts as inevitable and depicted people who were living in poverty, out of work or who were victims of austerity as ‘scroungers’, to blame for their own predicament. (O’Hara 2014: Kindle Locations 166-172).

The result of government austerity measures in the UK – when combined with growing inequality in wealth and changes in the work such as the increase in the number of part- as against full-time jobs; the growth of zero-hour contracts; and wages that have not kept pace with inflation (ONS 2014) – has meant that:

  • By 2011/12, 13 million people in the UK were living in poverty. For the first time more than half of these people lived in a working family. (Joseph Rowntree Foundation 2013).
  • The proportion of children that are living in poverty in the UK has risen from 24% in 2008 to 27% in 2012/3. However, this proportion will increase. According to the Child Poverty Action Group the 3.5 million children living in poverty in 2012/13 will be joined by another 600,000 by 2016, with the total rising to 4.7 million by 2020 (CPAG 2014). UNICEF has reported a strong relationship between the impact of the ‘Great Recession’ on national economies and a decline in children’s well-being since 2008. Children are suffering most, and will bear the consequences longest, in countries where the recession has hit hardest. The poorest and most vulnerable children have suffered disproportionately (UNICEF 2014).
  • The gap between rich and poor is, at the time of writing, at its highest level in 30 years in most OECD countries. In the UK this rising inequality reduced growth. The economy grew by around 40% during the 1990s and 2000s but this would have been almost 50% had inequality not risen. (OECD 2014).
  • In England, local government spending (excluding police, schools, housing benefit) was set to fall by nearly 30 per cent in real terms between 2008 and 2015; an equivalent figure for Scotland is 24 per cent. As funding covers some new service burdens, the underlying cut in funding for existing services is even higher. Cuts in spending power and budgeted spend have been systematically greater in more deprived local authorities than in more affluent ones… in both England and Scotland; cuts are also generally greater in the North and Midlands than in the south of England, and in the west rather than the east of Scotland (Hastings et. al. 2013).

Given this background it becomes clear why schools and colleges are finding more children and young people arriving at school hungry; more carers and parents unable to buy the necessary equipment or uniform; and a growing level of stress among their students.

Hunger in the classroom

On the one hand, the cost of food is relatively cheap in historical terms, on the other in the past decade the proportion of household income required to meet expenditure on food has risen – an unprecedented post-war phenomenon (Forsey 2014: 16).

The proportion of household income spent on food and non-alcoholic drink increased from 16% in 2003 to 17% in 2011 (this includes a decrease by 1 percentage point to 15% in 2005 before increasing again in 2006). If we were to be guided by this measure alone, we could reasonably conclude that the likelihood of households experiencing hunger has risen over the previous decade – the first time this has happened since the Second World War. (op. cit.)

There is a direct impact on children. Research sponsored by Kellogg’s (and undertaken by YouGov) has suggested that around 1 in 7 children were going to school hungry (Kellogg’s 2012). In addition there also appears to be problem in education both with changing eligibility for free school meals and the take up of them. For example, Forsey (2014: 50) reports that estimates from the House of Commons Library suggest that ‘1.5 million poor children are automatically disqualified from receiving free school meals because their parents are in work’. The All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the United Kingdom (2014: 31) found that up to 38% of poor children in some parts of Britain are not receiving free school meals – even though they are entitled to them.

The Kellogg’s report concluded:

  • Hunger in the classroom is increasing. Problems like squeezed food budgets, increasingly busy parents and a growing problem of food poverty in the UK are contributing to the reasons why children are arriving at school already hungry.
  • This in turn is putting an extra burden on teachers, who are spending more time dealing with the effects of hunger in the classroom and less time teaching.
  • Going without food in the morning has a direct impact on children’s behaviour and concentration in lessons, making them less likely to reach their full potential at school and could in turn affect their future prospects.

One of the main responses in schools has been the development of breakfast clubs (see Gentleman 2012). In Wales, for example, primary schools are required to provide free breakfasts. However, the situation in England and Scotland is varied with patchy provision and schools charging different amounts for participation. The take-up of such services is causing some concern – with the cost putting off some, and children from more disorganized or pressured family environments often missing out (Dorsey 2014: 49). Dorsey comments: ‘One possible solution to this might be the provision of free school breakfasts, accompanied by home interventions from schools’ pastoral staff to ensure children are able to benefit from this provision’.

Austerity and children’s access to books, equipment, uniform and extra-curricular activities

Research, undertaken by the Child Poverty Action Group, British Youth Council, Kids Company, and National Union of Teachers (NUT) and published in 2014, found there was a significant impact upon parents and carers ability to pay for uniform, equipment and extra-curricular activity like school trips (Farthing 2014). The key findings were that:

  • Some subjects, especially ‘creative subjects’ (art, design and technology, photography) require extra materials and therefore cost more to study. 27 per cent of students on free school meals (FSM); 14 per cent of low-income students; and 8 per cent of better-off students chose not to study arts or music due to the associated costs.
  • The price of food left many young people going hungry during the school day. 25 per cent of students on FSM; 55 per cent of low-income students; and 13 per cent of better-off students said that they were going hungry at school because they could not afford to eat. They reported that going hungry left them unable to concentrate at school.
  • Many young people reported missing school trips because they were prohibitively expensive. 57 per cent of low-income students and 28 per cent of better-off students said that they had missed at least one school trip because of the price and this had had some impact on them. The impacts of missing school trips included the ability to socialise and make friends, and learn new skills.
  • 35 per cent of students on FSM; 25 per cent of low-income students; and 5 per cent of better-off students identified cost as preventing them from having a full school uniform. Those unable to have a full uniform said that this got them into trouble and made them feel different to their peers.
  • Most young people reported not having all the books and equipment needed for their studies. 21 per cent of students receiving FSM; 14 per cent of students from low-income households; and 5 per cent of students from better-off families suggested that cost was to blame. A lack of books, revision guides and stationery meant that their ability to study was reduced.
  • 9 per cent of young people questioned did not have access to a computer at home or were denied internet access.
  • 19 per cent of young people on FSM; 12 per cent of young people from low-income families; and 19 per cent of young people from better-off households reported not participating in after school clubs and extra-curricular activities due to either the cost of the club itself or the cost of transport to the club. [To read the full report click here].

Some schools have used special funds – for example those generated by Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) or by voluntary termly giving by parents and carers via things like ‘Governor Funds’ to support students in these areas.

Headteachers in schools across the country say they are spending education money on purely welfare items to ensure that pupils, and their parents, are fed, have sufficient clothes and the facility to wash them, and have enough coins to feed their electricity meters. (Tickle 2014).

A significant number within education have taken advantage of things like Pupil Premium money – additional funding for disadvantaged pupils – but this should only really be spent to raise educational attainment and achievement. Some schools may face problems in this area when inspected our audited as there is little specific data currently that demonstrates the link between, for example, students not having access to a decent uniform and educational achievement. In addition, as Sam Baars at the education thinktank LKMco has commented, the Department for Education in England has warned against using the Pupil Premium ‘to fill in for expired social welfare programmes’ (quoted by Tickle 2014). This is significant as changes to the way in which(Sosu and Ellis 2014). eligibility for free school meals is assessed in England appear to have impacted negatively on a number of children and families. Heads are increasingly reporting that the children who are losing out are often those whose parents earn marginally more than the cut-off.

Austerity and children’s academic achievement

We already know that an ‘attainment gap’ develops prior to beginning schooling and continues to be a problem in education. Tefler (undated) highlights the following dimensions:

  • Tests at age 3 show a significant gap between more affluent children and the poorest fifth.
  • Lower-achieving but more affluent children overtake the highest low-income achievers by age 7.
  • Poorer children are half as likely to go to university as their more affluent peers.
  • Across ethnic groups, white young people do less well than their peers from many minorities. But the performance and treatment of black Caribbean and Traveller children raise serious concerns.
  • For minority ethnic groups poverty is twice as likely, despite improved qualifications.

Children’s socio-economic background appears to have more influence on educational attainment than the school attended. Indeed, what happens in the home and local community could account to up to 80 per cent of the difference in how well children do at school. In Scotland, for example, where the gap between children from low-income and high-income households is 10–13 months by age 5:

Lower attainment in literacy and numeracy is linked to deprivation throughout primary school. By age 12–14 (S2), pupils from better-off areas are more than twice as likely as those from the most deprived areas to do well in numeracy.(Sossu and Ellis 2014).

If we look at children from better-off backgrounds’ experiences of ‘’early childhood caring environments’ we find there were significant differences in poorer children’s and their mothers’:

  • health and well-being (e.g. birth-weight, breastfeeding, and maternal depression);
  • family interactions (e.g. mother–child closeness);
  • the home learning environment (e.g. reading regularly to the child); and
  • parenting styles and rules (e.g. regular bed-times and meal-times). (Goodman and Gregg 2010).

Differences such as these impact on the attainment gap and their experience of education more generally – but a much larger proportion of the gap remains unexplained, or ‘appears directly related to other aspects of family background (such as mother’s age, and family size) that were not explained by differences in the early childhood caring environment’ (op. cit.).

The rising number of children living in poverty combined with the additional stresses and strains experienced by parents and carers brought about by cuts in services (like Sure Start) and changes in benefit arrangements and income support etc. will impact on, for example, health and well-being in the home. The number of children under-achieving is likely to increase. However, this may take a little time to feed through into the educational statistics – and then be a matter for some debate as the indicators that we have like the take-up of free school meals and achievement in GCSE’s each have their problems.

We may also find another confusing movement. While the numbers of children under-achieving may increase, the attainment gap may decrease. For example, across the UK in the five year period following the banking crisis of 2008 it appears that there was a small decrease of around one per cent in the educational attainment gap between those eligible and ineligible for free school meals. ‘Of those eligible for free school meals in 2013, 61.9% did not achieve at least 5 GCSEs A* to C (including English and Maths) compared to 35.2% of pupils not eligible for free school meals’ (JRF 2014). However – and very significantly – this trend was reversed in 2014 (Adams 2015). ‘Using the previous measure, the gap in GCSE pass rates was 26.7 percentage points in 2013, and crept up to 27.2 percentage points (in 2014)’. As we noted above, all figures like these need treating with care as the basis on which they are calculated has changed. There will always be arguments around the way they are adjusted. This said, there is still strong evidence that the performance of students receiving free school meals worsened. (The official data can be found on the National Statistics site).

Last, it is worth noting that while there had been an apparent rise in GCSE attainment at the 5 A*-C level between 2010 and 2014 this can be accounted for ‘by lower attaining students gaining additional vocational qualifications or ones of higher league table value, or by having several attempts at assessment’ (Lupton and Thomson 2015: 43).

Austerity and the need for early intervention and family support

A major review of the Coalition’s social policy record summarized the position of early education and care as follows:

Spending on early education, Sure Start and the childcare element of Working Tax Credit fell by 21 per cent between 2009-10 and 2012-13, with falls of 11 per cent for early education, 29 per cent for targeted support for childcare and 32 per cent for Sure Start. Child Tax Credit and Child Benefit payments were frozen in cash terms. The income threshold at which families cease to be eligible for the family element of Child Tax Credit was lowered substantially, so that CTC became a more tightly targeted benefit. Universal Child Benefit was removed from families that included a higher-rate taxpayer. At the same time, the number of children under five rose by around 6 per cent, with the result that real spending per child fell by around a quarter, from £2,508 in 2009-10 to £1,867 in 2012-13. (Lupton et. al. 2015: 21)

This has had a direct impact on children as they enter the schooling system. In addition, with cuts to income support, community-based support services and to the funding of voluntary groups and services, parents and carers – according to the senior leadership members I talked to when preparing this piece – have been increasingly turning to schools for help. A significant number have not been able to access the sort of advice and aid needed for both for their children and themselves. More and more requests are being made for support with parenting; assistance with meeting the costs of education and schooling; and around how to deal with issues around learning and behaviour.

At the same time there has been a significant rise in the number of children referred to children’s social care (657,800 in England in 2013/4 – up 10.8% on the previous year) (DfE 2014) and by over 70% since 2007 (All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Work 2013). Over 4 years there had been a 23.5% increase in the number of children who were the subject of a child protection plan (48,300) (op. cit.). Needless to say there has not been a matching increase in the number of social workers who have to deal with vulnerable children (in fact the numbers have yo-yoed slightly over the period with the numbers of full-time equivalent social workers remaining around the 22,000-23,000 mark). One of the results is that caseloads have become heavier (All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Work 2013) and the bar has been raised on the acceptance of referrals. Schools have, thus, had to take on a significant amount of early intervention work with children and young people. With continuing cutbacks to local authority expenditure – and pressure to increase support for older people – we can expect further claims being made on schools’ resources – in much the same way that a relative decrease in expenditure on local care services has led to substantially increased demand for hospital services.

The situation has also been exacerbated by the growing administrative and procedural demands of child protection over the last ten years or so. There has been a significant rise in the paperwork and number of people and agencies involved. At the same time administrative support for social workers has been cut. The Munro Review found ‘social workers spend too much time on administrative tasks and too little time undertaking effective direct work with children and families to help them change’ (Munro 2011: 114-5).

The upshot of these austerity measures is that schools are having to develop multi-disciplinary teams to deal with early intervention work and the support of children and families experiencing difficult times. It is now not uncommon to find registered nurses, professionally trained informal and community educators and youth workers, counsellors. These teams are similar to those envisaged in the USA model of full-service schooling (Dryfoos 1994).

Direct cuts to school budgets

Governments within the UK have tried to protect (‘ringfence’) current expenditure on schools since the banking crisis of 2008. However, capital expenditure has been cut sharply – and this adds up, according to the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (2013: 44), to an 11 percent cut in overall expenditure in the period 2010-15. Schools will face further major cuts to current expenditure over the next few years. These are likely to lead to falling educational standards. In Wales, for example, even though the Welsh government increased spending above the block grant received from the UK government, it has become clear that schools have financed some of their work by digging into reserves (Jones 2014). Heads have argued that schools could face severe financial hardship. A typical secondary school in Wales, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) argued late in 2014, will be driven into deficits of more than £1m (op. cit.). In Northern Ireland officials in the Department of Education are suggesting that in the financial year beginning in 2015 there will at least 2,500 job losses in schools and 500 in colleges because of cuts (BBC News Northern Ireland 2014). A similar picture is emerging in Scotland. Scottish local authorities are expected to spend £4.1 billion in 2014-15 – which is down five per cent over the previous three years (MacNab 2015). The number of teachers has fallen by around 4000 since 2007 to just over 51,000 in 2013. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) is indicating that there are likely to be further significant reductions in the number of teachers from 2015 (op. cit.).

While some education budgets were ‘protected’, in real terms it appears that UK spending from 2009-10 to 2013-14 on primary education experienced a small cut, secondary education a much more significant loss of money. ‘It fell in real terms in each year … and by 2013-14 had lost 8% of its real value’ (Bolton 2014: 3). However, there is some debate around the figures. There is little doubt that overall expenditure (including nursery, higher and further education as well as schools) on education in England has been reduced. It

…fell £3.6 billion (4per cent) in real terms between 2009/10 and 2013/14. The average annual growth rate was -1.7 per cent over the period, although with a large fall in spending in 2011-12 being compensated for somewhat by an increase in spending 2013-2014. (Lupton and Thomson 2015: 24)

When we come to look at schools then the situation is cloudier. According to data from the Department for Education (and again covering England):

Total school funding, including both current spending (which accounted for 86 per cent in 2009/10) and capital, increased by just £0.5bn,from £46.1bn in 2009/10 to £46.6bn in 2013/4 (in real terms in 2009/10 prices). (op. cit.)

Conservative members of the Coalition government have said only that they would ring-fence the NHS and foreign aid budgets if they were to win power in the 2015 elections – but not education budgets. An initial analysis made by the House of Commons library of the spending figures announced by George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, suggested they would cut around £13.3 bn. per year from the education budget. The analysis reports that ‘more than £9bn would be cut from schools funding, about £640m from the extra pupil premium for disadvantaged children, about £775m from early years education and more than £1.6bn from the budget for 16- to 19-year-olds’ (Mason 2014). These figures assumed that government departments (other than those concerned with health and foreign aid) take an equal percentage share of the cuts. Given that the total annual budget for school funding is around £65 bn., in crude terms schools would face a cut of around 14-17 percent of their budgets by the end of the next Parliament (and in real terms this could be significantly larger). Subsequently, David Cameron, the Prime Minister, announced that the amount of ‘cash per pupil’ will not be cut – but given that schools will have to pay 5 per cent more in teacher pension and national insurance costs, and that this funding is not inflation-proofed, this looks like a cut of at least 7 per cent according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies and is more likely to be 10 per cent by the end of the next Parliament (Weale et. al. 2015). Capital budgets are not protected, and this is a particular worry as we are currently experiencing a significant growth in the school age population. We can expect problems around the provision of adequate classroom space and school places and this in turn will add to the scale of the real cut involved in school funding.

Staffing costs account for the vast majority of a school’s spending (on average primary schools spend 79% of their budgets on staffing and secondary schools spend 78%) (DfE 2103) and will become the main target for cuts. The result will be larger class sizes, a reduction in support services, and a narrowing range of subjects and opportunities on offer. The staffing of areas like music, drama and arts and crafts will be under considerable pressure. The number of specialist educators, pedagogues and workers concerned with the well-being of students and with early intervention and family support is likely to be significantly reduced – if the same pattern of cuts is repeated in schools as has happened in local authorities. This would be especially problematic for children, families and the functioning of schools as the need for their particular expertise and ways of working has increased greatly – and will continue to increase.

Cuts in non-staff costs are likely to lead to a more restricted range of extra-curricular activity like trips; less attention being given to the fabric of the building and the quality of the teaching environment; and aging IT, scientific and technical equipment. In some cases – especially where schools are new or have had a major rebuild – the room for manoeuvre around the building and technical services will be limited by long-term contracts that have been required by governments in exchange for investment in plant. This will, in turn, mean increased downward pressure on teaching costs.

All this is happening in the context of growing pressures within the schooling and education system flowing from demographic change – in other words there is a growing school age population. So far this has not had the same impact as an aging population had on the National Health Service, but as the growth gains momentum we can expect the pressures to become more visible.

In conclusion – austerity and children’s well-being

Jonathan Bradshaw and Gillian Main (2014) have argued that, ‘The burden of austerity has fallen particularly heavily on children. As yet we lack the data to provide a full analysis of the impacts of this, but the evidence we do have suggests worrying trends’. A UNICEF review of the impact of the economic crisis on child well-being in rich countries concludes that there is a ‘strong and multifaceted relationship between the impact of the Great Recession on national economies and a decline in children’s well-being since 2008’. They continue, ‘Children are suffering most, and will bear the consequences longest, in countries where the recession has hit hardest’ (2014: 2). They report that:

  • Child poverty has increased in most countries;
  • Young people have been hit ‘extremely hard, with the NEET (not in education, employment or training) rate rising dramatically in many countries’; and
  • Feelings, on the part of children and young people, of insecurity and stress have risen in many countries.

They also comment that the poorest and most vulnerable children have suffered disproportionately in rich countries. ‘Inequality has increased in some countries where overall child poverty has decreased, suggesting that tax changes and social transfers intended to help the poorest children have been relatively ineffective’ (UNICEF 2014: 3)

UNICEF (Adamson 2013) has ranked the well-being of children in rich countries. They looked at five dimensions:

  • Material well-being.
  • Health and safety.
  • Education.
  • Behaviours and risks.
  • Housing and environment.

At the top of list for well-being are countries like the Netherlands, Norway, Iceland, Finland and Sweden. At the bottom are Greece, the United States, Lithuania, Latvia and Romania.

The UK is mid-table overall with regard to well-being – but poor with regard to educational well-being (24th out of 29 countries). In part this is due to relatively high numbers of young people not in education, employment and training (NEET) – but also linked to low participation rates in further education. Other headline results include high rates of teenage pregnancy; one of the highest alcohol abuse rates among 11-15 year olds; and relatively high infant mortality rates (Adamson 2013).

These figures show that the UK had moved up the league table in overall well-being, since 2010, but UNICEF UK has noted that ‘the downgrading of youth policy and cuts to local government services are having a profound negative effect on young people age 15-19’. (UNICEF UK undated). The UK was in the top fifth of the rich countries in terms of cuts in public expenditure (UNICEF 2014).

While there has been some interest within the Coalition in looking at the impact of policies upon well-being and happiness, the practice in government activity has been rather different. Lupton and Thomson (2015: 22) comment on the significance of the change in departmental name from the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DSCF) to the Department for Education (DfE). It signalled, they argue:

… a narrowing of intent which was accompanied by the dropping of policies relating to wider children’s well-being (notably Every Child Matters), much multi-agency and area-based working (although areas must still have multi-agency Local Safeguarding Children Boards), and a focus on marginalised groups which had developed in the former DCSF since 2007. (op. cit.)

As we have seen here, there has been a ‘worrying trend’ with regard of the impact of austerity upon schooling and learning. Things are likely to get significantly worse over the years to 2020. With increased poverty, cuts to school budgets and further depletion of community provision and local welfare services we can expect a widening ‘attainment gap’, heavier demands made of schools to support struggling families, and an intensification and extension of the need to make more complex interventions to support learning.

Further reading and references

Adams, R. (2015). GCSE gap between rich and poor widens. The Guardian January 29, 2015. [ Retrieved January 29, 2015].

Adamson, P. (2013). Child Well-being in Rich Countries: A comparative overview. Innocenti Report Card 11. Florence: UICEF Office of Research. [ Retrieved November 23, 2014].

All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Work (2013). Inquiry into the State of Social Work repor.t Birmingham: British Association of Social Workers. [ Retrieved: January 12, 2015].

All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the United Kingdom. (2014). Feeding Britain. A strategy for zero hunger in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the United Kingdom. London: The Children’s Society. [ Retrieved November 8, 2014].

BBC News Northern Ireland (2014). Education: Budget cuts could mean job losses and closure of places. BBC News December 4, 2014. [ Retrieved: December 4, 2014].

Blyth, M. (2013). Austerity: The history of a dangerous idea. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bolton, P. (2014). Education spending in the UK. Standard Note: SN/SG/1078. Last updated: 10 December 2014. House of Commons Library. [ Retrieved January 4, 2015].

Bradshaw, J., & Main, G. (2014). Austerity: children are the victims in the UK. Paper presented at Social Policy Confronting Change: Resistance, Resilience and Radicalism, Social Policy Association Annual Conference, Sheffield, United Kingdom. [pdf of slides].

Butler, P. (2012). Teachers report rise in pupils arriving at school hungry. The Guardian, October 16. [ Retrieved: December 2, 2014].

Child Poverty Action Group (2014). Child poverty facts and figures. London: Child Poverty Action Group. [ Retrieved November 10, 2014].

Clark, T. with Heath, A. (2014). Hard Times. The divisive toll of the economic slump. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Department for Education (2012). The Local Authority Children’s Social Care Services Workforce report, December 2011, England. London: Department for Education. [ Retrieved January 12, 2015].

Department for Education (2013). Review of efficiency in the school system. London: Department for Education. [ Retrieved: January 7, 2015].

Department for Education (2014a). Children’s social work workforce return. London: Department for Education. [ Retrieved January 12, 2015].

Department for Education (2014b). SFR 43/2014: Characteristics of children in need in England, 2013-14, issued 29 October 2014. London: Department for Education. [ Retrieved January 12, 2015].

Dryfoos, J. (1994). Full-Service Schools. A revolution in health and social services for children, youth and families. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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Mark Blyth on austerity: Excellent, short introduction to the notion and just why it is a ‘dangerous idea’.

Lupton, R. and Thomson, S. (2015b). The Coalition’s Record on Schools: Policy, Spending and Outcomes 2010-2015. Manchester: University of Manchester, London School of Economics and the University of York. [ Retrieved: February 15, 2015]

Acknowledgements: The picture – Anti-austerity march – is by bjpcorp. Sourced from Flickr and reproduced under a Creative Commons CCby2 licence.

How to cite this piece: Smith, Mark K. (2014). The impact of austerity on schools and children’s education and well-being. The encyclopedia of pedagogy and informal education. [ Retrieved: insert date].

© Mark K Smith 2015, 2017