With what has been dubbed the ballot box budget, the chancellor
last week simultaneously reclaimed his title of children’s champion
and confirmed for the nation’s voters that the government’s number
one priority remains education, education, education.
Delivering his eighth budget, Gordon Brown told the House of
Commons that he wanted to ensure “that the coming generation starts
from a position not of weakness but of strength”.
Rather than waiting for the July spending review, Brown caught the
opposition off guard by revealing elements of his longer-term
spending plans four months early, including an average 4.4 per cent
annual increase in real terms for education spending in England
between 2005-6 and 2007-8.
The money will be used to implement the education secretary’s
modernisation plans, many of which are integral to the
implementation of proposals in the Children Bill and Every
Child Matters: Next Steps document, published alongside each
other this month in response to September’s children’s green
Charles Clarke’s plans include reforming the teaching profession
and the development of more extended schools, which bring together
education, health, children’s social services and child care.
The money will also fund an annual 17 per cent spending increase in
real terms on Sure Start, early education and child care between
2005-6 and 2007-8, including the creation of a children’s centre in
each of the country’s 20 per cent most disadvantaged wards,
bringing the number of children’s centres to 1,700 by March 2008.
The day after the budget speech, Clarke said the settlement would
also provide the funding to establish children’s trusts “to develop
in each locality integrated services for children and families and
improved care and life chances for children in care”.
Budget details reveal that this will be achieved by continuing the
previously endangered Children’s Fund to 2008 “to allow a smooth
transition to new children’s trusts, which will be focused on
preventive work and developed and delivered with the full
engagement of the voluntary sector”.
To achieve the government’s vision of all young people reaching the
age of 19 ready for either higher education or skilled employment,
the budget also sets out the government’s intentions to reform
child benefit, child tax credit and income support rules for 16 to
19 year olds to remove the distinction between education and
The education settlement will also provide for new measures to
tackle the UK’s large number of adults with low skills in the
workforce by offering a one-stop skills service in job centres,
including access to personal skills advisers and training, through
the New Deal for Skills.
But for older people the budget has little to offer. Despite the
chancellor’s claims that fairness to pensioners is a priority, they
have been promised only a simplified tax scheme for pensions and an
additional £100 a household for the over-70s towards council
Although Brown confirmed his promise made in the July 2002 spending
review of an annual 7.2 per cent real terms rise in spending on the
NHS to 2007-8, he warned that, elsewhere, spending would be lower
in the 2004 review than last time.
However, he added that he had “rejected representations to freeze
spending on housing, local government, and services to the elderly
and children”, insisting “substantial increases in resources” for
front-line services would still be possible thanks to enforced
departmental annual efficiency savings of 2.5 per cent, which would
release £20bn a year by 2008.