2019 Spring Statement: Period poverty, knife crime and STEM

2019 Spring Statement, period poverty, knife crime, STEM, STEM research funding
© Piero Cruciatti

In the 2019 Spring Statement, UK Chancellor Philip Hammond addressed current subjects such as period poverty alongside general poverty, knife crime, and priorities within STEM research funding

The Chancellor suggested no deal will mean “higher unemployment”, “lower wages” and “higher prices in the shops”, irritating the Prime Minister who has stoically upheld that a bad deal is worse than no deal.

This Spring Statement was released before the results of a parliamentary vote that narrowly prevented the possibility of no deal.

Mr Hammond told MPs:

“I need to be straight with the house.

“A no-deal Brexit would deliver a significant short to medium-term reduction in the productive capacity of the British economy. And because our economy is operating at near full capacity, any fiscal and monetary response would have to be carefully calibrated not to simply cause inflation.”

After the Chancellor acknowledged the current volatility of Brexit negotiations, it became clear that much of the funding outlined could be compromised by a hard Brexit.

What did the Chancellor do for period poverty?

The Government will fund free sanitary products in secondary schools and colleges in England from the next school year. This follows Scotland becoming the first country in the world to make sanitary products a free provision to schools.

A survey from Plan UK in 2017 found schoolgirls were skipping school due to being unable to afford sanitary products, and others were using socks to stem the flow of their blood.
Amika George, who kick-started the #FreePeriods campaign told inews:

“Periods should never hold back a child from achieving their true potential, and now, after two years of campaigning, we will see menstrual products available for free in all English secondary schools.”

In her piece responding to the announcement, Amika George further suggests that the Chancellor should roll out this provision to primary schools for those who start their periods earlier and that the funding should be “ringfenced for this purpose” and not taken out of school budgets when schools are currently struggling with funding.

Penny Mordaunt, Minister for women and equalities, told a conference:

“Empowerment starts when you are young. Girls should be able to focus on their education and their future without being worried about or embarrassed by their periods.”

What did the Chancellor do for general poverty?

There were multiple criticisms of the Chancellor not addressing other issues of poverty by continuing a Benefits freeze, which currently limits the amount of money given whilst the prices of food, electricity and housing fluctuate.

Margaret Greenwood MP, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, commenting on the Chancellor’s decision not to lift the benefits freeze this year, said:

“Behind the Brexit headlines yesterday, the Chancellor chose to press on with austerity for millions of low-income families by allowing the benefits freeze to continue for the fourth year.

“The benefits freeze is the single biggest driver of rising poverty levels. Families with children will be hundreds of pounds worse off next year as a result.

“Labour will end the benefits freeze and make tackling child poverty the priority it should be once again.”

Aditya Chakraborty, Guardian columnist on Spring Statement:

“Hammond claims that all he needs is a deal on Brexit to open the sluice gates and get spending, but there is no logical connection between the two. The UK has its own currency, and interest rates are barely off the floor. Now is the time for a government to spend on public housing, on schools and on a welfare system that doesn’t treat claimants as scammers and idlers. Sadly, it won’t be this government.”

The Trades Union Congress conducted an economic analysis of wages:

Campbell Robb, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said:

“The government should have shown today that it is serious about tackling the rising tide of poverty in the UK.

“Instead they chose not to end the freeze on benefits, leaving families in poverty to face rising costs and bear all the risks of economic uncertainty, especially if we leave the EU without a deal.”

What did the chancellor do for knife crime?

An increase in resources was unveiled through a £100 million emergency fund for police to tackle the poignant issue of knife crime. Hammond suggested that the funding will be immediate and will pay for increased police presence and patrolling. This funding will also support Violent Crime Reduction Units.

This amount of money is allocated to cover one year, given to Police and Crime commissioners for seven police forces where serious violence levels are highest, making up 70% of knife crime.

These are:

  • London
  • West Midlands
  • Merseyside
  • South Yorkshire
  • West Yorkshire
  • South Wales
  • Greater Manchester

£80 million of this funding amount is from the Treasury, and £20 million is from the Home Office after an assessment of their pre-existing commitments for the financial year 2019/20.

Critics of the Conservative government pointed out that budget cuts had reduced the police force by 21,000. This financial commitment also comes after controversial comments made by Theresa May doubting the connection between police resources and knife crime.

Mike Sheridan, Ofsted’s Regional Director for London said:

“Schools should be fully involved in local knife crime strategies, but too few are brought around the table. Only just over half of the schools surveyed were aware their borough had a knife crime strategy. Schools work effectively to keep their pupils safe, but they can be isolated from each other and other agencies, leading to inconsistencies in the way schools approach this issue.”

In a recent Ofsted report, it was found that whilst schools play a role in safeguarding children, they do not have the power to neutralise the complex societal problems that created the rise in knife crime. This research on real London schools suggested that the police, local authorities and policymakers need to approach knife crime together.

John Mcdonnell MP, shadow Chancellor of Labour, commented on the funding:

“To talk of changing direction after nine years in office is not only impossible to believe, it’s also much too late.

“Too late for the thousands who have died while waiting for a decision on their Personal Independence Payments. Too late for families who have lost their home due to cuts in housing benefit. Too late for young people losing their lives to knife crime after youth clubs have shut down and police numbers have fallen, whatever he has been forced into announcing today.”

What did the Chancellor do about green energy?

The Chancellor discussed three specific proposals to address the need for clean growth of the UK without damaging the climate further. In the coming months the government will set out further detail on the following:

  • Review on the Economics of Biodiversity – A new global review, led by Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta, to assess the economic value of biodiversity and to identify actions that will simultaneously enhance biodiversity and deliver economic prosperity. The review will report in 2020, ahead of the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity in Beijing in October that year.
  • Future Homes Standard – A Future Homes Standard, to be introduced by 2025, future-proofing new build homes with low carbon heating and world-leading levels of energy efficiency. The new standard will build on the Prime Minister’s Industrial Strategy Grand Challenge mission to at least halve the energy use of new buildings by 2030.
  • Greening the Gas Grid – Accelerating the decarbonisation of our gas supplies by increasing the proportion of green gas in the grid. To meet our climate targets, we need to reduce our dependence on burning natural gas to heat our homes. The government will consult on the appropriate mechanism to deliver this commitment later this year.

Simon Brammer, Head of Liveable Cities at Ashden said:

“It’s good to see the Government responding to calls from our nation’s children to deal with the climate emergency, but the measures announced today feel rather like shifting the deck chairs on a sinking ship.

“They are small fry compared to backward steps such as the scrapping of feed-in tariffs for renewable energy generation, the deletion of the zero carbon homes policy, allowing fracking to go ahead despite community objections and plans for a third runway at Heathrow.

“The Government can find more evidence and examples in the Grantham Institute’s new paper on the co-benefits of climate change mitigation, which draws on insights from Ashden’s Liveable Cities programme.”

What is the Chancellor proposing for the tech world?

Budget 2018 included significant additional support for STEM that will transform the economy, create skilled jobs, and boost living standards across the UK. The Chancellor:

• Welcomed the Furman review, an independent review of competition in the digital economy, which has found that tech giants have become increasingly dominant. The Chancellor announced that the government will respond later in the year to the review’s calls to update competition rules for the digital age – to open the market up and increase choice and innovation for consumers
• Has written to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) asking them to carry out a market study of the digital advertising market as soon as is possible. This was a recommendation of the Furman Review
• Committed to funding the Joint European Torus programme in Oxfordshire as a wholly UK asset in the event the Commission does not renew the contract, giving the world-leading experts working at the facility certainty to continue their ground-breaking fusion energy research
• Invested £81 million in Extreme Photonics (state-of-the-art laser technology) at the UK’s cutting-edge facility in Oxfordshire
• boosted the UK’s genomics industry with £45 million for Bioinformatics research in Cambridge
• Announced £79 million funding for a new supercomputer in Edinburgh – five times faster than existing capabilities – whose processing power will contribute to discoveries in medicine, climate science and aerospace, and build on previous British breakthroughs including targeted treatments for arthritis and HIV

What did the Chancellor suggest for the STEM world?

Hammond allocated £200 million in infrastructure to support scientists, innovators and industry. These investments underpin the government’s ambition to raise economy-wide investment in R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.

From Autumn 2019, PhD-level occupations will be exempt from the Tier 2 (General) cap, and at the same time, the government will update the immigration rules on 180-day absences so that researchers conducting fieldwork overseas are not penalised if they apply to settle in the UK. This is an interesting but minor exemption to the Prime Ministers’ new immigration White Paper.

Here are the investments:

  • Photonics –£81 million to a national Extreme Photonics Application Centre in Oxfordshire. This centre will help researchers and industry better understand the composition of new materials and how they behave in different conditions.
  • Bioinformatics –£45 million in a critical upgrade to data storage cloud computing infrastructure at the European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridgeshire, to support researchers using big data to drive genetic research.
  • Supercomputers: Archer funding –£79 million to a new UK supercomputer (ARCHER 2) which will replace the current national high-performance computing platform (ARCHER), providing researchers with a fivefold increase in computing capacity.
  • Joint European Torus (JET) Funding (Fusion) – £60 million to confirm funding is guaranteed for the facility over 2019/20.


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