The independent London newspaper

Tax breaks for private schools while state sector scrimps

24 October, 2018

IT is dubious charity that works for the benefit of the privileged and the wealthy, and routinely serves to educate the upper echelons of society, maintaining the status quo.
But that is the perverse logic behind the private school business rate relief system in this country.

Under legislation, independent schools must prove they are providing a public benefit to maintain their charitable status.

In return they receive a large tax break. It is, in effect, a hand-out to the rich.

It is clear that for years, perhaps decades, private schools have not been keeping their end of the bargain.

Recent research has shown the vast majority of indepen­dent schools means-tested bursaries and tuition fee discounts have been offered to the children of rich families, rather than students of less well-off or disadvantaged families as they were intended to be used.

Jeremy Corbyn has in his manifesto pledged to strip private schools of their charitable status. Labour’s argument was that private schools were failing to share their facilities with those in the state sector, and they should be forced to open up their grounds to neighbouring state schools. The policy was estimated to deny private schools around £700m in tax breaks. In Camden, the £2.5m private schools did not pay last year would have been a great help to the many state schools that have been cut to the bone in recent years.

Headteachers have been sacrificing huge amounts of time fundraising and coming up with ideas of how to keep their schools afloat.

Children have been enlisted to the cause. At one primary, pupils were sent home at the Easter break with empty tubes of Smarties and a note asking parents to fill them up with 20p coins when they came back.

Courses, mostly in the arts or languages, have been cut from secondary schools. Staff, mainly teaching assistants, have been axed. Trips have been cancelled. Morale is low, the trust between parent and teacher has suffered.

Last November, 40 head­teachers in Camden signed a joint letter to the education secretary against “extraor­din­ary” and “drastic” cuts to school funding.It is no wonder that the cost of private schools to the taxpayer has fallen under a spotlight.

Callous reform

UNIVERSAL Credit – where the six main benefits are wrapped up into a single and largely lower payment – is expected to seriously impact thousands of families in Camden. Where it has been introduced in other parts of the country, hunger and homelessness have risen sharply.

Many of those affected in Cam­den will not have the protection of a secure council tenancy.

They are in housing association properties, co-ops or at the mercy of private landlords. A support fund – as proposed by Momentum – would show compassion in the face of the most callous of reforms in recent times.

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