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  • Toby Sawyer

An Argument Against Labour’s VAT raid on Private Schools

By Toby Sawyer


I’m sure most of you reading this grew up within the UK state education system, many of you, like myself, probably attended a subpar and poor school run down by decades of poor management. And then on the other hand we see private schools, for most people they represent a point of aspiration for parents who grew up in state schools wishing to give their children a better education. Alternatively in complete contrast there is the recent highly controversial plan of the incoming Labour government to wack 20% VAT on Private School fees. This represents a return to type for the Labour Party, a return to the politics of old, made even more bizarre by much of the new upper-middle class Labour leadership having attended private schools, Sir Keir included.


Firstly, it’s important to outline what Labour’s proposed policy actually is. Currently private schools are exempt from VAT, among other tax exemptions. Labour proposes to scrap these exemptions, most notably by applying the standard 20% rate of VAT to school fees. Labour claims that this policy will generate roughly £1.6bn which will be used to hire 6500 more teachers for the state system.


"We’ve seen this trick time and again in modern politics from the Labour Party, and quite honestly from the Conservative Party too, where the private sector is treated as a cash cow to prop up a crumbling and mismanaged public sector."

Already the logic of this plan, outlined by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, is beginning to crumble. At least two private schools have shut their doors in anticipation of this policy, with countless parents withdrawing their students from the private school system. The alleged figure of cash to be raised is now heavily up in the air; how can this revenue be reliably generated if there are fewer private schools and less students attending them. It seems utterly bizarre to think that the supposedly economically prudent leadership of ‘this changed Labour Party’ did not see such an outcome. The alternative explanation is they very much have foreseen a decline in private schools and factored this into their decision to proceed with the policy. 


The policy presents itself as even more illogical when one considers that, with fewer students attending private schools, not only will the prospective government not receive the VAT revenue they are hoping for, countless students, rather than paying these new fees, will simply shift into the already pressured state systems.


I believe it is highly important to bust the socialist myth that private education is purely the preserve of the ultrarich and unfairly privileged. Even now, I sit here laughing at the pure incompetence and lack of foresight of the Labour leadership not to comprehend that many nominally private schools are in fact highly specialised institutions that cater to children with disabilities and special educational needs. According to Julie Robinson, chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, there are 100,000 of these students who would be subject to the Labour tax hike and potentially be forced into state schools utterly ill-equipped to deal with their needs.


None of these points I have made have sought to offer a defence of the sorry condition of the majority of the state education system in this country, of which I was subject. This has rather been to denounce Labour’s proposed solution to fixing the state system at the expense of the private system, which will be both wholly ineffective in its intended aims and, completely unethical in its outcomes of punishing those with disabilities and punishing hard working parents for aspiring to send their children to a better school. We’ve seen this trick time and again in modern politics from the Labour Party, and quite honestly from the Conservative Party too, where the private sector is treated as a cash cow to prop up a crumbling and mismanaged public sector. It’s time we stopped punishing the sector of our economy that actually works and start learning lessons from it for the public sector.


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