Special needs summer schemes cuts overturned

In the opening battle against budget cuts in education, campaigners won an important victory by forcing education bosses to reverse their decision to slash summer schemes for special needs children. In June, it was announced that the schemes were to be cut from two weeks to one and that special needs transport was withdrawn altogether. This vicious attack on children was answered by trade union members, who alongside parents and Socialist Party members, immediately mounted a militant campaign in late June and early July. A petition was raised, protests were held in Newry, Armagh and Lisburn and the campaign received good media coverage and public support rocketed.

The pressure forced education bosses to put the scheme and transport back in place for this summer. Unfortunately, one of the demands of the campaigners, that the Education Minister, Caitriona Ruane make more money available for the scheme, was not met. Instead, the cuts may shift to another area again hitting children, parents and workers.

Ruane and the Assembly politicians keep peddling the lie that education cuts can be made while protecting “frontline services”. In reality, the budget they want to cut is the money for special needs, school meals, school transport and cleaning – all of which are essential to the daily running of the schools. The administration staff she tries to make the public believe can be targeted in fact, only account for a tiny part of the education budget.

Trade unions have a duty to answer the politicians’ lies and get the message out that the budget is not enough, public services will suffer and our communities will be the poorer for it. Even more important, the trade unions must learn from the union reps who led the campaign for the summer scheme and raise their voices now to declare we will fight the cuts. Workers are waiting for their union leaders to fight – if they will not do so, then they must stand aside.

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