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‘Systemic neglect’: UK lawmakers spar over report showing low-income white kids pay price for ‘white privilege’

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A landmark report by the Conservative-dominated Commons Education Select Committee in the U.K. argued that “divisive” and “politically controversial” terms such as “white privilege” have resulted in the “systemic neglect” of white working-class children.

That’s according to the Daily Mail, which further noted the report said England’s education system has neglected white working-class students for decades and that they “feel anything but privileged,” being among the worst-achieving groups in the country.

As expected, the report resulted in a “furious row” between Tory and Labour MPs — Tory being right, and Labour representing the left.

“It said they are behind many of their similarly disadvantaged peers of other ethnicities at ages five, 16 and 18 – and that ‘politically controversial’ and ‘divisive’ phrases such as ‘white privilege’ may have contributed to poor white pupils being forgotten by the system ‘for decades,'” the British tabloid reported.

More from the Daily Mail on the report findings:

Their report includes two maps of England which indicate that white working-class pupils live in poor areas, are not eligible for free school meals and underperform to a greater extent than their similarly disadvantaged peers in other ethnic groups – particularly outside London.

It concluded that disadvantaged white pupils have been badly let down by ‘muddled’ policy thinking and the Department for Education has failed to acknowledge the extent of the problem.

 

Labour MPs countered to say the education committee was pushing a “fake culture war’ by branding the term “white privilege” as “wrong-headed” because the report said “there is collective guilt when it should be individual responsibility for racists acts.”

They further accused the Tories of hijacking the committee to “divert attention” from government spending cuts, claiming that “their attack on the term white privilege is designed to cause division.”

The operative narrative here being the determination that white privilege actually exists.

Tory chairman Robert Halfon disputed those accusations in an interview with BBC.

“I’ve never engaged in the culture wars, all I care about is, as our committee does, is addressing the decades of neglect that have led to a situation where white working-class boys and girls from disadvantaged backgrounds are underperforming,” he said.

“Let me be very clear: I’m from a Jewish background. I know all about anti-Semitism and racism, and we should do everything to combat it,” he added. “But ‘white privilege’ is wrong, the concept of ‘white privilege’ is wrong-headed for a number of reasons.”

He said data showed “white working-class boys and girls on free school meals from disadvantaged backgrounds underperform at every stage of the education system compared to most other ethnic cohorts.”

The notion of advocating for white students is verboten in today’s world. Here are more findings reported by the BBC:

  • At GCSE, in 2019, 18% of white British pupils on free meals achieved grade 5 in English and maths, compared with 23% for the average for pupils on free meals
  • For university entry, 16% of white British pupils on free meals get places, compared with 59% of black African pupils on free meals, 59% of Bangladeshi pupils on free meals and 32% of black Caribbean pupils on free meals.

 

Halfon was not the only Tory to stand up for equal treatment for all, even low-income white kids.

“Come to my constituency and talk to these kids, very often young white lads but girls too, who are dropping out of school with no qualifications, who have often had zero help from home or parents, and who have no financial or cultural capital,” Tory MP Ben Bradley told Mail Online.

“‘Tell them their skin color makes them privileged, as if that is any kind of indicator of their life chances,” Bradley continued. “It’s not. It’s total nonsense, and the fact that so many rich people complain when this is pointed out just shows that these kids really have been forgotten.”

He criticized the Labour Party for ignoring “the hugely important content of that report” and the “appalling disparity evidenced within” to cherry-pick from a couple of paragraphs that “fit their identity politics narrative.”

“They have chosen to try and turn a debate about disadvantaged children into yet another attempt to pit people against each other based on race,” Bradley added. “By focusing on just this aspect, they are doing the poorest children a disservice, and it’s these decisions that show just how detached they are from formerly Labour voting working-class communities.”

Labour MP Fleur Anderson, a committee member, expressed concern over the report being used “to fight a divisive culture war instead of address chronic under-funding of early years, family hubs, careers advice and mentoring, and youth services.”

“There’s a lot that needs to be heard in this report about children badly let down,” she said. “But I joined the Labour members in deciding that we had to vote against it. The report makes the issue race when we found it is more about disadvantage based on place.”

MP Diane Abbott, a socialist member of the Labour Party, took to Twitter to slam the Tories and the committee report.

“The government that fought tooth and nail to block free school meals….now wants to claim it is the champion of ‘white working class kids’! It is simply pitting communities against each other, all of them failed by the government, as a distraction for the effects of its failure,” she tweeted.

Labour MP Kim Johnson, also on the education committee, tweeted: “Deeply depressing that we are seeing a Government that has presided over deep cuts to education diverting attention from that onto a fake culture war. Nothing changes.”

MP Daisy Cooper, a British Liberal Democrat, also slammed the report.

“Pitting kids against each other based on skin colour is despicable. This report reveals that disparities have far more to do with where a child lives. Instead of stoking culture wars, govt should provide proper catch-up funding, children desperately need,” she tweeted.

Replace the term “white” with “black” and the odds are overwhelming that every one of the critics would embrace the report wholeheartedly.

Tom Tillison

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