News that the government has budgeted almost £30m for Festival UK 2022, dubbed ‘The Festival of Brexit’, sparked ridicule and outrage.
There are so many more important things the government could be spending taxpayers’ money on. Here’s just 6 of them.
1. Feeding children during the half-term holidays
Tory MPs voted against extending the free school meals programme across the October half term. They U-turned on their decision to end it over summer, in part owing to pressure from Labour and Marcus Rashford’s campaign, but refused to continue it further. According to campaigners, funding the programme would have cost the government around £20m, two-thirds of the cost of the ‘Festival of Brexit’.
2. A pay rise for more public sector workers
In his Spending Review, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a pay freeze affecting 1.3 million public sector workers. Of course, £30m wouldn’t stretch to a pay rise for all of the teachers, social workers and care workers who tirelessly supported us throughout the pandemic, but it’d be a start – and higher up our priority list than planning parties for 2022.
3. Supporting the world’s most economically deprived people
Also in the Spending Review, Sunak announced that the UK’s foreign aid budget would be cut from 0.7 to 0.5 per cent of our national income, despite the fact that when the economy shrinks spending shrinks anyway.
It can’t be known at this point how much money that would have ordinarily gone to climate change solutions, education, immunisations against disease and other causes, but it’s likely to be a lot more than £30m.
4. Helping arts and culture venues stay open
The government allocated £257m to support arts and culture venues like theatres, concert halls and social clubs as part of a £1.57bn scheme to support the sector overall. Although this money helped support some venues through the pandemic, others still face closure. £30m would go a long way to supporting culture now rather than celebrating it in the future.
5. Income support for some of Britain’s most vulnerable people
‘Legacy benefits’, like housing benefits and income support, which are claimed by thousands of ill and disabled people will rise by just 0.5 per cent in April 2021. This could mean as little as a 34p rise per week, which could be bolstered with the kind of money the government will spend on Brexit celebrations.
6. Additional funding for the National Health Service
Given that Brexiteers infamously promised the NHS an extra £350m a week post-Brexit, and because they’re supporting us through a deadly pandemic, it seems only right that more government investment should go to the NHS – and not Matt Hancock’s mate he met down the pub.
£30m isn’t ultimately very much money when it comes to government spending. But the fact that the Tories were willing to allocate this much to a festival while cutting foreign aid and public sector workers’ pay says a lot about their priorities.