Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has accused Keir Starmer of fuelling a “class war” by sticking by his decision to impose VAT on private school fees if Labour comes to power, The Guardian reports.
Mr Sunak said the move would “punish” affected parents, adding that the policy “illustrates that they don’t understand the aspiration of families like my parents who were working really hard”.
Drawing on his own youth, Mr Sunak recalled that his parents “wanted to do something for their kids that they thought would make a difference to them. Labour’s approach to that is to clamp down on it.”
He added: “They don’t understand the aspiration that people have to provide a better life for their kids. They want to punish them for that as part of some class war. I don’t think that is right.”
Some commentators have taken offence at his comments on social media, saying Mr Sunak was accusing parents of children in state schools of lacking aspiration for their children.
The prime minister’s comments came after Labour made clear that it wanted to raise extra funds for state education by charging VAT on school fees – but without removing independent schools’ charitable status.
The party now believes it would be quicker to end VAT relief, rather than removing charitable status from schools, which could be complicated and potentially open to legal challenge.
Mainstream press reports have exploded in the last week over the issue of VAT on school fees, an issue that has been causing increasing alarm in the independent sector for some time.
The tensions reached a high point on Tuesday (Sept 26) when it was reported that Keir Starmer did not plan to “phase in” charging VAT on fees if it came to power, and would roll out the policy as soon as possible.
A chorus of voices in the independent sector has continued to protest against the policy this week, with leading figures pointing out that any introduction of VAT on fees would lead to school closures, the end of some independent-state school partnerships and threaten specialist SEND schools.
There were also those arguing that charging VAT on education was an unfair attack on hardworking families who choose to pay for their children’s schooling.
The row comes just a week prior to the HMC (The Heads’ Conference) annual autumn conference which starts this weekend (Oct 1) in Stratford Upon Avon, on the same day at the Conservative Party annual conference in Manchester.
But HMC chair Sue Woodroofe said in her online Conference Welcome statement that the event would “not focus on the immediate pressures facing the sector” and further events had been arranged “to address these political and economic issues in more detail”.
Instead, she said she hoped next week’s gathering would be a time of “refreshment and recharge” for heads maximising the “cosier” location in Stratford.
A session of golf and a trip to see The Merchant of Venice at The Swan Theatre have been planned.