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Unions warn Treasury that capital spending cuts could increase asbestos risk in schools

The Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) is today (Tuesday 10 March) calling on the Treasury to prioritise the funding of the school estate, and in particular the phased removal of asbestos from schools in its Budget on Wednesday 11 March 2020.

Capital funding has experienced significant and damaging cuts over the last decade, estimated by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) to be over 40% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2019-20. Schools have suffered a cumulative cut of £26.5 billion to the Education capital budget since 2009-10.*

Even in 2017 the National Audit Office (NAO) calculated that it would cost £6.7 billion to return all schools in England to satisfactory or better condition, and a further £7.1 billion to bring parts of school buildings from satisfactory to good condition. These costs will only have increased since then – and they do not account for the cost of managing or removing asbestos.

This is worrying given that the latest figures from the Department for Education (DfE) estimate that 83.5% of schools in England contain asbestos. Educational buildings are unlike other workplaces because the majority of their occupants are children who are known to be more vulnerable to asbestos exposure.  Also, much of the asbestos in educational buildings is in locations accessible to staff and pupils.

Given the very real risk to children and staff in schools with asbestos, significant and urgent Government investment is needed to fund its phased removal from all school buildings, starting with the most dangerous first. This is the only way to ensure the safety of school staff and most importantly pupils.

The Treasury must prioritise providing sufficient funds to the Department for Education (DfE) to enable a programme of phased removal to ensure that all remaining asbestos in schools is safety removed as soon as practicable.

John McClean, chair of JUAC, said: “Any real-terms decrease in capital funding for schools in this Budget will raise the risk from asbestos for children and staff. School budgets are already at breaking point after more than a decade’s funding freeze, and many school buildings are literally crumbling as repairs become unaffordable. This means asbestos could become more accessible in classrooms or be accidentally disturbed. To continue to put the school estate under such pressure by reducing or freezing capital funding again would be irresponsible. We urge the Chancellor to make the health of everyone in schools a priority and to provide adequate capital funding to safely tackle asbestos in his Budget tomorrow.”


The Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) is a non-party political group that seeks to protect education workers and children from the dangers of asbestos by raising awareness and campaigning for improved asbestos management in schools.

The JUAC members are representatives from the following education trades unions: ASCL, GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, UNISON, Unite the Union, UCU, Voice.

Department for Education - Departmental Expenditure Limits (DEL) Departmental Capital Budgets (£ billions) 

Year

2009-10

2010-11

2011-12

2012-13

2013-14

2014-15

2015-16

2016-17

2017-18

2018-19

2019-20

2020-21

Cumulative cut (£ billions) from

Funding

7.5

7.3

5.0

4.5

3.9

5.0

4.9

5.2

5.1

5.6

5.0

4.5

2009-10 to 2020-21

Annual budget cut compared to 2009-10 spending levels

-

-0.2

-2.5

-3.0

-3.6

-2.5

-2.6

-2.3

-2.4

-1.9

-2.5

-3.0

-£26.5

 Source: NASUWT analysis of HM Treasury’s Budget documentation since 2010.

JUAC union logos

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