Labour frontbencher Tulip Siddiq MP has criticised the decision by the government to pull funding for projects tackling the bullying of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) children in schools as “callous”.
Responding to the announcement, the shadow minister for children and early years warned of the impact of the decision made despite commitments made to invest in targeting homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying of pupils.
The Government Equalities Office has admitted that those identifying as LGBT+ are at higher risk of bullying, but ministers have argued that the funding for the school programmes were due to come to an end.
Commenting on the decision taken by the government to cut the funding, shadow minister for children and early years Tulip Siddiq said: “This decision will only serve to further marginalise LGBT+ young people.
“Government itself has admitted that young people who identify as LGBT+ have higher risk of bullying and long term harm to their education, health and wellbeing, so to be pulling away financial support from those fighting this abuse is especially callous.”
The government has funded several projects to tackle bullying towards LGBT children since 2014 costing around £4m. The Homophobic, Biphobic and Transphobic Challenge Fund allowed schools to run free training for teachers, staff and students.
Providers of the workshops, as well as school staff, parents and teachers, had expected the programme to continue given the government has acknowledged the impact anti-LGBT+ bullying can have on attainment, absence and mental health.
GMB national equality and inclusion officer Nell Andrew said: “This decision is yet another example of this government’s wafer-thin commitment to equality for LGBT+ children, families, and workers.
“Announcing it during transphobia awareness week and when hate crimes against LGBT+ are rising shows callous insensitivity.
“This time last year this government was running in an election on a manifesto with a commitment to ‘continue to tackle all forms of bullying in our schools’. We now know that promise was another blatant lie.
“This is especially cruel during lock down, when we know that children and young people’s mental health is already being affected and that LGBT+ children are much more likely to experience poor mental health due to bullying at school.
“GMB calls on ministers to act fast and reverse this entirely reprehensible and unjust decision now.”
The Conservative Party pledged in its 2019 general election manifesto to “vigorously combat harassment and violence” against LGBT+ people with a specific commitment to “help teachers tackle bullying” in schools.
Chief executive of Stonewall Nancy Kelley explained that young LGBT+ people face significant bullying in schools. The charity’s 2017 schools report revealed that 45% of LGBT+ pupils were still being bullied.
Kelley said: “We know LGBT+ people are disproportionately affected by poor mental health, and some of this is because of the way they were treated at school.”
She added: “This is why it’s crucial this government invests money in funding anti-LGBT+ bullying programmes across England. We can’t leave students to suffer in silence.”
Anti-bullying charity Metro, which provides training in schools and colleges across England, said its projects have been “hugely impactful” but stressed the need for funding to continue to “ensure all schools can access this vital support”.