You could be forgiven for not knowing that the government is due to axe student maintenance grants today because it’s not giving MPs a chance to vote against the controversial proposals, set out by chancellor, George Osborne, in last year’s budget.
Last July, Osborne said that university maintenance grants for lower income students in England and Wales were to be scrapped from September 2016 because they had become ‘unaffordable’. They are due to be replaced with maintenance loans, which will have to be repayed.
So, basically, those who come from a lower income background will graduate with more debt than those who can get help from their parents.
Research from the Institute of Fiscal Studies has found that the poorest 40% of students going to university in England will now graduate with debts of up to £53,000 from a three-year course, rather than up to £40, 500 as they do currently.
Students from families with annual incomes of £25,000 or less currently get the full grant of £3,387 a year. More than half a million students in England receive a maintenance grant from the taxpayer to help them pay for rent, bills, food and other necessities.
Another study, published in the Journal of Social Policy, showed that debt deters poorer students. Those from lower socio-economic groups were more likely to be put off from higher education by the prospect of getting into debt.
When Osborne announced his intention to make these cuts, he said there was a ‘basic unfairness in asking taxpayers to fund grants for people who are likely to earn a lot more than them.’ However, for those who wouldn’t have been able to go to university in the first place without the help of a maintenance grant, that must seem like back-to-front thinking.
What if you don’t have parents you can call when you run out of money? What if you go to a university, as Osborne himself did, like Oxford where you’re not encouraged to have a job because of your workload? What if your part-time job in a café/restaurant/bar simply doesn’t bring in enough to help you make ends meet during term time?
Tweeting at the time of Osborne’s announcement last summer, Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said, ‘Aspiration is a word the Tories often say, but by cutting maintenance grants to poorer students, it shows the phrase is just empty rhetoric.’
During yesterday’s PMQs Labour MP Paul Blomfield pointed out that these cuts were due to be passed by a ‘third delegated legislation committee’, as opposed to the proposals going to a vote in the House of Commons’ main chamber.
A spokesperson from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills told The Debrief that what is happening today ‘follows normal parliamentary procedure’.
However, the fact that this is going through, with no debate, coupled with changes to the repayment threshold on existing student loans which were introduced in Osborne’s Autumn Statement on page 126 of the document – and not in his public speech – all seems rather sly.
Megan Dunn, president of the National Union of Students, said, ‘The government has continually denied the scrapping of maintenance grants would negatively affect students, particularly those from poorer backgrounds. This is just not true.’
‘Students are already facing rising amounts of debt when they graduate, so piling even bigger debts on the shoulders of the poorest students is extremely unfair. Parents are rightly worried about how this debt will affect their children. The government’s proposals risk putting them off university altogether.
‘Today MPs must choose to save maintenance grants. We cannot allow proposals that attack lower income families to become a reality. If the government truly cares about widening access, it must urgently halt its plans to shut out poorer students from their education.’
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.