A Country That Works For Everyone? Tory MPs Have Just Betrayed An Entire Generation Of Young People

19/10/2016 10:27
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Committee room 12 in Parliament was the unlikely location for the betrayal of an entire generation of young people.

Empty, but for the MPs scrutinising the Higher Education and Research Bill, this was the place yesterday where Her Majesty's Government turned its back on the hopes and aspirations of our young people.

Eleven Conservative MPs quietly voted down a Labour amendment, which had cross-party support, which would have brought back maintenance grants for students from low and middle income backgrounds.

It would have benefitted more than a million young people, giving them just a small grant, worth up to £3,387, to help them study without the worry of getting further into debt.

And this from a Government that proclaims it wants to build a country that works for everyone?
As John McEnroe would say: "They cannot be serious!"

The centre ground of British politics is about supporting aspirational families and young people, giving much needed support to those who are just getting by. But by rejecting the modest cost of helping those families, the Prime Minister and her party have clearly vacated the centre ground in their lurch to the right.

And it speaks volumes for how this government makes education policy, that the decision to vote down our amendment came on the same day that a new study found that "the larger the bursary a student receives, the more likely they are to get a good degree."

Not only that, but those from disadvantaged backgrounds benefit the most. The benefit of larger bursaries on the attainment of poorer students is six times greater than for students as a whole.

At a time when the proportion of students from state schools going on to higher education is in free fall, the need to take action on access to higher education is more important than ever.

But in the face of all the evidence, the Tories have voted our amendment down, by 11 votes to eight.

We know that, whether its grammar schools or maintenance grants, the Government will give a cursory glance at the evidence - and then do the exact opposite.

The way the Tories voted, turning their backs on the evidence of modest measures which will support social mobility, slams the door in the face of every young person who wants to get on in life.

Their claims that they want to build a country that works for everyone are nothing more than empty rhetoric. They talk the talk, but they have no interest in walking the walk.

Unlike the Tories, Labour is committed to supporting our young people and their families, whether they want to go to university or prefer a quality modern apprenticeship. That's why, over the summer, I announced that a Labour government was committed to restoring the maintenance grant, as well as restoring EMA for students in further education.

These policies were fully costed and would be funded by a tiny 1.5% increase in corporation tax. The difference with the Tories could not be starker. While the Tories want to actually cut corporation tax - already the lowest in the G8 - again and again by 2020, Labour would use that money to invest in the skills and talent of our young people.

Because we understand the power of education to transform people's lives. And, just as importantly, we know that Britain benefits from a more educated, more skilled, more talented workforce.

While Labour plans to invest in aspiration and in skills, the Tories are cutting support for students, then sticking their fingers in their ears when confronted with the evidence.

Yesterday, this government had the chance to show us that they really meant their warm words. They would abandon their ideological dogma and support a policy that everyone knows will be of practical, direct help to our young people. But they chose not to do so.

Next time the Tories proclaim their mission is to build a country that works for everyone, remember this vote. And remind them that their project has already ended, not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Angela Rayner is the Shadow Education Secretary and Labour MP for Ashton-under-Lyne