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The Government's Behaviour on Student Grants Is Underhanded and Undemocratic - We Must Not Stand for It

14/01/2016 08:14 | Updated 14 January 2016

Grants designed to support students from the poorest backgrounds through university will be abolished today, but if you plan to tune in to BBC Parliament to watch a fiery political exchange you'll be sorely disappointed. There will be no Commons debate, no Commons vote and no sign of the mass demonstrations that shook the government that chose to treble university tuition fees five years ago.

Down the corridor and up the stairs, the Third Delegated Legislation Committee will meet in committee room nine. A small group of MPs will gather to consider the innocently titled 'Education (Student Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 (S.I., 2015, No. 1951)'. The numbers will be stacked in the Tories' favour and even if the committee did want to quash the proposals, they will have no power to do so.

No doubt clever government whips hoped that using an obscure parliamentary process would minimise the political damage to the Tories' reputation, but it is scandalous that such a major decision is being taken in this way.

The poorest students will be hit hardest. Currently, eligible students can receive a non-repayable grant of up to £3,387. This money helps with essential costs like rent, foods, bills and study materials. These grants were won as part of a hard-fought deal by previous generations of student leaders and parliamentarians who convinced successive governments that, if they were going to ask graduates to pay more for their university degree, it was only fair to help those from the poorest backgrounds to meet the costs of studying with a grant. When the Coalition government trebled university tuition fees to £9,000, students were told that the increase in maintenance grants for students 'should ensure that the reforms do not affect individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds disproportionately'.

Thanks to David Cameron, George Osborne and Tory MPs meeting in the Third Delegated Legislation Committee today, the poorest students will now be saddled with the highest debts. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that the poorest 40% of students in England will now graduate with debts of up to £53,000 for a three year course, rather than £40,500 at present. Worryingly, another study from the IFS found that a £1,000 increase in grants created a 3.95% increase in university participation, so there are serious questions for the government to answer about the impact that abolishing grants could have on fair access to higher education.

Because the government is ducking the usual parliamentary scrutiny, MPs from all parties will not have the chance to ask ministers difficult and important questions. There has been no proper consultation with those affected and there was no mention of this major policy change in the Conservative Party manifesto.

The government's behaviour is underhand and undemocratic. The poorest students will lose out as a result, making the policy unfair. Students, and the general public, should not stand for it.

Wes Streeting is the Labour MP for Ilford North and a former President of the National Union of Students

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