Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to abolish tuition fees and ambition to “deal with” historic debt has been slammed as “regressive” by a think tank who say the move would hit the poorest the hardest.
According to the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) - a free market think tank co-founded by Margaret Thatcher - the party’s plan would see poor non-graduates subsidising students who will go on to earn £9,500 a year more.
The amount Labour has pledged to spend is equivalent to nearly 2.8 percentage points on the basic rate of income tax, researchers said according to the Press Association.
This amounts to a “significant” potential impact on the taxpayer, the think-tank claimed, although Labour has announced tax increases for corporations and the top 5% of earners, which would go towards funding the pledge.
The CPS also found that since the raising of the cap on tuition fees to £9,000 in 2012, the number of disadvantaged 19-year-olds in higher education has increased by 4.8%.
Furthermore, in Scotland, which does not charge Scottish or EU nationals fees, there are 3.5 advantaged students for every single disadvantaged student, compared to the rate in England of 2.4.
The think-tank said Labour’s similar plan for England could lead to a rationing of university places and reduced numbers of disadvantaged students in higher education.
Daniel Mahoney, head of economic research at CPS, said the data “highlights how wrong Jeremy Corbyn was to suggest that fewer working class youngsters are attending university”.
“It is also important to highlight that Corbyn’s proposal of abolishing tuition fees could, in fact, be a very regressive move. Graduates, on average, earn £9,500 more a year than non-graduates. By increasing fiscal burdens on the taxpayer, the policy would, in effect, be a subsidy from less wealthy non-graduates to wealthier graduates.”
Universities minister Jo Johnson said: “This report shows that Labour’s flagship general election policy is a sham.
“The only winners from scrapping tuition fees would be wealthy graduates – not the disadvantaged pupils whose interests Labour claim to have at heart.
“Labour are betraying young people, they’ve already broken their promise on student debt and now their tuition fee policy has been exposed as damaging for young people.
“The reality is that under the Conservatives, there are more disadvantaged students going to university than ever before and Jeremy Corbyn’s plans would put this at risk.”
But a spokesperson for Labour hit back, saying the Tories have “nothing to offer disadvantaged students” and accusing the party of failing to “match Labour’s manifesto commitment to protect 95% of people from any tax rises”.
“Labour’s fully costed manifesto outlined our pledge to abolish tuition fees and reinstate maintenance grants which were scrapped by the Tories,” they said.
“Disadvantaged students are far more likely to drop out of university than their more affluent peers, Labour’s policy will give much needed support to students from low and middle income backgrounds.
“Comparisons to Scotland, where a cap on student numbers remains in place, and there have been significant cuts in the education budget to fund the continued abolition of tuition fees, are deeply misleading.
“Labour would not re-introduce a cap on student numbers, and, unlike the Conservatives, would increase investment across our education system,” the spokesperson added.