07/06/2016 14:12 BST

Tory Cuts To Disabled Student Funding Will Hit Poor, Women And Ethnic Minorities

Chris Radburn/PA Wire

Poorer disabled students will be cast "adrift" if the Conservatives plough ahead with planned cuts to the specialist assistance they need at university, ministers have been told.

A government impact assessment seen by The Huffington Post reveals the "negative" consequences for disabled people if universities do not step into fill the funding gap 

From September, universities will be expected to provide some of the money currently given out by the government in the Disabled Students' Allowances (DSA).

The DSA grants help pay for the additional costs that disabled students incur while studying - such as the purchase of computer equipment or specialist accommodation. 

A 2015 assessment carried out for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills released under the Freedom of Information Act warned of the impact of the changes.

"Students from low income backgrounds may be less able to fund their own support if the institutions do not fully mitigate the effect of the proposed changes, and so could be affected more from the proposed changes," it said.

"These students are more likely to be mature students, and from a minority ethnic background."

The assessment also said "disabled females, those aged 25 and over and those from low income backgrounds could be disproportionately affected" by the cuts in funding for computer equipment.

A 2014 impact assessment for the department also said it expected the negative impact of the cuts to DSA on disadvantaged students would be mitigated by the maintenance grant and institutional bursaries.

However the government is getting rid of maintenance grants.

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Baroness Burt, the Lib Dem spokesperson for business, innovation and skills, said the government was wrong to go ahead with the changes "despite knowing full well that they will leave disabled students worse off".

"Their own assessment says that universities will need to mitigate the full effect of the changes, yet they are giving them absolutely no help to ensure this happens. They are casting disabled students adrift knowing that there is a hole in their dingy," she said.

“Even worse, the one element of support the government say would be offered to help meet the shortfall was maintenance grants, yet now they are taking those away as well. 

"The government should re-run their consultation process on these cuts in light of the decision to also stop grants.  This is a fundamental change that undermines their own justification for the policy."

Conservative universities minister Jo Johnson has said the cut in government funding is designed to encourage universities to provide provision for disabled students as demanded by the Equality Act. 

In a written statement last December, Johnson said: "The increasing numbers of disabled students entering HE is to be celebrated, as is the increasing numbers of those declaring their disability.

"However, it is possible that the continued provision of DSAs may have removed the urgency of some HE providers to expand provision for all disabled students."

He added: "These changes will ensure that the limited public funding available for DSAs is targeted in the best way and to achieve value for money, whilst ensuring those disabled students most in need continue to get the help they require.

"We expect HE providers to play an increasing role in supporting all disabled students and are asking them to take primary responsibility in a number of areas.

"There is widespread agreement that higher education providers should discharge their duties under the Equality Act to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate disabled students, as other organisations and businesses do."

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