This week in the House of Commons, thanks to an opposition day debate, we had the opportunity to discuss the scrapping of Student Maintenance Grants. Currently the Tory government are planning to scrap these grants, that over half a million students currently benefit from, and instead replace them with loans. Sound familiar? It should. The Tories are doing the same thing with the NHS Bursary that I have written about previously.
There are some serious flaws with this method of paying for higher education and I hope to outline them below.
This cut is an outright assault on the ambitions of our population that has long been on the agenda of our Tory government. Just six years ago the Tories were saying how important the Student Maintenance Grants were in making education accessible whilst increasing the cost of tuition to £9,000 a year, now they are scrapping them.
I heard time and time again during the debate that although the grants were being scrapped the amount of money available to students will increase. Students will now be able to borrow £8,200 per year, a modest £800 increase of the £7,400 that is currently available. These figures mean nothing when you think about the £3,387 grant that will no longer be available to students. This money was crucial in paying for rent, food, bills and study materials, if anything it should be increased. Scrapping this grant but then adding £800 onto what has to be paid back is worthless.
The way this legislation has come about also shows shocking disregard for the democracy of the House. Instead of bringing this legislation to the floor and debating it properly it was pushed through the Third Delegated Legislation Committee in a small debate that lasted barely 90 minutes. When it came to a vote it just got through with 10 ayes to 8 noes. The Tories wanted this to be hidden away, pushed through without an adequate debate or proper coverage.
It is an unbelievable hypocrisy, that whilst George Osborne pushes through his austerity agenda, he is asking the poorest of our society to take on greater loans. It is also further evidence of Osborne's elusive long term economic plan - when all else fails, borrow more.
Scrapping maintenance grants are going to have a devastating impact on social mobility, the Tories aren't even hiding it any more, the government has already accepted that this change will mean students from poorer families will graduate with largest debts making sure the poorest of our society stay poor.
The truth is maintenance grants are not just simply free money. When you pursue higher education you are more likely to have a higher income, throughout your lifetime earnings you will more than pay back these grants through the taxes that you pay. People who access higher education contribute so much more to society, they have a higher level of entrepreneurial activity and experience less unemployment. Graduates are more likely to vote and participate in public debates. The benefits are endless and unquantifiable.
Scrapping maintenance grants is a desperate attempt by Osborne to find savings wherever he can because as a Chancellor he has failed consistently to meet any target he has ever set himself. This proposed saving of £1.57billion is a drop in the ocean compared to our £1.5trillion worth of debt that has increased under Osborne's time as Chancellor. Again Osborne has pound signs in his eyes with no idea of the actual worth.
Ronnie Cowan is the SNP MP for Inverclyde
This post was originally published on www.ronniecowan.com