George Osborne has presented us today with a typical Tory transaction: tax cuts for the rich and grants cut for the poorest students.
The Chancellor boasted that he will "lower the national debt" in the same breathe as he spun the increase of student debt as somehow progressive. By cutting maintenance grants and replacing them with higher loans, working class students with the lowest incomes will have even more to pay back.
Osborne is ignoring the fact that grants have helped support working class students access higher education, covering living costs and providing a debt-free subsidy. He says he is 'not prepared' to see student numbers fall, yet we know that the poorest are the most averse to debt and when grants were previously raised there was a 4% increase in the participation of working class students.
I was the first in my family to go to university, and at the time of applying, my 'household income' was zero. Taking out loans was a tough decision: I had witnessed the impact of spiralling debt, evictions and bailiffs. So it was a small incentive that some of my maintenance wouldn't need to be paid back. A grant and loan was by no means enough; I worked long hours in part time jobs, got a credit card and I'm still in my overdraft - but I just about made it. When students are already struggling and support is cut further, how many will we lose?
These cuts will have a direct impact on students in England only, but any cut in public spending will fall across the UK. We have already seen cuts to the Financial Contingency and Discretionary Funds: we must be ready to take on any attempt to scale back on student support in all corners of the country. Student grants are the last scrap of decency in a funding system that has become increasingly based on consumerism: we need more of them, not fewer.
Cuts to student financial support is part of the wider attack on our welfare state. Institutional support is already being cut back, with budgets for counseling, advice and bursaries not meeting needs. The Disabled Students Allowance is set to go and thousands of people will now be denied access to housing benefit, forced back in to their family home - or if the situation at home is untenable, forced on to the street.
The real cuts we need are to the rising cost of living. We need action on inflated rents, inflation-busting fares and the unaffordable cost of childcare. Our funding system is in crisis, and stale rhetoric of Britain 'living within our means' means nothing when students simply aren't.
Osborne's tax cut for those earning over £150,000 will mean more in the pockets of Principals and Vice Chancellors, who earn an average of £300,000. It will be very telling of who our institutions serve if those running the sector do not step up and lobby on this issue.
We cannot tolerate a budget with greed in the place of grants and wealth in the place of welfare. Students and their unions will be taking action, and have already been making their opposition clear. In less than two weeks, the National Union of Students executive council will meet to carve out a plan to take this and other Government attacks head on. Students and the trade unions in the sector are planning actions throughout the summer, with a national education demonstration called for 4 November, as well as actions outside the Tory Party conference in Manchester.
This latest attack to grants will be central in our campaigning against the wider austerity agenda. This Government is weak, but the student movement is strong: we must organise and take action across the country in support of an education system that is truly open to all.
Shelly Asquith is the Vice-President (Welfare) at National Union of Students