Maintenance grants for students from lower income households have been scrapped by the government after MPs voted in favour of new plans last week. Students from low-income households will from September be entitled to a larger loan, but this must be repaid.
The government originally attempted to push through the proposal without a full House of Commons debate, instead planning to have the issue discussed by a legislation committee of 17 MPs. However, Labour tabled a motion in an attempt to block the reforms. Labour MP Paul Blomfield branded the attempt to push through the “fundamental change” without a vote “unacceptable”. He added: “no mention was made in the Conservative manifesto of ending those grants”.
303 MPs voted in favour of the move, while 292 were against it. It has been alleged that ministers planned to end grants via a committee in an effort to prevent the House of Lords from blocking the move. A government spokesman stated that the process used by ministers had been approved by parliament in the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998. Shadow universities minister Gordon Marsden said it was “not simply technical tinkering but a major change by the government that will deprive around half a million of England’s students from lower income and disadvantaged households of maintenance grant funding”.
[su_spoiler title=”The democratic implications of the decision to axe grants” style=”simple” icon=”chevron-circle” anchor=”Comment”]There are 650 seats in the House of Commons including one that is revoked in the opening days of any government due to the necessity of a Speaker. 650 seats, 330 of which are held by David Cameron’s Conservative Party, in comparison to the mere 232 held by Jeremy Corbyn’s opposing Labour Party.
Despite these figures – despite having an overall Commons majority of 12 – David Cameron’s government, last week, chose to subvert the democratic tradition and pass legislation without passing the motion through the House.
Student maintenance grants were revoked without the permissions, or some could argue, even the knowledge of Britain’s political representatives.
People are, quite rightfully, protesting the affront to equality. Thousands, if not millions of young people will now struggle with access to higher education, university and it’s accompanying costs: the books, the rent, the groceries, and so on, are being suspended teasingly out of reach of those who can’t dip in to daddy’s bank account.
However, this decision has far more concerning consequences. A party, one that holds the majoritarian position in a fully democratically elected government chose to abstain from democracy; that is something of which we should be terribly afraid.[/su_spoiler]
Previously, students from households with incomes of £42,620 or less were entitled to a yearly grant. This could reach up to £3,387 if a household income was under £25,000.
However, from September these students will instead be offered an increased loan of up to £8,200, or £10,702 for those studying in London.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron defended the change as he said students will not have to start repaying their loans until they are earning over £21,000, and will have their debts written off after 30 years. Thousands of students from around the country blocked Westminster Bridge for over an hour and a half while the final debate on the matter was taking place, with critics of the change arguing that young people from low-income families will be discouraged from higher education.
However, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills says the move will result in students getting support when they most need it, as the total amount they are able to borrow has increased by £766. Marsden though warns that poorer students will leave university with more debt than their peers. Chancellor George Osborne also backed the move, stating that there was a “basic unfairness in asking taxpayers to fund the grants of people who are likely to earn a lot more than them”.
Chris Jarvis, UUEAS Campaigns and Democracy Officer, explained the move, stating that: “the confirmation that maintenance grants will be cut by the government is an absolute disgrace. Research from NUS shows that over a third of students who receive maintenance grants would not have attended university if they did not receive one”. He affirmed that: “UUEAS will continue to work with other unions nationwide to fight for a fair education system and to make access to higher education a right, not a privilege”.