Opposition Day — [16th Allotted Day] — Student Maintenance Grants

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:01 pm on 19th January 2016.

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Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing) 3:01 pm, 19th January 2016

I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman because we are very short of time.

We know that these changes will affect many students. The House of Commons Library states that in 2014-15, 395,000 students received a full grant, with 135,000 getting a partial grant. That amounts to over half a million students. Currently, students who go into higher education from families with an annual income of £25,000 or less are eligible for the full grant of £3,387, and students from households with an annual income of between £25,000 and £42,620 are eligible for a partial grant. However, in the summer Budget of July, plans were announced to remove the student maintenance grant, arguing that the grants had become “unaffordable”.

This, in itself, is an assertion that needs to be deconstructed. Politics is about priorities, and this Government have chosen not to prioritise the needs of students from low-income families and, astoundingly, to make them a target for cuts.

The Government have talked endlessly about the importance of hard work and rewarding those who want to achieve, yet now they are undoubtedly making it more difficult for a number of our young people to have the opportunity to access higher education. The move to £9,000 fees in 2012 has meant that students and graduates now contribute 75% towards the overall costs of their higher education. The replacement of grants with loans will further increase the contribution of individuals compared with that of Government. Yet no conversation has taken place with students, their parents or across the country as to what the balance should be.

These changes will lead to a substantial increase in debt for poor students. Assuming that students take out the maximum loans to which they are entitled, the IFS estimates that average debt from a three-year course will rise from about £40,500 under the old system to £53,000 under the new system. This is not just a fear of debt—it is an actual increase in debt. We also know from the impact statement that these changes will particularly affect women, older students and students from ethnic minorities—reason enough to stop these policies in their tracks.

I stand here as someone who is passionate about supporting students from all backgrounds who can to get to university in accessing higher education. These changes are likely to make that more difficult for them. As a country, we need to ensure that our young people have the skills to enable them to compete in a global labour market, and I am concerned that these changes will prevent them from doing so.