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

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

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Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central 3:19 pm, 19th January 2016

I urge Conservative Members to think carefully about the policy. [Interruption.] Their party—it is a shame none of them is listening—has consistently supported maintenance grants. In November 2009, the then Conservative shadow Minister told the House that it

“is students from the poorest backgrounds who are most desperate when they cannot get their maintenance grant”.—[Hansard, 3 November 2009; Vol. 498, c. 737.]

When we debated the Government’s changes to student funding in November 2010, a Conservative Minister said:

“Our proposals…help to encourage people from poorer backgrounds…because of the higher education maintenance grant… That crucial commitment…is one of the reasons we commend these proposals to the House.”—[Hansard, 3 November 2010; Vol. 517, c. 940.]

Reflecting on their approach, in September 2012 a Conservative Minister said:

“The maintenance grant and support for bursaries are going up. That is why we…have record rates of application to university”.—[Hansard, 11 September 2012; Vol. 550, c. 216.]

In opposition and in government, Conservative shadow Ministers and Ministers have rightly made the case for maintenance grants year after year.

That was, however, suddenly thrown into reverse by the Chancellor in the July Budget, without any proper consideration of its impact. Such a consideration is important because we are talking about the poorest students. We still have not seen the original assessment behind the July decision, but even the massaged assessment that the Government were prepared to publish in November, four months after the decision was made, is extremely worrying.

Conservative Members should pay heed to it, because it is the Government’s own assessment. On participation by low-income households, it warns of the evidence from past reforms on which the Government are relying that

“there are limits to its direct applicability”.

On gender, it expects a “decrease in female participation”. On age, it says that there is a

“risk for the participation of older students”.

On ethnicity, it says that there is a

“risk to the participation of students from ethnic minority backgrounds”.

On religion, it talks about

“a decline in the participation of some Muslim students”.

That is the real impact on real people.

That impact has been confirmed by those affected. A survey of students in receipt of maintenance grants found that 35% said that, because of their circumstances, they would not have gone to university without a grant. A new survey by Populus says that 40% of parents from low-income households believe their children will be discouraged from going to university without a grant. Evidence from Institute of Education shows that for every £l,000 increase in the grant, there is a 4% increase in participation from lower-income families. No doubt the reverse is true, so with the level of cuts being made, there will be a significant decrease on the basis of that assessment.

The irony is that the Government have set ambitious objectives for widening participation. The problem is that this policy will prevent that. I urge Conservative Members to vote with us to annul it.

Several hon. Members rose