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Student support: restricted modification of repayment terms

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 21st November 2016.

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Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education) 6:45 pm, 21st November 2016

No, I will not—the hon. Lady has had one go. Let me proceed because we do not have a lot of time.

Do the Government not believe that that rise would more beneficial to our nation as a whole than pushing ahead with a policy that benefits only a relatively small number of large corporations, and not even a big range? If the Government are serious about supporting social mobility, they need to do something about it. The Minister, in a rather Panglossian way, went on about all the terrible things that were predicted when loans were introduced not having come to pass, but that is actually not true, or certainly not true across the board. We have seen what a disaster the introduction of advanced learning loans for level 3 was for over-24-year-olds. Only 50% of the £300 million that was allocated for them was taken up, and that money has been sent straight back to the Treasury. Now, unabashed, the Government want to serve up the same recipe to 19 to 24-year-olds.

“Nudge” has been a fashionable word in the Conservative party in recent years—indeed, Lord Willetts wrote quite a lot about it—but it is possible to nudge people away from things as well as towards them. As the Minister well knows, the quality impact assessment on grants and loans let the cat out of the bag on the difficulties that would be faced by all the groups who desperately need access to higher education, such as women, disabled people, people from the black and minority ethnic communities, and care leavers. No wonder Ministers were so keen to bury this issue in a Delegated Legislation Committee. It took our efforts in bringing it to an Opposition day debate at the beginning of the year to have a decent debate on it.

The Government need to think again on this. I give notice that we will press our new clause 5 to a vote.