3. To ask the Scottish Government whether its work to improve financial support for students who are estranged from parents or guardians will also cover students who are estranged from one parent, rather than both. (S5O-04165)
The Scottish Government currently defines an “estranged student” as a student who has no contact with their parents. That means that there is a permanent breakdown in the relationship between the student and their parents, with no sign of it being resolved in the future. We are committed to undertaking independent research to understand the numbers of estranged students in Scotland, the issues that they face and the support that they need. Our intention is to ensure that the exercise is as inclusive as possible with regard to the variations of estrangement.
I am glad to hear of the work that is being done in collaboration with Stand Alone to engage with the issues that estranged students face. As I understand it, currently, children who are raised by a single parent will still be means tested on the basis of the income of both parents and are given guidance to that effect by the Student Awards Agency for Scotland. However, in practice, students will often receive no financial support from the non-present parent.
Will the Scottish Government research how the requirement affects that category of students, in terms of both finance and stress?
If Bill Kidd has examples of students who have been affected in that way, I would be keen to hear about them. I am also keen to ensure that the research that I spoke about, which I have recently announced, takes into account the circumstances that Bill Kidd outlined.
However, the amounts of bursary and student loans that a student can access from SAAS are based on the household income of their permanent home. Therefore, only the income of the single parent would be taken into account in such circumstances. That information is perhaps not reflected in Bill Kidd’s question, but I assure him that the advice that I have from SAAS is that only the income of the single parent would be taken into account when looking at the overall household income for the student. I will certainly write to Bill Kidd with any further clarity that is required on the issue.
As I said, we are keen to look at the issue. We have commissioned the independent research so that we can be better informed and take the right decisions.
I commend Bill Kidd for raising this important issue, which touches many families in Scotland.
I appreciate that the Government is doing work to analyse the scale of the situation, but how will the minister ensure that any additional funding that is made available will give sufficient support to pupils who have a single parent, given their relative lack of household income compared with that of students who have two parents? What additional support will the Government give to those pupils to ensure that they have the same opportunities and chances as those who are in two-parent families?
Charities such as Stand Alone, which effectively makes the case on behalf of estranged students, have outlined the barriers that estranged students face that are not faced by other students. The issue goes to the heart of this debate. The Scottish Government wants to knock down as many of those barriers as possible.
With regard to the circumstances that have been outlined by Jamie Greene, there are already arrangements in place for different situations at the moment. However, we are talking specifically about estranged students, and I have already outlined the criteria that SAAS looks at when assessing estranged students. At the moment, there are special arrangements in place to support estranged students, for instance, to ensure that they are not subject to the means-testing elements of other support that is available for independent students.
Some account is taken of estranged students, but the purpose of the research is to understand all the issues that estranged students face and make sure that future decisions that we take are informed by that research.