Over 6000 students in Southwark (academic year 13/14) and 500,000 nationally currently receive Student Maintenance Grants of up to £3,387. These include higher education students at Southbank University and Camberwell College of Arts, medical students at Kings College Hospital and young people studying at institutions such as LeSoCo.
This Conservative Government said nothing about abolishing maintenance grants in their manifesto. But as soon as they were elected they announced that they would be axed. I immediately opposed this while Interim Leader and condemned the proposed abolition in my budget response to the Chancellor in June 2015. The Labour Party campaigned against these changes and we all voted against abolition of maintenance grants.
Student Maintenance Grants provide vital support for students in Camberwell and Peckham and nationally to pay for rent, food, energy bills and study materials. Already, 77% of students work alongside their studies to help ease the financial burden of university. These changes will force students to spend more time working to support themselves and less time studying to get a good degree. 35% of students told the NUS that they would not have gone to university if they had not had access to maintenance grants.
Students from the lowest income families will be hit hardest and this further undermines the Tories' absurd claim to being a One Nation government. Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Angela Eagle MP said: “Abolishing maintenance grants is an assault on aspiration, an assault on opportunity and an assault on those who want to get on in life.”
It is unfair that students from poorer families should leave university with higher debts than their better-off peers. These students will now have up to £53,000 of debt after a three year degree. The Conservative Government are giving tax cuts to millionaires at the same time as piling more debts onto poor students [and it isn’t fair]. This Government is not on the side of people working hard and trying to get on in life. In 2010, the Coalition Government trebled tuition fees but said that poorer students would still be able to afford to go to university through the availability of maintenance grants.
The Government knows that maintenance grants are essential to levelling the playing field of education yet they have attempted to avoid scrutiny and force these sweeping changes through in a committee without a full debate or a vote. Last week, the Labour Party forced the Government to debate and vote on this issue. But the Government pressed ahead and forced these changes through anyway.
I voted against the abolition of maintenance grants and will continue to back students, universities and colleges and everyone who is campaigning to get the government to change their mind. Southwark students from low income families have every bit as much a right to go to university or further education as students from better off backgrounds. It is important for the economy of this country that everyone is able to fulfil their full potential and are not held back from pursuing higher education because they can’t afford it.