I’ve always been a bit of a cynic, but a hopeful one. The Government’s latest move to disadvantage poor students is straining the limits of my hope.
Approximately 500,000 students from England currently receive grants of up to £3,387 per year to help fund their studies. These grants make higher education accessible for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds by helping with living expenses.
Today, the Government will try to implement a proposal to scrap these grants from September 2016, forcing poorer students to be saddled with additional debt.
Rather than hold a full debate and vote in Parliament, a committee hearing today is the only opportunity for MPs to challenge the changes.
There was nothing in the Tory manifesto about removing grants. There’s been no consultation with the higher education sector, the public, or the students that this change will affect.
Having done the dirty on students with their Liberal Democrat lackeys in 2010, the Tories are going solo this time with the added insult of attempting to sneak through the changes with no opportunity for proper scrutiny.
I will be joining my Labour colleagues to demand a debate and a vote in the Commons chamber, in Government time, so that these proposals can be fully debated.
At the moment students typically graduate with up to £40,500 of debt from a three-year course but this could increase to as much as £53,000 for students who are forced to take on additional loans in lieu of grants.
What I struggle with most is that the Government has not provided any real reason or justification for why they are making this change. Cameron and his ministerial colleagues are proving time and time again that they do not care about young people.
All that this legislation does is massage the national debt figures. The plan is a short-sighted attempt to move grants (a loss to the government) to loans (an asset) to help the Chancellor’s figures but isn’t actually improving the economy.
That money is still gone and many students will never be able to pay it back.
Students are currently in the midst of very challenging times, with many struggling to pay for their studies, the cost of rent increasing and basic living costing more than ever before. There have always been jokes about students eating beans to survive but for many students this isn’t a joke, it’s the reality.
Here in Cardiff Central we have one of the highest proportions of students of any constituency in the UK. I regularly have students contact me with all sorts of horror stories from bullying landlords to properties full of damp without working appliances.
Education should be a right, not a privilege, and it certainly shouldn’t depend on your financial background.
Contrast this with the situation in Wales where the Welsh Labour Government is protecting students from these regressive policies.
I have thousands of constituents who are students from England studying in Cardiff, who sit next to their colleagues from Wales in the same lectures, but bear the brunt of mean and nasty Tory student policy and graduate with eye watering levels of debt as a result.
I’ll do all I can to stand up for them and fight against these plans being implemented.
Changing grants to loans will hit the poorest hardest. I won’t stand by and watch this happen.
This post was originally written for The Times and can be read here.