Last July, the all-new conservative budget was publicised for the first time, with George Osborne laying out plans to cut maintenance grants for students starting university from September 2016 onwards. The decision was met with much criticism, with critics fearing that these new measures could put off people from poorer backgrounds getting a university education. However, Osborne’s response to said backlash claimed that the grants had become “unaffordable”.
Maintenance grants are non-repayable grants which help students cover the cost of living expenses, which incidentally are becoming vastly unaffordable. The amount received largely depends on the family’s annual income, but can be anything up to £3387.
Therefore, the debate around these cuts largely stems from their benefits and the support that they give to students from middle to lower class backgrounds. Instead of being a grant, the current sum of £3387 will be converted into a loan, adding to the already-existing debt that students have. By deciding to cut them altogether gives the impression that once again, the poorest students are being the most harshly affected.
According to The Independent, the decision to officially cut maintenance grants was completed in ninety minutes, with around 18 MPs present. Wes Streeting, Labour MP for Ilford North, was one of the politicians present at the debate who urged ministers not to cut maintenance grants. However, the results of the vote which followed saw ten Ayes and eight Noes.
Prior to the vote, Streeting said: “Only 18 members can vote in the committee, yet this issue will affect students in every constituency across the country. It is therefore even more surprising that we find ourselves here on a committee most of our constituents have never heard of, away from the eyes of the public.”
The small size of this debate seems to reflect how this issue is being attempted to be kept quiet, away from the eyes of the public. It is nothing less than the penalisation of the poorest students, and what is worse, the ongoing silence from the House of Commons allows the Conservative government to continue to dismantle what should be stable and established parts of essential services.
When MPs are given a 10% pay rise and students have a small means of support taken away, the question of whether money is being spent in the right places should be brought to the forefront of every political debate.