It’s like students simply don’t exist

Was there anything for students in the mini budget? What do you think.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

There were two big rhetorical flourishes in the statement from Jeremy Hunt. One was that “as Conservatives we do not leave our debts to the next generation”. Except student debts, which the government is slowly slashing the subsidy of to make graduates pay more.

The other was the repeated refrain that the government will “look after our most vulnerable citizens”, defined in accompanying documents via household income analysis carried out by the DWP.

As DK notes and I dug into a while ago, five home students in an HMO look £46,250 better off as a household than they really are. Similarly for a student living at home with parents. This remains an ongoing disgrace.

As well as the deception, it’s worth remembering that loans are only that high on the basis that large chunks are not repaid by design. But that “progressive subsidy” designed by government is now structurally stopping it from noticing student poverty.

This Cost of Living factsheet that the government put out yesterday reminds us of the extent to which students have been completely ignored in cost of living measures:

  • 8 million UK households on means tested benefits will receive an additional Cost of Living Payment of £900 in 2023-24. That doesn’t include students.
  • More than eight million pensioner households across the UK will receive an additional £300 Cost of Living Payment in 2023-24 to help with bills, and nearly 12 million pensioners in Great Britain will benefit from a 10.1% increase to their State Pension in April 2023 under the triple lock.
  • Over 6 million people across the UK on non-means-tested disability benefits will receive a further £150 Disability Cost of Living Payment in 2023-24. Students who only get DSA are excluded.
  • The government will increase benefits in line with inflation. This means that they will rise by September Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation – 10.1%. But students in England, who this year have enjoyed a 2.3% increase on maximum maintenance loans, look set to only get a 2.8% uplift next year – that’s the Q1 2024 inflation prediction in yesterday’s OBR forecasts.

We are, effectively, back to the May 2022 position of almost everyone in society getting help except students.

Of immediate concern should be changes to the Energy Price Guarantee from March. Given help is now being targeted through the benefits system, students and their landlords will face huge bill increases in the spring. Students will struggle to afford the hikes and landlords will be ensuring that those extra costs are passed through as soon as their contract arrangements allow.

We’ve still not heard whether students without a domestic energy supply will get the £400 per household that is going to everyone else in the UK, and new energy efficiency measures don’t seem to have any sticks for landlords, who tend to pass through high costs of energy to students, to make them bother.

One glimmer of good news for students was that the government was that from 1 April 2023, the National Living Wage (NLW) will increase by 9.7% to £10.42 an hour for workers aged 23 and over. It reminds us that the Augar argued that the NMW should be the basis of the main maximum maintenance loan (and is in Wales). That would generate a £11,722 max loan (away from home, not London). It’s currently £9,706.

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