The maintenance gap between England and Wales is about to get even wider

Miserable as the current position is on statutory maintenance support for undergraduates, we will soon have to turn our attention to the horrors to come.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

And today’s announcement from the Chancellor on the likely forthcoming rate for the Living (ie minimum) Wage is likely to make things very interesting.

To the extent to which the four systems are in any way “anchored” to something, for students studying away from home, Wales (via 2016’s Diamond Review) takes the Living (ie minimum) Wage, multiples it by 37.5 hours per week and then multiplies it again by a 30 week academic session.

(That was also the recommendation in the Augar review, although the Department for Education famously just ignored the chapter on maintenance altogether rather than actually respond to it.)

It then, for reasons neither Diamond nor anyone else I can find explains, uprates that by 25 per cent for students living away from home in London and 15 per cent less for students living in the parental home.

There are then differences for parental income – the Welsh system allows everyone to access the max, whereas the others have different tapers, as I illustrated on the site last week.

But on that basic max, the current system is broadly as thus – and remember this is about where you’re from, not where you end up studying:

  • Wales: £11,720
  • England: £9,978
  • Scotland: £9,000
  • Northern Ireland: £8,136

Today at Conservative Party Conference, Jeremy Hunt announced that he was “committed” to accepting the Low Pay Commission’s recommendations on the Living (ie minimum) Wage.

The actual rate will be formally announced in November – but back in July the Commission projected that the NLW rate for 2024 will be between £10.90 and £11.43 – with a central estimate of £11.16.

That would take – if Wales can actually afford the increase – the Welsh minimum maintenance package to £12,555.

The only other of the four systems with a notional external (to the department) anchor is England’s system – which has always used a projection of RPIX (that’s the Retail Prices Index but ignoring mortgage interest) for the Jan-Mar quarter of the academic year that the package will apply.

For eight of the last thirteen years, we’ve known the package by now – but in all of the years when there hasn’t been deliberate policy change, the government has used the last available OBR projection for the anchor.

A/YMinisterAnnounce dateMax G/LPrevailing inf start of A/YSo should have been
2011/12David Willetts21st October 201064055.46751
2012/13David Willetts28th June 201171252.97331
2013/14David Willetts8th March 201271773.27566
2014/15David Willetts11th March 201372492.57430
2015/16David Willetts13th March 2014743417508
2016/17Jo Johsnon21st July 2015820027658
2017/16Jo Johsnon21st July 2016843047964
2018/19Jo Johsnon6th December 201787003.38227
2019/20Sam Gyimah22nd November 201889442.68441
2020/21Chris Skidmore23rd July 201992031.38551
2021/22Michelle Donelan6th July 202094884.68944
2022/23Michelle Donelan21st October 2021970612.310044
2023/24Robert Halfon2023-01-11 00:00:0097458.110857

And in the last available OBR projection, the RPIX for 2025Q1 was… 0.9 per cent, and would put the core England package for the lowest income families on £10,068 – some £2,487 less than Wales.

We’ve documented extensively on here the way in which the OBR’s questionable record on projections seems to have been diddling students in England out of entitlement for a few years now – the interesting question now is whether the Department for Education risks that projection rising in November’s OBR exercise, or rushes out an announcement now to take advantage of that low low 1.5 per cent figure.

I say that because the OBR’s March 2023 estimates were lower than have turned out this summer – so while inflation is now coming down, we’d have to assume that this coming November’s projections will reflect that delay in inflation reduction.

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