The PM has repeatedly apologised, taken full responsibility and implemented radical operational change at N10. As a nation I hope we can now come together to tackle some of the biggest issues of our time – mainly the global cost of living crisis and war in Ukraine.
— Michelle Donelan MP (@michelledonelan) May 25, 2022
So I was eagerly awaiting news in Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s statement on measures that will address said crisis insofar as it’s impacting students.
The package included a £650 one-off Cost of Living Payment for those on means tested benefits – but that doesn’t include the vast majority of students. There’s also a one-off £300 Pensioner Cost of Living Payment, a £150 Disability Cost of Living Payment and a £500m top-up to the discretionary funding from local authorities. But most of that won’t go near students, and the previous £150 Council Tax rebate for households in England in Council Tax bands A-D didn’t either.
The one bit of good news is that households will get £400 of support with their energy bills through an expansion of the Energy Bills Support Scheme, something that those with second homes will benefit from too.
As usual, the Treasury claimed that around three-quarters of the total support will go to vulnerable households – but its distributional analysis of the impact of the measures on households in England relies as usual on underpinning figures that distort household incomes when it comes to students, as tuition fee loans are recorded as household income – making it look like a student HMO of five students are £50k better off than they really are.
There’s no need to go over again here the failure of the government to address maintenance at all in its Augar response, or the way in which official figures ignore or distort the student finance picture for students, or the ongoing and problematic issue of between basic living costs support being split between complex devolution and government department settlements, or the problem with participation that a student hardship crisis creates, or the weird silence on the issue of institutional financial support from the actual English access regulator.
Nor is there much of a need to explain why and how this is now becoming a full blown crisis. As well as tales of soaring student demand for foodbanks, the latest manifestation I’m hearing around the UK is a dearth of “bills inclusive” student housing in most university towns and cities, and even landlords who love locking students into rental contracts early now desperately trying to cancel such contracts. Yes, won’t somebody think of the landlords?
My puzzle for today is why. I spend quite a bit of time trying to convince people that the Conservatives and/or government aren’t evil, they just have different ways of thinking about the world, and that often in policymaking we should consider cock up rather than conspiracy.
But the relentless and consistent outright erasure of students as a (massive) group of citizens that are so obviously impacted by inflation and the cost of living crisis is really now stretching my attempts thin. I need some help here – especially from those who might know.
The changes to the repayment threshold alone this year means a huge saving – a small slice of which could be going to modestly increasing the maintenance loan or whatever.
So what’s going on? Is it thoughtlessness – the Treasury have just forgotten? Is this really about writing off a generation that won’t for them? Is there a mechanism issue, like a head scratch over whether the SLC could make another payment or something? Is it lazy assumptions about students being posh or kids supported by parents? Or is it a genuine and ideological assault – a direct attempt to impoverish and reduce the numbers at university (or at least worsen the quality of their participation)? I honestly don’t get it.
Because honestly? If someone said to me tomorrow “do they really just hate students”, I’m not sure I can coherently argue against any more.