What’s in the Autumn Statement?

There’s nothing in the autumn statement for students, obviously. Unless you’re from Wales.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

Last month when the Chancellor signalled that he would likely implement the Low Pay Commission’s recommendation on the Living (minimum) Wage in full, we noted that that would take Wales’ maximum maintenance loan for undergraduates (away from home, outside of London) to £12,555 given it uses the LW as an anchor (37.5 weeks x 30 hours).

The commission hadn’t actually completed its deliberations by then – but now it has, and it has revised its recommendation right up the upper limit of estimates to £11.44 an hour – and that in theory takes the Welsh package to £12,870.

That places some pressure on the SNP Government in Scotland too, given it has a commitment to reach that anchor point by the end of this Scottish Parliament.

Northern Ireland is still miles behind, but in England the use of future inflation projections by the Office for Budget Responsibility means the gap both between Wales and England and the gap between affordability and reality is set to get wider and wider.

Today’s autumn statement-accompanying Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) projection for RPI Q1 2025 is just 2.5 per cent. So, unless the Department for Education deviates from standard practice, that means we should be braced for a maximum maintenance loan for undergraduates (again away from home, outside of London) of just £10,227 – a whopping £2,643 difference between England and Wales.

Add that to the fact that increasing numbers of students are no longer entitled to the max (down from about 6 in ten a decade ago to about a third now) thanks to the freezing of the household income threshold for the past fifteen years, and next year is set to be even more grim for those hanging into HE by their fingernails.

The bright side here is that until today, the OBR’s projection for inflation in quarter one of 2025 was just 0.9 per cent. DfE will be kicking itself for not getting the announcement on next year’s package out of the door earlier.

The little bit of good news for moderately mature students is that eligibility for the National Living Wage will also be extended by reducing the age threshold to 21-year-olds for the first time. A 21-year-old will get a 12.4 per cent increase, from £10.18 this year to £11.44 next year, worth almost £2,300 a year for a full-time worker – which sadly some students are these days.

What else is in the statement?

Elsewhere, there’s little else directed at higher education. We see a share of £7m for holocaust-related education and training, and £5m for a “Fleming Centre” for innovation in Imperial College (sofa change for the Treasury – something that doesn’t even warrant a mention in the full text of the statement).

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt chose to reannounce £500m of investment in AI innovation centres, and the simplification of research and development tax relief for companies. The new investment zones, announced on Monday, will also have an impact (in south Yorkshire and north Wales) at least.

Though the only mention of apprenticeships concerns a £50m pilot to expand numbers in engineering and other shortage areas, the quiet announcement of a 20 per cent increase in minimum wages for apprentices will be welcomed.

A glance at the costings for future policy in Table 5.1 brings an element of interest – we get the numbers (in a rough, outlay minus returns, fashion) for the Lifelong Learning Entitlement, and it turns out that England’s new higher education funding system will cost £5m for each of the first two years, make £5m in the third year, with a rise to £25m by year four – suggesting that government projections are for a low but consistent net increase in student numbers with speedy loan repayment. The impact of the NHS long term workforce plan on sector finances is more straightforward, rising to a £20m spend by 2028-29.

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