George Osborne plans to end student grants without a vote
MPs have accused George Osborne of an "outrageous" attempt to sneak through their proposed end to the student grants system, without a debate or vote in the House of Commons.
The planned change will end maintenance grants, which help half a million of the poorest students pay their way through university, replacing them with a loan. Under the current grant system, university students from families with household incomes of £25,000 or less are entitled to a grant to cover living costs of £3,387 a year. Under the new proposals, this will be replaced by extra loans, leaving poorer students with large debts that they'd pay back alongside their existing maintenance and tuition loans.
Despite mass student protest opposing the proposals in November, and opposition from Labour and the Lib Dems, the Government has decided to send the proposals through a legislation committee - rather than have the proposals voted on in the House of Commons. This means that the legislature will not get a proper debate in either the House of Commons or the Lords before it becomes legislature.
Major changes, without scrutiny
Labour have opposed the change and the Chancellor's decision to keep the debate out of Parliament. The shadow universities minister, Gordon Marsden, said it was;
“not simply technical tinkering but a major change by the government that will deprive around half a million of England’s students from lower income and disadvantaged households, of maintenance grant funding.”
“It will leave them having to take out loans as a leap in the dark. It has been done without consultation, with warning signs already being flagged up by the department’s own equality assessment and wholly without the detailed and proper parliamentary scrutiny such a step-change demands.”
The changes will affect around half a million potential students, with concerns that the poorest students in the country will be put off attending university by the amount of debt they will accumulate.
Worrying pattern of behaviour
MPs have expressed concern that the Government is using more and more legislative committees as a way of avoiding proper scrutiny in Parliament, due to their slim majority they hold in the Commons.
Wes Streeting, Labour MP and former president of the NUS, who will sit on the grants committee, said:
“It is shocking that something as significant as abolishing student grants is being done through delegated legislation in the hope that people won’t notice it. It is part of a worrying pattern of behaviour of this government because their majority is so small."
“It means the committee is stacked in the government’s favour so they don’t have to worry about the inconvenience of getting MPs to turn up and they don’t actually have to vote on the substance of the proposals, just on whether the issue has been heard."
“On the issues around the equity and impact of cancelling student grants, we are just not going to give this the proper scrutiny it deserves. It’s outrageous and a disgrace that it is being done in this way.”
Tim Farron, leader of the Lib Dems, criticised the “sly” attempt to end the grants by turning them into loans.
“This is a very frightening prospect for young people and their parents."
"Plans to cut maintenance grants are wrong and we will fight these plans tooth and nail. Social mobility is a real priority and these changes threaten to further entrench inequality. It is something I oppose.”
The government is allowed to use a legislature committee rather than the usual process of a debate in the Commons and then the Lords using the Teaching and Higher Education Act of 1998, a Government spokesman said.
The legislature committee will meet today to discuss the proposals.