Today The Times reports that the chancellor is considering slashing the annual tuition fee universities can charge to £7,500, in this autumn’s budget, after young voters swung behind Jeremy Corbyn when he pledged to abolish fees if in government.
In 2008 student loans were removed from protective legislation, by Section 8 of the Sale of Student Loans Act and the Conservative-led coalition increased fees to a maximum of £9,000 a year from the 2012/13 academic year. Fees charged by English universities are now capped at £9,250 but can rise with inflation from this year.
The political/public argument
At the time, minister Alan Johnson said “There is nothing progressive about working people, many of whom will get nowhere near a university, cross-subsidising mainly middle-class students to have a completely free higher education.”
The political/corporate argument
As the FT’s Miranda Green and Alice Hancock report, since the first graduate contribution the UK has stayed high up the international university rankings, with a ‘lucrative higher education export business’, as imposing new buildings spring up on campuses, student flats proliferate and vice chancellors receive average pay packets of £277,834.
Alongside this boom in construction and salaries however, doubts are being raised about the quality of tuition and the content of many degrees now being offered. A comparatively mild one came from Alice Hancock: “In all the discussion over price, there has been little talk of product. I’m happy to make my monthly donation towards my education: it led me to a better job. But I attended a university where I received an average of 15 hours of tuition each week, much of it one-on-one. This is far from commonplace”.
To pay for this expansion, interest rates on student loans are now three percentage points above the retail prices index of inflation; from this autumn they will carry 6.1% interest – more, as Estelle Clarke, Advisory board member of the Intergenerational Foundation points out in the FT: the Student Loans Company ‘hidden in the small print’, charges a monthly compound interest rate of 6.1% . . .
“It ensnares many student/graduate borrowers in a debt trap. . . Less well-off students suffer twice as much with these punitive costs if they have maintenance loans as well as tuition fee loans. For, instead of having loans of roughly £30,000 (tuition fees), their loans will be roughly £60,000 (tuition fees and maintenance loans). Imagine the monthly compounding interest cost on that at 6.1%!”
She adds: “I believe that if more understood what education costs our graduates, monthly compounding rates would have been confined to the dustbin of immoral exploitation. Were student loans regulated, neither punitive compounding interest rates nor inadequate explanations by the SLC would be tolerated”.
Jeremy Corbyn’s £11bn pledge has proved appealing but the FT journalists fear that if he were to act on it in power, a booming, world-class higher education sector would be plunged into financial crisis.
As it is the 99% will pay for government’s corporate-friendly decisions
If, as the Higher Education Policy Institute projects, 71% of students will never repay loans, who will eventually repay the costs of the campus buildings and student flats? The Telegraph quotes Nick Hillman, director of the institute refers to this as a “very substantial” subsidy from future taxpayers to higher education which is “concealed in the system”.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies’ report explains that if graduate earnings are 2 percentage points lower than expected, the long-run government contribution increases by 50%. It calculates that in the long term the government (the taxpayer) will foot the bill for unpaid student loans, which are written off after 30 years: “the expected long-run cost to the taxpayer of HE for the 2017 cohort is £5.9 billion”.
As economist Alison Wolf argues in her 2016 report, many disadvantaged young people would be better served by funding one or two-year high-quality technical courses — or better early years education. But the political corporate alliance would see little profit in doing this.
Will universal credit be ranked with the poll tax, the invasion of Iraq, Gordon Brown’s removal of the 10p income tax band and George Osborne’s cuts to disability payments?
“Mr Gauke, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions talks of the value of employment — in principle, this must be right — but in practice, again, at the food bank in which I work many of the customers I see each week are in work, but the costs of rents, transport, energy, children, wipe out earnings before food and the only place to go for food is us . . .
“To read David Gauke, on the subject of UC, you would think that the introduction of universal credit had been a smooth, well thought through project. In fact, it must rank as one of the worst executed policies any government has attempted . . . “ Jenni Russell of the Times writes in more detail (edited extracts):
The system aims to simplify the complex welfare system by combining six different benefits, from housing to tax credits to childcare to jobseekers’ allowance into a single payment, ending the benefits trap and ensuring that work would always pay more than welfare.
After seven years of development, a pilot project of the universal credit is under way. It has gradually expanded so that now almost 600,000 people are receiving it. In October about 50,000 people will be moved on to the scheme every month. But UC is not meeting its own six-week target. The DWP says that 20% of claims are paid late, and Croydon reports that 12 weeks delay is standard.
The length of time a new claimant must wait to be paid in full has tripled, from two weeks to six or more; it takes at least five weeks for the first payment to arrive forcing people into debt and creating ‘tremendous anxiety’. Most people have not saved enough to keep them going for six weeks. When their lump sum finally arrives, they are often forced to spend money intended for rent on living costs or loan repayments instead. Some families are using food banks and some have been evicted. In Croydon, one of the pilot area, the council told the select committee on work and pensions that under UC rent arrears had rocketed from under 10% to at least 40%. Ms Russell adds that even the emergency loans for which some people would qualify are little advertised and harsh to repay.
Reasons for the delay include:
- people are asked for the wrong information,
- documents get lost,
- dreadful computer breakdowns (RS),
- huge overruns in costs (RS)
- unexpected requirements, such as the demand that childminders are asked to provide statements of charges on headed notepaper as if they were City law firms.
Jenni Russell believes that a revised UC could work well and prove beneficial. To this end she advises government to:
- scrap the first week’s wait,
- enhance grants and loans for those in need,
- provide proper support
- and commit to paying everyone the benefits within five weeks.
This must be given priority for the sake of people whom Richard Smerdon sees living ‘at the sharp end, the claimants themselves’. He continues: “They suffer unbelievable privation and unfairness dealing with the cock-ups from central government through to jobcentres. In addition to that is the monstrous rule that no one can claim universal credit for seven weeks after they have ceased to draw existing benefits. So for seven weeks, many of the customers coming to the food bank in which I work would starve were it not for us . . .”
In 2015, Welfare Weekly reported that research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that 2.6million working families on Universal Credit would lose £1,600 a year from the changes and 1.9 million would be £1,400 a year better off.
Analysis from the independent Office for Budget Responsibility suggested the changes to universal credit would save the chancellor close to £3bn by 2019-20 – a figure quoted by Public Finance:.
Graph from House of Commons Library blog, last November, ‘Jam Tomorrow’
In March this year a study by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and the IPPR thinktank that a series of cuts and changes have left the government’s flagship welfare overhaul failing to meet its original aims.
Families with children are the biggest losers under the cuts made to universal credit since it was first established, with some families left thousands of pounds worse off, according to a new analysis.
Lone parent families will be on average £2,380 a year worse off, while families with two children lose £1,100 on average and those with three youngsters lose £2,540. Lone parents and couples where one parent works part-time to care for young children are hit particularly hard and face having have to find up to two days’ extra work a week to meet the shortfall in income from the cuts.
Although universal credit was intended to boost household incomes by strengthening incentives for claimants to move into work or take on more hours, more families will be worse off than under the scheme’s original design, it says. Currently just 450,000 people are on universal credit, which is not expected to be fully operational across the country until 2022. At that point, according to estimates by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, 2.1 million families will be worse off under the new system, and 1.8 million better off.
The Petitions team: UK Government and Parliament sends news that Parliament is to debate the petition “To make votes matter, adopt Proportional Representation for UK General Elections” on 30 October 2017.
The vast majority wants PR. Our FPTP voting system makes Parliament unrepresentative. One party got 37% of the vote and 51% of seats, while 3 parties got 24% of the vote but share 1.5% of seats. FPTP violates the democratic principle of majority rule and causes problems like costly policy reversals.
The UK has never had a say on PR. As David Cameron himself said, the AV Referendum was on a system that is often less proportional than FPTP, so the rejection of AV could not possibly be a rejection of PR. In fact, so few voters wanted either system on offer that the turnout was just 42%.
There are tried and tested PR systems that keep the constituency link. They would make every vote matter equally, rather than allowing a minority of swing voters in a few marginal seats to pick the government.
A video and transcript of the debate will be sent to all who signed the petition.
The Education Secretary Justine Greening has now ordered a major review of council policies about school transport provision for disabled children. In particular she has received concerns that some parents were receiving misleading advice.
Councils are being forced to make hard choices in the face of ‘sustained financial challenges’. As the Economist reports since 2010 the budget deficit has been reduced from 10% to 4% of GDP; by 2020 it is forecast to be almost eliminated: “To achieve this, the government has slashed spending. Hardest hit has been the Department for Communities and Local Government, which provides councils with most of their funding”.
One example is that of Christine Anderson who had to leave her job to make a 60-mile round trip to school with her 15-year-old son Christopher, who has physical and learning disabilities including spina bifida and hydrocephalus.
Jonathan Carr-West of the Local Government Information Unit, says “it is clear that some councils may soon be unable to meet their statutory duties of caring for the most vulnerable”.
261 complaints about school transport decisions were made to England’s local government ombudsman in 2015-16. The figure is a marked increase, says the ombudsman, Michael King. Only Disability United – outperforming all other media articles – gave a link to his report, All on Board, Navigating School Transport Issues, which recommends that councils should:
- consult parents and schools on changes to individual pupils’ transport arrangements
- provide clear and accessible information on eligibility for free transport
- consider individual pupils’ transport needs “carefully and judiciously”
- consider wider health and safety issues as well as mobility for special needs pupils
There have been campaigns about cuts to transport for children with disabilities over the years in many areas
Demo organised by Eleanor Lisney, a Coventry campaigner and member of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC)
The Coventry Telegraph, reporting on these cuts, pointed out that local authorities are required to provide travel assistance for all children who cannot reasonably be expected to walk to school because of their mobility problems or because of associated health and safety issues related to their special educational needs or disability.
Austerity 1: next year, UK ministers required to report progress on reinstating rights of people with disabilities
Equal Lives chief executive Mark Harrison said: “In a very short space of time we have gone from having some of the best rights in the world to a crisis situation where people are dying because of the barriers and discrimination caused by austerity.”
In 2015, a team of United Nations investigators began a two-week visit to the UK as part of an inquiry into allegations of “systematic and grave” violations of disabled people’s human rights.
Stephen Naysmith Social Affairs Correspondent of the Herald has reported that the UN Committee on the Rights of Disabled People has issued a 17 page report on the UK which contained more recommendations for improvement than for any other country in the committee’s 10 year history.
UK rapporteur to the committee Mr Stig Langvad, said the review had been “the most challenging exercise in the history of the Committee”, and criticised the government for failing to heed a 2016 inquiry which had found “grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights.
He said Britain was “going backwards” in terms of meeting its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, particularly by failing to enable disabled people to have the same choice and control in their lives as people without disabilities.
Key among its concerns was the disproportionate impact of austerity-led cuts on disabled people, with the report claiming disabled people had been left in poverty
- by cuts to benefits and support,
- the closure of the Independent Living Fund,
- the introduction of Universal Credit and
- the change from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payments.
The Scottish Government was praised for consulting disabled people over its plans for introducing a new social security system, under devolved powers.
UK ministers are required to report back on progress to the committee within 12 months.
Were these judges aware of the United Nations condemnation of current violations of disabled people’s human rights?
A severely disabled man has lost his battle in the Court of Appeal over cuts by a local authority to his care funding. Luke Davey, was seeking to overturn Oxfordshire County Council’s decision to reduce by 42% his weekly personal budget, which provided a 24-hour care package. He is registered blind, uses a wheelchair and requires help with all of his personal care needs.
Luke with his mother, who is 76
The council proposed to reduce funding for his care package in June 2015 when the Independent Living Fund (ILF) was closed by the government
Mr Davey, who has quadriplegic cerebral palsy and is registered blind, argued it threatened his well-being and breached the Care Act
The judges were told at a recent one-day hearing that Mr Davey and others like him have been seriously adversely affected by Government changes to the care funding system.
Critics of the Government say Mr Davey’s case illustrates how disabled people are suffering because ministers axed the independent living fund (ILF) in 2015 but failed to ring-fence sufficient money for the disabled under the new Care Act 2014, which makes cash-strapped local authorities responsible for funding all care needs.
Mr Davey attempted to overturn a ruling by High Court judge Mr Justice Morris which went against him. Three appeal judges ruled the council had not acted unlawfully. Lord Justice McFarlane, sitting with Lord Justice Bean and Lady Justice Thirlwall, rejected the bid, saying: “Like (Mr Justice Morris), I have great respect for the manner in which the claimant, his family and his team of carers cope with his difficult situation. But that is not the same thing as saying that the council’s actions have been unlawful.”
Mr Davey and his lawyers were given until September 18 to consider whether they wish to apply to the Supreme Court for permission to make a further appeal.
A spokesman for Oxfordshire County Council said it would continue to work with Mr Davey and his family to ensure he gets the essential services he needs . . . All local authorities who provide adult social care services against a background of financial constraints in the public sector are having to make difficult decisions.”
For more detail go to:
A summary follows: the original text may be read here.
The opposition to hard Brexit, messy Brexit, or any sort of Brexit at all is coalescing at Westminster and across the country.
Tens of thousands Unite for Europe campaigners marched through central London to Westminster in March – Financial Times
The arrival of the Great Repeal Bill in the House of Commons is the signal for a bitter autumn. Opposition includes:
- the All Party Parliamentary Group led by Anna Soubry and Chuka Umuna coordinating parliamentary opposition, and aiming to keep us in the single market to protect our economy;
- the former Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer (Labour) and former attorney-general Dominic Grieve (Conservative) leading the charge against the granting to ministers of sweeping powers to rewrite laws with minimal scrutiny from parliament;
- when the bill reaches the House of Lords, the Law Lords are expected to back them up;
- across the country there is a coalition of anti-Brexit groups, increasingly working together. A coalition of such groups are raising funds for a ‘Fight Brexit War Chest’;
- marches and rallies to be held at the Labour Party conference in Brighton;
- a rally and street party at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester
- and a mass lobby of Parliament in October.
The MEP, Molly Scott Cato, believes that the future of our country is at stake; those of us who form the majority and who wish the UK to be a welcoming and compassionate society, should continue to challenge ‘poisonous narratives’ around migration, make the economic and social case for continued freedom of movement. and use the power and influence we have to best advantage to limit the damage, soften the Tories’ Brexit, and – if possible – reverse the damaging decision taken in June last year.
Next: ’50 secret studies’ the government has undertaken into the impacts of Brexit.