Monday, 1 August 2016

Those Most In Need Will Lose The Most

The splendid Angela Rayner writes: 

Today Theresa May's Tory Government scrapped maintenance grants.

Unlike Hinkley, there is no room for a pause for thought when it comes to the future of the next generation. 

Maintenance grants, a proud Labour achievement which made it easier for children from lower and middle income families to go to university, have been abolished in one fell swoop. 

To be replaced with loans. Never mind that student debt in Britain is already amongst the highest in Europe. 

Forget that the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies calculates that the average student will graduate an astronomical £44,000 in debt.

They will be paying this off well into their fifties, just as their own children might be considering university courses. 

This is inconvenient evidence, that can be easily ignored by the Tories.

After all, they have already trebled tuition fees and frozen the repayment threshold for student debt at £21,000, going back on their word to students, who were told that the threshold would rise in line with average earnings.

This means that students will have more and more debt, and spend longer and longer trying to pay it off.    

Now another hammer blow to opportunity by scrapping grants.

It adds up to a triple whammy which means that the very people we should be encouraging to attend universities, will be saddled with more and more debt, simply for having the nerve to try and get the education to which they are entitled.

So for all her fine words about "One Nation" Britain on the steps of Downing Street, Theresa May has put yet another latest cap on social mobility.

Additional debt will fall entirely on the shoulders of children from low and middle income backgrounds, while more affluent students will be mostly unaffected.

Currently, full-time students with a household income of £25,000 or less can get £3,387 a year in a maintenance grant.

There are also smaller grants available for students in households earning less than £42,620 a year.

Students who would have previously been able to rely on maintenance grants will simply see their debt continue to skyrocket, which will leave them facing a huge debt burden for the rest of their working lives. 

This is a policy that the Tories were so ashamed of that they pushed it through without proper scrutiny, sneaking it through as delegated legislation so that it wouldn’t face the full scrutiny that our democracy demands.

It took the Labour Party holding an Opposition Day Debate in January, in which we all condemned these regressive changes, to make sure this shameful policy was debated on the floor of the House. 

The timing for abolishing maintenance grants could not be more absurd.

Only yesterday a study from the Intergenerational Foundation found that, unless you’re one of the few who goes to Oxbridge, or studies one of a very small number of subjects, as a graduate, your earnings, in real terms, will not be substantially higher than if you simply didn’t go to university.

The graduate earnings premium, used by the Tories to justify many of their regressive higher education policies, is fast becoming a myth.

And why?

Because this government has saddled students with ever-mounting debt without providing the high-wage jobs that they need to pay them off.

This move is simply the latest Tory tax on aspiration.

It's likely now that many potential students, who previously relied on grants for access to university, will simply not apply now due to the life-long debt they will face.

This from a Prime Minister and Education Secretary who pledged to put social mobility at the heart of their agenda.

Yet Theresa May and Justine Greening have done nothing to reverse this regressive policy. No room here for second thoughts.

Meanwhile, those students who gain degrees, despite the debt they face, will lose more and more of their income to pay for it.

Making it more and more difficult for students to find the money to pay the bills, to get a mortgage, to start a family, to do everything this government claims to be encouraging. 

We need a sustainable system of student finance that promotes opportunity, encourages aspiration, increases social mobility and is governed by fairness. 

But all the Tories can offer is unsustainable, mounting debt, punishing students for wanting an education.

And discouraging thousands of young people from climbing the ladder to a better life.


Last month, Tory-controlled Hampshire County Council announced the closure of 43 of its 54 Sure Start centres.

It was a record-breaking event, because their decision took the total number of Sure Start centres lost under this Tory Government, and the Coalition before it, to more than 800.

What a record for the Tories.

Hampshire County Council’s own report into the closures said that in 2010 there had been 83 children’s centres provided “across the whole of Hampshire.” 

Government cuts have meant that the number of those centres has now fallen from 83 to 11 in just six years. 

Thousands of parents will no longer have access to a local children’s centre and the vitally important start in life they provide for the next generation. 

I am proud that I was a recipient of wrap-around services such as Sure Start, when I was a young mum.

They gave me, and many of my friends, much needed support, a hand-up in difficult times. 

So I know how it feels for mums in Hampshire to be denied that help. 

Often, Tory closures of Sure Start centres have been justified simply on the basis of money. ‘We cannot afford them anymore’, they say. 

Sometimes, closures are justified by claims that children in greatest need will be given priority. Both are wrong.

Protestors against the latest Hampshire closures were concerned that focussing on those in the greatest need “would lead to families feeling stigmatised and therefore less likely to access the services that would remain available to them.” 

When Labour founded Sure Start in 1998 a key objective was to stop parents being stigmatised for seeking help with their families. 

It worked – by the end of the last Labour Government, there were 3,633 Sure Start centres, which provided services for nearly 3 million children all across the country. 

But then came austerity, when short-term Tory thinking was revealed in all its glory. Cut and run. And the devil take the consequences. 

By the end of 2015, there were only 2,605 main Sure Start centres. Services and centres shut-down, lost or ‘restructured’ in the name of cost and so-called ‘consolidation’. 

Meanwhile, real terms spending, per child, on early education has been consistently falling. 

The Government’s own research from earlier this year has shown the impact of funding cuts on children’s centres. 

It shows that the cuts have had a direct impact on outcomes for children and their parents who used these services.

Children who have been hit by these cuts have the most mental health difficulties and the most dysfunctional relationships.

Their life chances are the least. And, as always, it is the most deprived areas that suffer the most.

The Labour requirement for Sure Starts to be centred in the most disadvantaged 30 per cent of areas was cynically scrapped under the Tories. 

It has held back children from poorer areas who already start school almost a year behind their better-off peers. 

The gap grows as they go through the education system. They are being stunted before they can properly develop.

It is a national scandal that, under the Tories, where you are born and who your parents are, still sows the seeds of disadvantage for too many people in Britain today.

All the evidence shows that a relentless and holistic focus on the early years will improve the life chances, well-being and economic health of the entire nation.

But what about the cost?

The Early Intervention Foundation has found that improving early intervention to help especially vulnerable children much earlier in their lives, could save the Government almost £17 billion.

Increasing female participation in the UK workforce, through improved childcare, could add a rocket-fuelled injection of £170 billion into our economy.

That’s because childcare plays a critical role in supporting the economy and helping more women who want to work to get back into the labour market.

The dozens of children’s centres closing in Hampshire are a tragedy.

It will hamper children’s progress, women’s progress, and society’s progress. Those most in need will lose the most.

But Hampshire is only the latest in the long line of such closures by the Tories, who are failing children, families and our communities.

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