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DSA in Scotland: settling at its new level?

November 3, 2014

Scottish government statistics published last week on student support include new figures for  spending on Disabled Students Allowance  in 2013-14 (Student support statistics Scotland 2013-14: tables A8 and A9 give the headline figures for grants, including DSA).

Spending appears to be settling around the new lower level  established in 2012-13, though there was a small real terms rise year-on-year. The fall in claimant numbers has reversed more strongly, meaning that the fall in the value of the average claim has continued.

Total spending

Last year’s statistics showed that spending on DSA in Scotland had fallen between 2011-12 and 2012-13, from £9.022m to £7.487m, just under 20% in real terms.

The 2013-14 figures show a year-on-year increase in total spending, from £7.487m to £7.741m.  That is 3.4% in cash terms or around 1.6% in real terms.

Claimants

In 2012-13, the number of claimants fell for the first time in many years, by 466 or just over 10%, to 4,029.

In 2013-14, claimant numbers rose by almost 6%, to 4,265, taking them back up to their 2009-10 level.

Average claim

The cash value of the average claim between 2012-13 and 2013-14 has continued to fall, in line with the long-term trend, from £1,858  to £1,815, which is a 4% decrease in real terms.

Statistics from the Student Loans Company due out later this month for other parts of the UK  will show how average payments compare across the UK.  In 2012-13, the average was higher in Scotland  than Northern Ireland but below that in England and, even more, Wales, which in 2012-13 had the highest figure at £2,452.

Long-term trends

This graph DSA Scotland graph Nov 2014   shows trends over the past decade, using real terms values for spending.  The past two years show the lowest figures for spending, generally by some margin. Real terms spending on DSA was last lower in 2003-04 when it stood at £6,932 in current prices before travel (compared to £7,040 before travel in 2012-13).

Since 2003-04 the total number of students receiving support from the Student Awards Agency for Scotland has risen by around 14% (the number of DSA claimants has increased by 77%).

Note: General travel grant was abolished in Scotland in 2011-12 and travel costs incorporated into DSA.  The impact of this on comparisons over the period is discussed further in the note to the graph.

Types of claim

Detailed information by disability is provided in table A13 of the recent statistics.  Dyslexia and “other” remain the two largest categories.  Over recent years spending and claimant numbers for dyslexia have fallen and then recovered in a similar way to to the total: “other” has seen annual  increases both in claims and spend. Other disabilities accounting for much smaller numbers show a variety of patterns.

Comment

In the absence of any announced change to policy, it remains unclear what has caused the sudden – and now sustained – reduction in spending on DSA in Scotland.

The Scottish Government does not hold data on claims refused, so it is not possible to tell how far the fall may be due to students being refused support centrally.  This lack of data may reflect  the nature of the DSA process itself, which includes a local gatekeeper role for those in direct contact with applicants. That leaves open the possibility that local advisers themselves have for some reason recently been discouraging more claims or promoting lower value ones.  The Scottish Government has pointed to changes in technology, and “mainstreaming” being likely to reduce the potential cost of, and even need for, extra support.  This is plausible: but it is still not clear why that should have had such a strong, sudden effect in 2012-13 or why that should have happened in Scotland that year but not in other parts of the UK.

Moreover, given the impact of disability legislation in the education system as a whole over the last decade, together with general growth in student numbers, we might have expected a fall in equipment cost to have  been off-set over the long-term by more young people with a variety of disabilities, not least the more complex and expensive ones, coming successfully through school to study in higher education. To the list of reasons for higher spending here  could also be added the announcement in 2009 of a widening of the scope of DSA payments. More recently, the large fall in the value of student grants in Scotland in 2013-14  might have been expected to push up claims last year, given that there is good evidence that DSA is claimed disproportionately by those at lower incomes.

The drop in Scottish DSA spending still looks like it deserves more explanation.

 

 

Note: Real terms figures have been calculated using the most recent set of Treasury deflators.

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