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Paging Stewart Hosie MP: grants are not the best advertisement for devolution

July 31, 2015

Stewart Hosie MP, the party’s deputy leader is reported to have said immediately after the budget (emphasis added):

The Tories’ cuts in the living standards of young people are particularly severe, including scrapping student grants. The SNP Government will continue to deliver grants for the poorest students in Scotland, demonstrating the benefits of having these powers in the Scottish Parliament, rather than in Tory hands at Westminster.

As with the Early Day motion discussed in this post, there’s a difficulty with this line, because student grants have been  severely cut in Scotland in recent years. Total spending on grants is now about three times higher in England than in Scotland, proportionate to size. The phasing in of the changes in England means that by 2017-18 total grant spending in England will still only have fallen to something around current Scottish levels – it won’t fall below those until 2018.

Indeed, looking at the picture since 2001, when Scotland was first able to implement a different policy on grants, and 2018-19, by when the English changes have taken almost full effect, spending on grants in Scotland will often have been well below the (rough) figure of 10% of spending in England which would suggest broad comparability. On current policy, spending on grants will have been proportionately higher – since 2013-14 much higher –  in England than Scotland in 10 years out of  these 18.

In other words, whatever separate case may be made in relation to fees, student grant is not the best advertisement for devolution’s capacity to do more for students, particularly in the period since 2007.

Background: detailed calculations

Scotland spent relatively more on grants between 2001-02 and 2007-08 (at points double the amount relative to size), but subsequently fell behind, as grant rates were substantially increased in England, but frozen and then cut in Scotland. For the recent years for which figures are available (all figures £m):

2007-08 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14
actual actual actual actual actual actual actual
Scotland 72.4 70.7 75.3 93.5 90.7 89.4 53.0
England 629.6 998.6 1207.8 1259.1 1,334.60 1,433.30 1,590
Scot as % Eng 12% 7% 6% 7% 7% 6% 3%

Figures from SLC and SAAS.

… and looking ahead, on current policy spending will remain lower pro rata for some time yet.  The figures here assume no major change in spending 2014-15 and 2015-16 (which saw no major policy changes on grant in either country) and take into account a small grant rise planned in Scotland from 2015-16 and the phasing out of grants for new starts only in England from 2016-17.

2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19
est est est est est
Scotland 53.0 60.0 60.0 60.0 60.0
England 1,590 1,590 1113 715.5 238.5
Scot as % Eng 3% 4% 5% 8% 25%




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