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Where is Tom Lehrer when you need him?

January 23, 2016

Over the past week or so I have hit my Tom Lehrer moment.  Fans of Lehrer will recall he declared satire obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

First I read the report of the Commons Committee which considered the abolition of grant in England. Then I followed the opposition debate at Westminster on the same topic.  And felt that critiquing student funding policy in Scotland seemed to have become an unusually pointless exercise.

MPs representing the SNP at Westminster are against grant cuts, which is right. So am I. But there we part company. Because while they are only against grant cuts for students in England, I am against them in Scotland as well.

What chance does anyone stand when members of the governing party in Scotland which in 2013 cut grants for the poorest by 40% without any parliamentary scrutiny or even a press notice, have designed as a result a system in which the poorest are expected to end up borrowing the most, facing a debt after four years of up to £27,000,  argued that the loans replacing them were just as good and vigorously rubbished any critics (I speak from experience), can go to Westminster and say things like ….

Let us make no mistake: this is an attack on the poor. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), who is no longer in his place, asked whether poor people could not simply take out loans. Well of course they can, and, by the way, they are more used to doing so than many Conservative Members are. But the real question is this: is it fair that people from the poorest backgrounds should have to take on more debt to get the same opportunities as their counterparts in well-off families? That is iniquitous, and we should not tolerate it. (Tommy Shepherd MP)

I was one of five who all managed to go to university and got grants throughout that time. For my family it would have been impossible for us to access a university educationWhen there is less family support, the financial support offered by a grant becomes a lifeline. Students can of course apply for loans to support them through their course, and many do, but we have to understand that loans are not viewed the same by children from different backgrounds. For families living under the constant threat of debt, for whom life is a continual battle to survive between meagre wage packets, the decision to take out a loan, incurring further debt, is extremely difficult, and often it is one that they just cannot take. (Carol Monaghan MP)

Is he as concerned as me, first, that the Government are increasingly using this device to sneak through their most controversial legislative proposals without debate? (Chris Stephens MP)

This process is unacceptable—the lack of consultation, the lack of due process and the lack of understanding of the measure’s consequences for students in Scotland, particularly the poorest students who, as Opposition Members said earlier, will be adversely affected…. Because the poorest students will now be receiving maintenance loans, rather than grants, they will come out with more debt than their richer colleagues, which is absolutely appalling…  It is an absolutely appalling circumstance, and it is creating an even more indebted generation than the one before it.  It is ridiculous. The impact in Scotland will be greater, because we have four-year degrees rather than three-year degrees as in England.  …Our students in Scotland deserve support, particularly where, due to demographic differences, they have not yet had the chance to go to university because they are put off by loans. …(Alison Thewliss MP)

without any hint of irony – or any apparent concern that anyone in the media will ask them awkward questions (they so far appear to have been largely right about that)?  And be supported in doing so by the representative organisation of students in Scotland, which shares their peculiar asymmetry of geographical concern.

But there are 50,000 students from the lowest income households in Scotland each year who have so far lost £100m in grant funding and are therefore  facing additional hardship, or more often greater debt than their wealthier contemporaries,  as a result.  No-one who has clout with the Scottish Government is speaking on their behalves – not the MPs and MSPs from the governing party and not their union.  They are apparently only interested in what’s happening to grant for poorer students from England.

In the face of so much altruism, those of us with more merely local concerns are obliged to plug on. And listen to a lot of Tom Lehrer.








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