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Personal Inflation Calculator

Volume 455: debated on Thursday 25 January 2007

2. If he will include school and university fees in the Office for National Statistics personal inflation calculator. (111021)

The specifications for the Office for National Statistics personal inflation calculator have been, and continue to be, matters for the national statistician, although I checked last night and there are already 23 categories of spending in the calculator, with education costs included in the “other” category.

Will the Minister confirm that even on his preferred measure of inflation—which does not reflect the reality faced by many families, whose experience is much worse—inflation is at its highest for 15 years, double the OECD average and double what it was when the Government came into office?

It is true that inflation has been going up across the world. It has been driven by energy prices, a hot summer and food prices. If the hon. Gentleman studies the economic data rather than the briefs that he has been handed, he will see that the peaks, and the instability, in inflation have been higher in other countries, and that we have had low stable inflation here. Inflation is now historically low and stable here compared with the levels under the Conservative Government, which averaged more than 6 per cent. and peaked at more than 20 per cent.

Will my hon. Friend not only include data on university fees but trumpet the success of variable fees, which have delivered to universities a new stream of income and made it possible to employ university teachers and pay them well? They have been an absolute success story, which is admired by countries all over the world.

As Chairman of the Education and Skills Committee, my hon. Friend analyses such policy areas closely. Like me, he will find it interesting that Conservative Members are not raising questions about inflation and cost pressures for families in relation to the price of fuel, and they are not noting the recently falling prices of clothing, mobile phones and consumer electronics. Instead they are talking about school fees, which are paid by fewer than 1 in 100 of the population covered by the retail prices index.

Obviously, as student fees rise, student debt rises too. The Chancellor will be well aware that many students pay their way through university via part-time work. Has he estimated how many might be at risk of not being able to pay their way through university via work if growth falters in the coming months?

It is right in principle that people who benefit from the university education system should contribute to the cost of that education. More people are going through university than at any time before, and some of them choose to work to help to pay their way. That has always been the case. The proof of the policies in place is whether more people are going to university and getting the training and opportunities that increasingly they need in the modern economy and the modern world—and the short answer to that is yes.