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Student Finance: Students from Low-income Backgrounds

Volume 670: debated on Monday 20 January 2020

16. What assessment he has made of the effect of the student finance system on students from low-income backgrounds. (900254)

The current student finance system removes financial barriers to those hoping to study. The Government review support for students annually, and we have recently announced a 2.9% increase to maximum grants and maintenance loans for the 2020-21 academic year. This takes support for the lowest-income students to record levels.

In 2010, like thousands of other young people, I argued against the tripling of tuition fees, but the Government ignored us, and I currently have around £50,000 of student debt. I have here my latest student loan statement, which says that the interest added in the past year alone was £2,022.65. Can the Secretary of State look me in the eye and tell me that it is fair that working-class kids who want an education are being forced to take on colossal debt while his Government is led by a man who went from the playing fields of Eton to a free education at Oxford—

Students pay nothing back until they start earning £25,725 a year, and that will rise to £26,575 from April 2020. It is important to understand that the number of people from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university has risen by 62% since 2009, and the Government are committed to looking at interest rates in future as part of the Conservative manifesto’s proposals.

As a working-class lad who went to university and who voted against the tripling of tuition fees, I urge my hon. Friend to ignore the class warfare of the hon. Member for Coventry South (Zarah Sultana). Was not the one thing I was wrong about in that 2010 vote that it would put working-class kids off, because the evidence is that it has had the exact opposite effect?

I thank my hon. Friend for making that essential point. Participation has risen year on year. Individuals are going through the school system, increasing the standard of their skills, and deciding that they want to take up HE as a route to future opportunities. However, we recognise that there must also be future opportunities within the FE system, which is why we want to ensure that every pupil in the post-18 education system is able to benefit for the future.