My Department continues to work with the Office for Students to ensure that universities support students in hardship by drawing on the £261 million student premium.
I have been hearing from students from the University of Lancaster and the University of Cumbria, and I share the concerns of the organisation MillionPlus, whose report “Learning with the lights off” highlights the difficulties that around 300,000 students are facing. Has the Secretary of State seen the report, and will he meet me and representatives of MillionPlus to discuss how the report’s recommendations on bringing immediate grant support to students could be implemented by his Government?
I am afraid that I have not yet seen the report, but I will ask my team to dig it out and give it a look over. If the hon. Lady has specific issues that she wants to raise, I will be more than happy to meet her. Alongside the significant funding that we are putting into the student premium to deal with hardship in the student body, many students who are not living in halls of residence or other tied accommodation will benefit from the wider cost of living package that the Government have put together.
I know that the rate of interest on student loans is a matter of great interest to my right hon. Friend and his constituents. The switch from maintenance grants to loans that are effectively contingent upon income has been a success, in that we have seen during this period a significant increase in the likelihood of 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds going into higher education, but of course we constantly keep these things under review.
I have been speaking to a lot of students in recent weeks and they are obviously anxious about the cost of living. While student maintenance loans have increased by just 2.3% on average, inflation has rocketed to more than 10%, accommodation costs are up 5%, food costs are up 14.5% and transport costs are up by 10.6%, hitting commuter students particularly hard. The result is that students are facing an average funding gap of £439 per month and dropping out, while the Government are facing a credibility gap in this sector. Can the Secretary of State tell us what students are supposed to do?
As I outlined previously, £261 million is available in this academic year to support disadvantaged students who need additional help. We have been working closely with the Office for Students to make sure that universities support those who are in hardship. It is worth pointing out that students will also benefit from reductions to their energy costs if they are buying from a domestic supplier, through the energy cost support package that we are putting in place. We have, as the hon. Gentleman said, continued to increase support for living costs over the last few years. He will know, however, that we keep these things under review constantly and an announcement on the uplift for this year will be forthcoming shortly.