Does Greening Actually Care For Poor Students?

Dubbed a “high-profile casualty” of No. 10’s new year reshuffle, Justine Greening sought to slam the door behind her. She likely spared no expense in taking to the airwaves, censuring the government she’d so recently been a part of. Quite rightly, she took the opportunity to point out that poorer students would benefit more from the reintroduction of maintenance grants. Which is rather amusing when you consider her seemingly unquestioning rejection of an amendment to do just that.

I use the term amusing, but what I mean is that Greening’s attempt to redeem herself in the eyes of disillusioned students and education staff (as well as anyone who can see the flaw in forcing students into even worse debt) is laughable. And very much unsurprising. Slippery politicians weaving their way into powerful positions and rediscovering their lost morals upon leaving is hardly unheard of. That being said, it’s no less of a kick in the teeth to students saddled with debt they’ll likely hold onto well into their middle-ages.

George Osborne’s notorious July 2015 budget statement announced the current system of maintenance loans on the grounds of the previous grant system’s lack of affordability. While corporation tax continued to fall, making life ever easier for the super-rich, catastrophically misguided austerity policies would shift responsibility for the Conservatives’ obsessive “balancing the books” goal towards the lower ends of the class scale. A report by the IFS found that students from low-income backgrounds, who go on to receive high earnings, would indeed benefit from the reintroduction of non-repayable grants. It also indicated that the long-term costs of doing so would be relatively low, not least given that a large proportion of the loans that would be replaced by grants will never have their value repaid (similarly true for the current level of tuition fees).

This is telling – despite this evidence that the loan system is a largely unnecessary (perhaps even unsuccessful) feat, the Conservatives nonetheless decided that the rhetoric of “cutbacks” and needing to save every penny in the treasury is more important than creating an accessible education system. A system that doesn’t plunge its students further into debt as a result of their efforts to gain the skills necessary to enter employment and perform vital roles, and also one that doesn’t exclude potential working-class students left nauseous by the thought of a massive education-tax as soon as they scratch the surface of decent, liveable earnings.

It’s this that exposes a real darkness to Greening’s ignorance. Having reaped the benefits of a front-line ministerial position and managing to maintain a relatively neutral image in the shadow of the infamous Gove, Greening can publicly criticise her government, free from worries of a decimated career. She has another lucrative entry for her CV and can skip merrily back to Putney. Voting against restoring grants (as well as EMA and nurses’ bursaries) may not sit easily on her “progressive” political compass, but it’s evidently all tea and cake if she can job-hop her way to a wealthy, comfortable victory.


Ben Hawkins

(Image courtesy of The Express)