Vicky Spratt | Deputy Editor | Tuesday, 19 January 2016

How The Government Are Using A Legal Loophole To Screw Students Over

How The Government Are Using A Legal Loophole To Screw Students Over

The Debrief: The Government have found a way to bypass MPs and sneak through a new law which has abolished student maintenance grants, funding that was designed to help the poorest students through university.

There’s really nothing worse than somebody going behind your back is there? Especially when it comes to making an important decision.

Well that’s exactly what our Conservative government has done. They have used a legal loophole to bypass MPs and sneak through a new law which has abolished student maintenance grants, funding that was designed to help the poorest students through university.

So, while this might save the Government money, the changes mean that students from the poorest background will graduate with even more debt than ever before, as this report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies shows. Surely this will also increase the number of loans which will never be repayed in full?

Ministers have used a little-known but completely legal technique to dodge having to debate the abolition of student maintenance grants on the floor of the House of Commons, enabling them to push through significant and controversial changes without proper debate, coverage or scrutiny.

This little trick of the trade is called a statutory instrument (SI). These are a form of legislation which allows for an Act of Parliament to be brought into effect or enables an existing Act to be amended or updated without Parliament having to pass a new Act.

Since winning an outright majority last year the Conservative Government have used SIs to try and bring through loads of new laws, from quietly legalising fracking last year to benefit cuts, without them being debated in the House of Commons.

The Conservatives did not make their intention to abolish maintenance grants known in their manifesto, rather it was referenced in the Chancellor, George Osborne’s, Autumn Statement (along with some sneaky retrospective changes to student loan repayments).

Indeed, the plot thickens, because in 2010 David Cameron gave a speech at Southampton University where he said society 'must always' help poorer students to go to university - and more than this - said that bursaries should not only be kept but expanded.

The Telegraph reported on this at the time and posted this video of a student, Chloe Green, confronting him over his higher education policy after the speech:

She asks Cameron whether he will 'definitely keep burasires' and he audibly says 'we keep bursaries and expand bursaries...don't be fooled by people who say we'll get rid of tuition fees.' However, it's worth noting that bursaries are different to government grants, unlike grants they tend to be adminstered by the universities themselves and not the state. 

The most recent changes to finance to support poorer students through university were brought in last week in front of something called a ‘third delegated legislation committee’. And while a spokesperson from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills told The Debrief that it followed ‘normal parliamentary procedure’, a legislation committee is not as public as putting a Bill to a vote before Parliament. Statutory Instruments are convenient, they can be passed more quickly, with less debate.

This Government data shows that the use of statutory instruments has increased notably since the 2010 election. Last year George Osborne tried to make big changes to tax credits using a statutory instrument and was met with heavy, heavy criticism.

Today, Labour will bring the issue of student maintenance grants up for debate in front of Parliament in an attempt to invalidate the government’s attempt to get rid of maintenance grants for good. We'll keep you updated.

You might also be interested in:

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Did You Know About These Changes To Your Student Loan?

Changes To Student Loans Are 'Disgraceful', Says Money Saving Expert

Follow Vicky on Twitter @Victoria_Spratt

Tags: Politics, University, Money worries