Progressive? Think again…
Well, I tried to hold off, but I’m afraid I couldn’t – the LibDem twists and turns are driving me quite mad. Particularly over two points: the ‘year’s free tuition’ and the raised repayment cap.
Firstly, the year’s free tuition for poorer students still doesn’t represent a step forward. Right now, the cap on fees is £3,290 a year. Over a three year course, that’s £9,870, plus the student loan. Even if a uni only charges £6,000, then with a year’s free tuition, poorer students will still owe £12,000 before their student loan is taken into account. So poorer students will still owe more. And if the uni gets the right to charge £9,000, then even with a year free, students will still owe £18,000 – almost double what they’d owe now for a three-year course.
But more importantly, there’s the repayment threshold.
I’m going to say this very clearly for the benefit of those who don’t have student debt around their necks: this is a very bad thing.
I’m earning £18,000 a year, and so repay my loan £16 a month. I’m 27 now and according to current plans, my retirement age will be 68. Having gone to Uni in Scotland, I owe four years’ worth of debt: around £16,000 before interest, and crossed the repayment threshold in February.
So, I’m paying £192 per year. Now obviously I’m hoping for many, many pay rises in my career but let’s work this out. At the present rate of repayment, assuming that there’s no write-off provision until retirement (I think there is, but let’s run with this), I’ll be paying my loan off for 41 years at £192 per annum. That’s £7,872 – not even half of what I owe! To actually pay just the loan off, and not the interest, I’d have to work at my present salary until I’m 110. I’m sitting on more debt than I can repay. That’s a horrible state of affairs.
Let’s imagine a few more things. Let’s imagine I was born 11 years later, and went instead to an English uni staring in 2012, and ended up with the maximum possible debt: £18,000 (I’d hopefully qualify for the freebie) plus almost £15,000 of Student Loan: £33,000 of debt.
Now let’s flash forward to 2020 – five years after I would have graduated. In this parallel universe I’d have more than twice the student debt I’d accumulated in real life gathering interest and unlike in real life, wouldn’t be able even to scratch its surface. It would just be sitting there, increasing all the time. At least in real life I’m making some sort of dent in it!
And you know the annoying thing? The amount I’d save is just £16 per month – about the same as a mobile phone top-up. Double the debt, with less of an opportunity to do anything about it for a benefit that’s hardly worth it.
There are two reasons why I bring this up. First, is the crowing that Scottish Liberal Democrats engaged in around the time of the SNP Conference, when they argued that because the wealthier benefited from SNP policies such as free prescriptions and the Council Tax freeze. They argued that because the rich pay less than they otherwise woud, it’s not progressive. Now a Liberal Democrat Secretary of State – let me repeat that, Kinnock-style – a Liberal Democrat Secretary of State is putting forward a plan which will see poorer students pay more than they otherwise would, get into more debt than they otherwise would, and be less able to do anything about that debt than they otherwise would.
Is that progressive?
If so, what dictionary are the LibDems using and it is distributed outwith Wonderland?
But there’s another reason: while the Scottish LibDems were crowing about being progressive (unaware that their colleagues at Westminster were re-writing the meaning of the word), they also took the time to distance themselves from fees. Scottish Liberal Democrats, they said, are opposed to fees – any fees.
Yesterday, Nick Clegg said that LibDem Ministers will break their pledge to the NUS (and now the LibDems are blaming the NUS for this) and vote for increased fees.
Danny Alexander is Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and a Scottish Liberal Democrat. What will he do?
Michael Moore is Secretary of State for Scotland, and a Scottish Liberal Democrat. What will he do?
Alistair Carmichael is Comptroller of Her Majesty’s Household (Deputy Chief Whip to me and thee), and a Scottish Liberal Democrat. What will he do?
If and when this proposal gets to the Lords, Lord Wallace of Tankerness is Advocate General for Scotland, and a Scottish Liberal Democrat. What will he do?
Unless the three who are due to vote tomorrow resign in the next few hours, they will vote for fees. Scottish Liberal Democrats will have voted for fees.
MPs from a “progressive” party that’s opposed to fees will vote to hike the fees of poorer students, hike their debt, and increase the burden that imposes on them.
Now, I should point out: they’re not the only hypocrites in this sorry saga – and when the results of the vote are published, I’ll be listing all of them on every side. I’ve looked up the vote on top-up fees in 2004, and checked who voted in that and is still in the Commons now. I intend to list those who think that it’s OK to jack up fees only when they had their hands on the jack, and those who had thought that three grand was too much but now think that nine grand is just fine and dandy, thank you very much.
But make no mistake – if those three vote for fees tomorrow, if those three are still in office in 24 hours, they will clearly be hypocrites.