NUS has taken the first step in legal action over government plans to scrap maintenance grants.
NUS has sent a judicial review pre-action letter to Sajid Javid, the secretary of state for business, demanding that the equality implications are properly considered before any further steps are taken to change the law.
George Osborne revealed plans to scrap grants during the 2015 Summer Budget announcement in July.
Maintenance grants are a vital source of student support for the poorest students. By converting grants to loans, the poorest students will now graduate from university with the highest debt – an increase of £12,500 on the current level to a total of £53,000.
NUS believes the abolition of maintenance grants, along with other welfare cuts, will mean students from low socio-economic backgrounds will be hit the hardest.We also believe that black and ethnic minority students are likely to be the most affected because of concerns over taking on debt and the terms of student loan repayments.
The legal letter, issued by Bindmans LLP on behalf of NUS, sets out clear points where we believe the government has failed to meet its obligations. The government must assess the impact their planned changes will have on the lives of current and future generations of students across the country.
The government has said it will carry out an ‘equality analysis’ when the regulations are laid, which is too little, too late.
NUS president Megan Dunn said:
“Yesterday I instructed lawyers to start the process of taking legal action against the government. It has been clear since the budget that the government has failed to assess the impact that scrapping maintenance grants will have on our poorest students.
“There is also strong evidence that removing this support will mean our education system becomes less accessible to minority groups. We know the huge damage that this change will have if it is allowed to happen. It is obvious that the government is attempting to rush through these changes with no consideration on future generations of students.
“The #CutTheCosts campaign I launched in July has seen students and students’ unions across the country taking action to show the government our maintenance grants are not for scrapping. Today, I am taking steps to ensure these changes never come into effect. This reckless plan needs to be stopped.”
NUS is represented by Salima Budhani and John Halford of Bindmans LLP. Salima Budhani said:
“In reaching the decision to abolish maintenance grants the government has conspicuously failed to comply with its duties to pay due regard to the need to advance equality of opportunity amongst certain groups. The universities minister candidly admitted in Parliament that the government does not even hold information which is necessary to undertake a proper assessment. That should have prompted consultation and research and a reconsideration of the policy decision.
“Previous work of the coalition government to assess equality impacts of government policies has apparently been abandoned and the government has reneged on commitments given to the Equality and Human Rights Commission to continuously assess equality impacts in formulating policy.
“NUS has called upon the secretary of state to halt plans to abolish maintenance grants and to gather information to enable him to properly consider the complex equality considerations at stake. An open minded reconsideration of the policy should then take place; an ex post facto assessment will simply not do.”