Budget: Has George Osborne just signalled the end of social mobility?

Good universities will continue to be the realm of the privileged few


I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am. Even some of my most right-wing friends would accept that education is the best way to achieve social mobility and improve an individual’s life chances.

Yet George Osborne has now signalled the end of maintenance grants to students from low income backgrounds – and with it, perhaps, the end of social mobility.

Currently students from incomes below £25,000 quality for a grant of £3,378 a year, sliding down until a family income reaches £42,630.

This generation of politians knows all about grants.

Many of them received non-means tested grants to attend university without tuition fees. When this was the system it was understood that having individuals attend university was good for the economy, good for society and good for everybody’s future.

So what’s changed?

Why was it good enough for some of the most privileged people in the country to have gone to university, not just for free, but to have received grants? But now, no matter what your background, you have to pay in full for the opportunity?

The logical result of this change is to force poorer students take on a huge debt which will reach deep into their adult life. The personal debt time bomb has begun to tick.

This double standard is not only unfair across socioeconomic groups, but another example of those who benefited from the system now asking younger generations to pay. This only serves to hurt the life chances of the so-called ‘strivers’ the chancellor says he wants to help.

Instead, young adults will have difficult questions to ask: can I afford to go to university? Can I study closer to home (and not the best university for me)? And should I choose my course based simply on the most economically viable option (and not what could be good for me or the store of human knowledge and culture)?

Good universities will continue to be the realm of the privileged few. Those from less well-off backgrounds who do attend will now have very different experience.

On entering the work force those who look to begin their adult lives will have a huge debt to pay with little chance of saving for a house deposit or enjoying the life they have earnt – especially in the cities where the jobs are.

It is shocking and shameful to say but in England and Wales social mobility and life chances are becoming more entrenched in your family background. The store of personal debt grows – great long term economic plan George.

Matt Aldridge works in Social Policy from central London. Follow him on Twitter

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