Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Cabinet Minister Gets It Right Shock

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Cabinet Minister Gets It Right Shock

Article excerpt

New Labour and old Labour are not, on the whole, useful terms, being more to do with marketing concepts than with political realities. But it is hard to avoid old Labour as a description for those who continue to fuss about David Blunkett's decision to abolish student grants and charge fees for tuition. Along with mortgage interest tax relief, grants and free tuition were the chief pillars of the middle-class welfare state. The children of highly paid doctors and lawyers were subsidised by working-class taxpayers so that they could continue into the next generation as even better-paid doctors and lawyers. Socialists should be cheering Blunkett to the rafters for one of the few genuinely egalitarian measures in the first year of this government. Instead, they waffle on about "burden of debt" and "barriers to poor students": their dear old hearts are in the right place, but they have failed to connect their brains to anything resembling reality.

"Fees will put off students from poor homes," they say. Wrong. A means test will ensure that as many as one-third do not pay fees at all. "Working-class families will be deterred by the prospect of debt." Wrong. There is not the slightest evidence, here or abroad, that loans deter more than a tiny number of students. "Heavy debts will be unfair to graduates who don't get well-paid jobs." Wrong. Repayments will be tied to income; graduates will pay nothing, on present plans, until their earnings are near the national average wage. (Indeed, Blunkett is proposing what is really a graduate tax, not a loan at all.) "It will reduce participation. …

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