David Cameron insists Tories are ‘uncapping aspiration’ as maintenance grants are axed for England’s poorest students

Prime Minster says: 'The system we’ve got is one that’s working - and the numbers prove it'

Prime Minister David Cameron has insisted the Tories are “uncapping aspiration” for young people in Britain after being challenged by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on the recent controversial decision to scrap maintenance grants for England’s poorest students.

During a heated Prime Minister's Questions debate in the Commons on Wednesday, Mr Corbyn asked Mr Cameron to reveal where, in his election manifesto, he put outlined his plan to abolish the grants for all students.

Keeping his reply brief, Mr Cameron insisted the Tories had described how they would cut the deficit and uncap student numbers, and said: “We’ve done both.”

Then, reading out a request from one of his constituents who is currently training to be a maths teacher, Mr Corbyn highlighted how the student said he will “come out at the end of my course with debts in excess of £50,000” - roughly twice as much of what his annual income would be.

Mr Cameron said he would tell the student he’s now in a country where more people than ever before - particularly those from low income backgrounds - are going to university, and added: “In addition, he will not pay back a penny of his loan until he is earning £21,000, and in full until he is earning £35,000.”

He continued: “Our policies are actually going to put more money in the hands of students which is why we’re doing it.”

Highlighting how Labour’s plans for student funding - scrapping both loans and fees - would cost £10 billion, Mr Cameron hit back: “This would mean going back to a situation where people went out, worked hard, and pay their taxes for an elite to go to university.

Students block Westminster Bridge during protest for free higher education on 19 January

“We’re uncapping aspiration; he wants to put a cap on it.”

After tuition fees increased sharply to £9,000 a year in 2010, Mr Corbyn said the Government, at the time, promised and “used to boast” about increasing maintenance grants for those from less well-off backgrounds.

Mr Cameron said the Tories want to uncap university places so as many young people in Britain can attend. Hitting back at Labour’s questioning, the Prime Minister said: “When they were in government, it was Labour who introduced the loans and fees system.”

Concluding, Mr Cameron said: “The system we’ve got is one that’s working - and the numbers prove it.”

Mr Corbyn’s questions came after MPs, on Tuesday, ended up voting down Labour’s opposition day motion to annul the Government’s plan by 292 for and 306 against. The vote on the praying motion to annul the regulations also narrowly fell by 292 for and 303 against as hundreds of protesters spilled out onto Westminster Bridge, forcing it to close for a brief period of time. 

Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden - who is also Labour’s shadow minister for higher education - said after the debate his constituents are having “their life chances wrecked” by a Tory government who are making higher education unaffordable and “saddling students from low income backgrounds with massive debt.”

He said: “The Government should be doing all it can to ensure this doesn’t happen but, sadly, the opposite will happen if they scrap the grants.

“This is just another disastrous change from an out-of-touch government, who are damaging the aspirations of many people in Blackpool.”

The National Union of Students (NUS) - which has been spearheading a campaign to get the Conservatives to reverse their decision - described the scrapping of maintenance grants being “a massive kick in the teeth” for over 500,000 of the poorest students in the country who will graduate with debt of up to £53,000.

NUS national president, Megan Dunn, said: “If this wasn’t outrageous enough, George Osborne’s decision flies in the face of commitments made to students when the Westminster government voted to treble fees in 2010.

“This government is holding students in contempt by trying to sneak these proposals through without public consultation, scrutiny, and with no mention in their manifesto at the election.

“This is wholly unacceptable, and we continue to call on the Government to take stock of their own equality impact assessment and go back to the drawing board.”

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