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How universal credit cheats mature students

MOLLIE BROWN explains how the cruel Tory benefits system ‘unleashed a myriad of problems, hardship and poverty’

I WROTE a little while ago about the complications and obstacles that universal credit (UC) was inflicting on the self-employed, we all know too well the lasting effects that it is having on hundreds of thousands in society.

It has unleashed a myriad of problems, hardship and poverty. But with Parliament and the mainstream media unceasingly focusing on Brexit, universal credit would appear to have been forgotten about. This is not the case for the claimants, who are being forced to live in poverty. I thought it important to bring the focus back to real struggle that is a daily occurrence for so many.

Mature students, like so many, are another minority group that are suffering the harsh impacts of universal credit, many of which are single parents that are predominantly women — in a society that claims to uphold equality, within an education system that is apparently focused on meritocracy.

It would be abhorrent to believe that barriers were being constructed that outprice the working classes from participating in higher education, but that is what is happening.

Prior to universal credit, claims for welfare benefits were calculated on what a person or family needed to live on over a given period, and this would have been made up of six main benefits. This would have been based on employed income, so when it came to student finance there was a level of disregard, and assessment was different for each benefit. Many weren’t impacted at all, as the state considered student finance to be a loan — not a source of income. Universal credit is one benefit, one amount, therefore any disregard is generic and applied to the total amount.

For every pound of “earned” income brought into the household universal credit is reduced by 63 pence, from the initial flat rate calculated by the number of members of family in the household.

If a family receive any “unearned” income then that will be deducted pound for pound, each pound received reduces UC entitlement by £1.

Student finance, for universal credit purposes, is considered “unearned income” — even though it is a loan that must be repaid that earns interest from the moment it is paid. This is leaving many vulnerable students and their families in extreme poverty, and at risk of having to leave a degree part way through or unable to attain higher education. A spokesperson from the DWP, when questioned, said that the universal credit system is designed to make “work” pay, therefore anything “unearned” is calculated against you.

This is not the only issue. The rules state that if you are entitled to a student loan but decide not to apply or accept the loan offered, perhaps a person wanted to try and work through university without the burden of debt — UC would still consider any loan even offered or available as “unearned income” and deduct the amount form any claim accordingly.

As if that isn’t bad enough, the universal credit two-children rule would prevent parents with a larger family from even considering going into higher education — yet another example of social exclusion that debars those that are not from a wealthy background, those that must rely on student finance for already massively overpriced system, from attending university.

As it is a fact that women are disproportionately more affected by austerity than men, it is of no surprise that many of those affected by these rules under the universal credit system are working-class women.

Surely, attaining a degree, while juggling a family, home or other work commitments is hard “work” and would only serve to help those stuck in the cycle of low-paid jobs the opportunity of leaving the benefits system all together and achieving a successful career?

It is no accident that the very people that are being excluded from the higher education system are those with a wealth of experience and knowledge of how an unfair and unjust capitalist system serves the elite over the expense of the poor.

That could be — given access to higher education and the tools necessary — the very people that are needed to change this unequal society. This isn’t just an error or a glitch in universal credit — this is part of a deliberate system that socially excludes so many. It has been well thought-out and implemented: the capitalist system thrives on keeping the poor in their place. If the working class get an education they will be that much harder to exploit.

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