The news this week that student maintenance grants are to be frozen for the academic year 2010 - 2011 is an example of something that I have feared would happen ever since it became clear that Gordon Brown will not admit he has to cut spending.
The brief details of the story are that the government seem to be using the excuse that one measure of inflation (RPI) is around 0% to justify no rise in the maintenance grant. This is despite the fact that the cost of living for many people is going up annually much more than 0%, not to mention the fact that no serious commentator thinks that any measure of inflation will be at 0% in 2 years time (when this measure will still be in effect).
Wes Streeting, NUS President has said:
It appears that the inflation rate is being applied where it suits universities, but not where it will improve student support. In the context of the current recession, these real terms cuts in student support will be felt in students' pockets.
Now the reason I am raising this is because what is happening is that surreptitious cuts are being slipped through almost via the back door. This is a classic example because they can claim they are merely "freezing" the grant when in real terms this is a cut. It feels like they are looking for any area where they can save money but dress it up as not technically being a cut by playing around with semantics.
The problem with this is that the cuts that are applied like this are not necessarily the just, fair or even economically sensible ones. It is just the ones that are politically most convenient for Gordon Brown to be able to claim that he is not cutting anything when in reality he is.
Instead of being sensible about this and the government taking a systematic look at spending overall and deciding where the knife should go properly we will get piecemeal measures like this in order to save the PM's face. As usual others are having to suffer for his political vanity (10p tax rate abolition anyone?).
Every time ministers stand up at the despatch box or are interviewed on TV or radio and they bang on about how they doing the "right thing" (the latest meaningless platitude they all seem to roll out) just remember how big the gap is between the rhetoric and reality.
This cut is but one of many we are likely to see in the coming months and we should not allow them to get away with them unchallenged and unscrutinised.