Last Thursday saw Tory MPs vote to scrap maintenance grants for higher education. The grants (which are awarded to some 500,000 of the UK’s poorest students) are worth up to £3,387 and, unlike maintenance loans, do not have to be paid back.
For decades these have been a lifeline to students, especially those in London. And the scrapping by a small group of Conservative MPs has angered many young people across the country.
An emergency protest was held yesterday (Tuesday 19 January) outside Parliament. The event, hosted by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts began at Parliament Square and moved to Westminster Bridge, where it halted traffic for over an hour and a half.
The protest hosted a variety of speakers including Clive Lewis MP. He quoted findings from the Institute of Fiscal Studies which found that these loans are unlikely to be paid back and encouraged students to ‘stand their ground’.
I also spoke to one Southampton student who received the maintenance loan. She said, ‘Most of my grant goes on rent. After that I am left with £250 to live on for a term.’ Others highlighted the similar cuts to funding for disabled students.
Whilst on Westminster Bridge the protest attracted a large police presence, as officers circled the protesters to open up the flow of traffic. This was met with a rousing chant of ‘If you force us into debt, this is what you’re gonna get.’
Protesters remained energetic throughout, chanting slogans and waving placards, including the humorous ‘no grants = no bridge’.
Reactions from members of the public were mixed. One bus driver seemed angry at the blockage and at having to be rerouted. A passing London woman spoke about how her son relied on maintenance grants and said she didn’t know how her other child was going to attend university without this support.
The protest wrapped up around 3pm back in Parliament Square, where a large number of police vans and cameras had arrived. Russia Today has been following the protest throughout the day and ITN joined towards the end.
Despite the low temperatures, spirits were high and hopefully the voices of protesters could be heard all the way in Westminster.