Christian Labour MPs lead debate against student cuts

Christian MPs in the Labour party have called on the government to abandon plans to scrap maintenance grants for students from low-income families.

Gordon Marsden, Labour's shadow universities minister and a Christian, warned not enough has been done to protect low-income families and the changes would damage social mobility.

From this autumn onwards, the government will scrap maintenance grants which gave poorer students extra non-repayable support. This had the aim of removing financial barriers to further education.

Under the new system, grants will be replaced by loans to be repaid once students have graduated and are earning £21,000 per year. The move marks the end of a gradual process which began decades ago of replacing university grants with loans.

The Department for Education said the change would enable to government to lift the cap on student numbers and allow more young people, "particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds to go to university".

The government also said they were increasing the amount students could borrow so "lack of finance should not be a barrier to participation".

However Marsden, MP for Blackpool, said the the proposals would affect half a million students who currently receive grants and pointed to analysis which suggests "this change won't improve Government finances in the long-term".

He accused the Conservatives of trying to "shut down discussions" and said it was a reversal of their previous position.

"It represents a major departure and reversal of policy only four years after grants for students from disadvantaged backgrounds was hailed by Government as an essential element in their strategy for fairness and acceptance of the tripling of tuition fees," he wrote in an article for Politics Home.

Fellow Christians in the Labour party tweeted their support today during a debate called by the opposition after the government tried to bring through the changes without a debate in the Commons. 

Labour's motion was defeated in a non-binding vote as thousands occupied Westminster bridge outside parliament to protest the changes.

The National Union of Students said many students are already struggling to meet their living costs, such as accommodation, transport and food. The grants have been a "lifeline" for poorer students, and are "important for helping students not just get to university but also to stay there," said NUS president Megan Dunn.

"They have a real sense of having had this snatched away from them," she added.