The NUS plan to betray the poor

Aaron Porter, NUS president, secretly proposed cutting maintenance grants by £800m to avoid a hike i

The president of the National Union of Students, Aaron Porter, secretly proposed an £800m cut to maintenance grants – which go towards helping the poorest students pay for their living costs at university – in order to avoid a sharp increase in fees.

The plans were put forward in an email to the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, in October, before the release of the Browne review.

Porter defended his position in the Telegraph. "We were asked by Dr Cable to demonstrate how fees could be kept at current levels and on the basis of his request we produced modelling to show how that could be done."

Porter's suggestion to take from the poor to subsidise the middle classes does not sit well with the NUS's attempts to portray coalition plans as an attack on the poorest in society. While tuition fees are now paid back at an affordable rate over 25 years, living costs have to be paid upfront, making maintenance grants absolutely vital to many students.

It is the latest in a string of blunders by the NUS president, who has been marginalised as the movement against increased tuition fees has widened.

When student groups launched a string of occupations last month, Porter dithered before offering his support to them. This support was exposed as lukewarm when the UCL Occupation called on the NUS for legal support and was refused.

In this week's New Statesman, Porter hits out at his critics in the NUS and calls for unity.

"It is disappointing but sadly predictable . . . that in the weeks leading up to the parliamentary vote, focus has shifted to petty squabbles and internal criticism rather than directing all our efforts on applying pressure to influence policy," he writes.

After these revelations, Porter can expect a lot more "internal criticism".

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Grenfell survivors were promised no rent rises – so why have the authorities gone quiet?

The council now says it’s up to the government to match rent and services levels.

In the aftermath of the Grenfell disaster, the government made a pledge that survivors would be rehoused permanently on the same rent they were paying previously.

For families who were left with nothing after the fire, knowing that no one would be financially worse off after being rehoused would have provided a glimmer of hope for a stable future.

And this is a commitment that we’ve heard time and again. Just last week, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) reaffirmed in a statement, that the former tenants “will pay no more in rent and service charges for their permanent social housing than they were paying before”.

But less than six weeks since the tragedy struck, Kensington and Chelsea Council has made it perfectly clear that responsibility for honouring this lies solely with DCLG.

When it recently published its proposed policy for allocating permanent housing to survivors, the council washed its hands of the promise, saying that it’s up to the government to match rent and services levels:

“These commitments fall within the remit of the Government rather than the Council... It is anticipated that the Department for Communities and Local Government will make a public statement about commitments that fall within its remit, and provide details of the period of time over which any such commitments will apply.”

And the final version of the policy waters down the promise even further by downplaying the government’s promise to match rents on a permanent basis, while still making clear it’s nothing to do with the council:

It is anticipated that DCLG will make a public statement about its commitment to meeting the rent and/or service charge liabilities of households rehoused under this policy, including details of the period of time over which any such commitment will apply. Therefore, such commitments fall outside the remit of this policy.”

It seems Kensington and Chelsea council intends to do nothing itself to alter the rents of long-term homes on which survivors will soon be able to bid.

But if the council won’t take responsibility, how much power does central government actually have to do this? Beyond a statement of intent, it has said very little on how it can or will intervene. This could leave Grenfell survivors without any reassurance that they won’t be worse off than they were before the fire.

As the survivors begin to bid for permanent homes, it is vital they are aware of any financial commitments they are making – or families could find themselves signing up to permanent tenancies without knowing if they will be able to afford them after the 12 months they get rent free.

Strangely, the council’s public Q&A to residents on rehousing is more optimistic. It says that the government has confirmed that rents and service charges will be no greater than residents were paying at Grenfell Walk – but is still silent on the ambiguity as to how this will be achieved.

Urgent clarification is needed from the government on how it plans to make good on its promise to protect the people of Grenfell Tower from financial hardship and further heartache down the line.

Kate Webb is head of policy at the housing charity Shelter. Follow her @KateBWebb.