Not a Kellogg's family. Photo: Getty
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Miriam González Durántez hits out at the "victim complex" of politicians and their families in the public eye

The international trade lawyer and wife of the Deputy Prime Minister discusses election campaign scrutiny, defending her husband's record, and protecting her family from the public eye.

Miriam González Durántez, the international trade lawyer and wife of Nick Clegg, has done a live webchat with Mumsnet. In it, she speaks frankly about family life during the election campaign and her experience as a politician's wife.

Her strongest words were aimed at those politicians painting themselves as victims of media scrutiny:

Having been married to Nick, the Deputy Prime Minister of this country for the last five years, and seeing British politics so close-by has been a privilege. I do not agree 'at all' with the victim complex that seems to be applied recently to some politicians and their families. If there are difficult times we deal with them together as a family, as I suppose most families do. But I can guarantee you that most of what families of politicians go through is nothing in comparison to the issues that other families have to deal with.

But probably the most exciting revelation, which she feared would land her in trouble with Lib Dem press officers – "when my husband's advisers learn this they are going to freak out!" – was her recipe blog. She has been teaching her children (three sons called Antonio, Alberto and Miguel) to cook, and running a food blog with them for three years called "Mum and Sons".

Yet in spite of what sounds like quite an idyllic homelife, González Durántez won't be forced to portray a certain image of her life with her husband for political purposes:

I have always accepted public scrutiny provided I am not asked to pretend we are a Kellogs family, because we are not one. 

She and Clegg have indeed been quite reticent about making their private life public, never releasing pictures of their children, and generally protecting them from the press. As a Spanish citizen, González Durántez can't even vote for her husband in the general election.

However, she did appear recently (as the other two main party leaders' wives have done) in an interview set in their kitchen. She's also been out campaigning with some of the women running for Lib Dem seats, and hinted at political aspirations of her own during her Mumsnet chat:

I cannot even vote in this country, so there is no chance I could be a candidate. Though I would tell you this; I would have given my right arm to have been able to do for my country what Nick has done for his. 

As well as cooking, González Durántez filled us in on her television preferences. In terms of courtroom dramas, she enjoys The Good Wife more than Suits (joking that by "Daily Mail standards she would be the Bad Wife!"), and would have preferred a different actor playing her husband in Channel 4's recent film about the coalition: "I only watched the end . . . and still think George Clooney would have been a so much better fictional husband!"

I've yet to hear back from the actor who played Clegg, Bertie Carvel, for comment...

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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It's a stab in the dark: the myth of predicting your student loan repayments

Even the company responsible for collecting repayments admits that it can't tell students what they'll be.

In response to renewed calls to overhaul the student finance system, the universities minister Jo Johnson insisted last week that the "current system works". He pointed out that a university degree boosts "lifetime income by between £170,000 and £250,000".

What he failed to mention is that not even the people administering the loan system can tell students what they will be expected to pay back each month, because they can't work out what they'll earn. 

When asked by the New Statesman why it had pulled an online calculator designed to tell students what their repayments would be, the Student Loans Company (SLC) said it wasn't "possible to answer customers' questions about how long it will take to repay their loan or how much they will owe at a point in the future because there is no accurate way of predicting their future earning".

The confusion around student loans stems from the fact that, unlike loans from banks, their repayment is income contingent.

Until May last year, the SLC had a calculator on its website which students and parents could use to predict how much they may have to repay in the future. But after Andrew McGettigan, a higher education journalist, emailed the SLC noting that the calculator did not take into account gender inequality in future salaries, it was swiftly taken down. 

It was in response to queries about this calculator from the New Statesman that the SLC admitted that there was no accurate way to predict future repayments. The organisation added that it was "exploring new and better ways to present information" to its customers. 

This admission appears to undermine Johnson’s “fair and equitable” description of the student finance system. If even SLC can't say what repayments could look like, how do we know? 

Further controversy around student loan repayments is expected when a report is published later this year by the Department for Education on student finance and expenditure. This is expected to highlight the discrepancy between the maintenance loans students receive and rising rent costs. 

There are still a range of unofficial student loan calculators on the internet, but many use overly optimistic projections for future earnings. McGettigan says this is because they are based on salary trends from the 1980s to the 2010s. He also adds that these unofficial calculators are all based on the official one that was removed – and that they also do not take into account the impact of Brexit. It's a stab in the dark.

The SLC notes that "every student who applies for their student finance online must navigate a page of key repayment information that outlines six points". Student loans are inherently complicated by design, but as Amatey Doku, NUS vice president (higher education), makes clear, this has consequences for fair access to higher education. “We know that BME and poorer students are more worried about high levels of debt than any other group, but the current system does not provide adequate support for those about to enter it.”

Students seeking advice from an independent body will be hard-pressed to find one. The independent Student Finance Taskforce set up by the coalition government in 2011, which sought “to reassure potential students about what they can expect when applying for university and beyond”, was quietly discontinued and never replaced. 

Read more: Jeremy Corbyn's opponents are going down a blind alley on tuition fees

Further confusion surrounds the government’s framing of student finance to sixth formers. Beyond the debate surrounding tuition fees, there is the assumption that has never been made explicit by either political party, which is that students who have a household income of more than £25,000 are expected to have some form of financial support from their families for living costs.

Are parents made aware of this before their children apply to university? Unlike in America, where parents are encouraged to put money away into a “college fund”, the British government never openly encourages parents to save specifically to send their children to university. 

Although there is “no specific date” for its publishing, the Department for Education's report is is believed to argue that, much like the NUS’s debt report did in 2015, that the current system results in poorer students having to take excessive part-time work during the university term. Some also have to take on commercial loans. The stress of both can have an adverse effect on students' mental health.

All this, and not even the organisation responsible for collecting repayments can tell students how much they will be paying back.