National Union of Students Response

Introduction The National Union of Students Scotland welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Scottish Government’s consultation on Minimum Income Guarantee. We are very supportive of Scottish Government’s commitment to introducing a Minimum Income Guarantee and recognise the transformational change this could make to students across Scotland.

Why the contribution is important

1. What do you see as being the key elements of a Minimum Income Guarantee? NUS Scotland is calling on the Scottish Government to create a minimum student income in line with the cost of living and learning, available twelve months of the year to all students. We’re calling for student support that is based on non-means tested bursary support for students, reducing reliance on loans and debt. While tuition is free for home-domiciled undergraduate students in Scotland, learning is not. In Scotland the reality is that students need to work alongside their studies just to make ends meet. Meanwhile apprentices are expected to get by on poverty wages. NUS Scotland has welcomed improvements made by the Scottish Government in recent years to the financial support on offer to undergraduate students. However, students continue to leave their studies with too much debt – and students from the poorest backgrounds are taking on the most borrowing. The Scottish Government’s YouGov research found that 14% of students topped-up their finances with credit cards or other types of loans, including payday loans – with those in the lowest household income brackets more likely to supplement their income in this way. Students have long been expected to rely on income from employment, family support and commercial debt to pay their way through education. For many, the pandemic has meant that the first two of these income streams are in jeopardy and no student should be forced to rely on exploitative debt in order to get by. We firmly believe a minimum student income offering financial support to students is needed to stop students and apprentices falling into poverty and out of education. Over the summer months the need for a minimum student income becomes even more urgent. Every year students are cast aside and left without financial support over the summer, with no safety net to fall back on if they cannot find employment. Historically, the summer sees increased dropout rates and many are forced to take on more commercial debt. This summer as a result of the pandemic has proved to be harder than ever before with reduced jobs and hours available in the hospitality, tourism, event and retail sectors – where students often find summer employment. The UK Government have repeatedly rejected requests from both NUS UK and the Scottish Government to offer a relaxation of rules to allow students to access benefits over the summer months as most students are unable to claim Universal C redit. Now is the time for a long-term plan to rebuild a fairer and more equal education system that empowers and protects students. We need permanent solutions which will fix a fundamentally broken student support system and ensure students have access to support all year round, a minimum student income would be a welcome first step to achieving this. 2. What do you see as the main benefits, challenges and risks of a Minimum Income Guarantee in Scotland? Students more than ever need adequate financial support. They have told us that money is one of their biggest worries and never more so than during the current pandemic. Creating a minimum income guarantee for students in line with the cost of living will go a long way to addressing these worries and alleviating the financial stress and pressures students often experience. A Minimum Student Income in both further and higher education has already been recommended in the Scottish Governments independent review of student support in 2017 and was welcomed across the sector. NUS Scotland’s research from July 2021 shows that 12 per cent of Scotland’s students are using foodbanks, 27 per cent rely on credit cards, and 9 per cent turned to bank loans. Nearly three in four (72 per cent) of students expressed concern about their ability to manage financially. Scottish Government YouGov research from 2017 also showed that those in the lowest household income brackets were more likely to supplement through taking on additional debt (Student Support Review YouGov Survey, 2017). NUS Scotland’s Think Positive conducted landmark mental health research last year which made crystal clear that financial stress is having a damaging impact on student’s mental health and wellbeing and we know the loss of part-time work and stress has heightened this (Improving mental health and wellbeing support for Scotland, Think Positive, 2017). A Minimum Student Income guarantee would also create parity of treatment for students of all backgrounds, whether they are in further or higher education. The Scottish Governments current approach means that some students are worse off as a result of a positive decision to enter tertiary education than they would be on Universal Credit. Additionally, for students who must complete work placements as part of their course we often see rising financial hardship either because they are not funded or because they require expensive travel or materials. This can cause specific challenges particularly in remote locations such as the Highlands and Islands. Meanwhile other students are often unable to work alongside their placement as a result of the demands of their course for example a full-time teaching student or allied healthcare student. Other groups of students like estranged students often don’t have parental support to subsidise their cost of living. The introduction of bursary support for care experienced students, student paramedics, nurses and midwives are all welcome steps that we would want to see available to all students. While we welcome Scottish Government plans to give the option of stretching the care experienced bursary over 12 months, this would see these students worse off during term-time. The world’s most robust study of a universal basic income also highlights benefits for students and society more widely, concluding that such a programme boosts recipients’ mental and financial well-being (Evaluation of the Finnish basic income experiment, 2020). 3. Are there certain groups of people that you think should be given particular attention when thinking about how a Minimum Income Guarantee in Scotland should work? Students and apprentices across Scotland would benefit from a Minimum Income Guarantee, particularly given the unique challenges they face as outlined in previous answers not having access to Universal Credit. The purpose of Universal Credit is to be a support system for people on a low income or unemployed. However, when students are faced with a low income or unable to find or retain employment they are left with no means of accessing financial support. NUS Scotland also recognises that if students are being priced out of education as a whole, because of the cost of living, the full potential of widening access will not be realised. It is crucial that widening access policies include supporting students from all backgrounds financially to help them stay in education. 4. What steps should we take first to deliver the Minimum Income Guarantee in Scotland? You may wish to think about public services, employment and employers, and social security. NUS Scotland believes students should be considered for any pilot scheme the Scottish Government roles out, recognising there is already a manifesto commitment to expand total student support package to reach the equivalent of the Real Living Wage over the next three years and recommendations within the Student Support Review 2017 which were endorsed by the then Minister for Further and Higher Education. We are calling for the introduction of a Minimum Income Guarantee for students, beginning with increasing student support to be in line with the real living wage. We also believe the student support system should be based on non-means tested bursary support to tackle rising student debt. Finally, NUS Scotland would support a Minimum Income Guarantee that is available to students year-round, recognising that the summer proves particularly challenging for students financially. For more information please contact Nicole Beattie, NUS Scotland Press and Public Affairs Consultant, Nicole.Beattie@nus-scotland.org.uk

by nicolebeattie3096 on September 16, 2021 at 02:06PM

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