Credit where it’s due. Now let’s save the Welfare State.

Tuesday 27-10-2015 - 10:21

Last night, the Government was stalled from cutting tax credits by a vote in the Lords. Now we must stop them cutting grants and destroying our Welfare State in its entirety.

Last night’s vote matters. It signaled a fracture in the Government’s grip and importantly prevented millions of working class people being placed further into poverty.

Although a minority of students are in receipt of tax credits, this defeat is crucial because the attacks our members face are not being launched in isolation.

Everything is connected. It is no coincidence that the Government is cutting tax credits and the independent living fund at the same time as maintenance grants and the Disabled Students’ Allowance. Privatising the NHS at the same time as proposing to scrap healthcare bursaries. Whether you are in education, employment or neither, the message is clear: if you are poor, you will pay.

These cuts are part of a wider ideological attack on all of society's safety nets. It is important for us to understand the agenda that informs these cuts in order for us to campaign. We are stronger when we work together, and stronger yet when we work across communities, with other organisations and campaigners also affected by austerity. This is why one of my priorities this year is launching NUS’s Welfare Campaign into a bigger fight: a fight to save our welfare state. A welfare state inclusive of student - and societal - access to funding, housing and healthcare.

Building links beyond our own movement is crucial when the media mantra of the welfare state is so stacked against us. Years of demonising claimants as a ‘lazy, scrounging underclass’. If you are a single parent or a migrant the rhetoric is worse yet. This has led to divided communities and a once well-funded welfare state under pressure and undervalued.

So we must not simply react to each policy as it is thrown our way. We have to be making a pro-active case for the very existence of welfare. We must also outline our alternatives: controlled rents and higher wages would bring down spending while improving the lives of our members. This is what I will be calling for at the Accommodation Conference and when giving evidence to the Low Pay Commission next week. And immediately following Zones, I will be attending the national Social Security summit, with trade union activists from across the country, to establish NUS’s role in a national campaign.

We cannot wait for the Lords to save the day on what is yet to come: if only because a sustainable student movement must involve thousands of people owning our campaigns. Now we must create the same level of vocal, public opposition to maintenance grants, NHS bursaries, DSA and every other policy as there has been over tax credits.

Next week’s national demo will be crucial in giving these issues, and our opposition a platform, as will the #Students4Migrants walk-out and our national lobby in December. There is little time left. Let’s get to it. 


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