On Wednesday 2nd, a debate was scheduled by Cambridge local MP Julian Huppert to discuss the proposed cuts to the DSA (Disabled Students’ Allowance) in Westminster. Representatives from Anglia Ruskin SU, Cambridge University SU attended alongside Hannah Patterson (outgoing NUS Disabled Students’ Officer).
I’ll be honest; my expectations weren’t too high as to how many MP would turn up to discuss this issue. Even though I knew so many had contacted their MP’s about the issue and further asked them to attend, I wasn’t sure how seriously people were taking it. I was thinking maybe 5 tops would attend, but I was happily proven wrong as approximately 30-36 MP’s attended the debate – not only did they attend, they were predominantly AGAINST the cuts!
The debate was an hour and a half long, and we heard from numerous different MP’s presenting their stances. To summarise the debate is difficult, but it was clear that those in attendance were worried at the speed in which these proposed cuts had come through, the lack of consultation and the severe detrimental effects this WILL have on disabled students not only in Higher Education, but those aspiring to Higher Education.
What was apparent was that the MP’s in attendance had taken consideration of the students that had contacted them. Not only where they sharing their own experiences of DSA, but every other MP that spoke was mentioning the contact they had had with their constituents and the testimonials that been shared with them. Students’ Union after Students’ Union was mentioned, Officers, students and their stories played key roles within the debate.
This is real testament to EVERY student and union that contacted their MP, hosted events and lobbied. It has further highlighted those that have failed to acknowledge the students within their constituent.
After hearing from Julian Huppert, who opened with a speech covering the wide range of issues that the proposed cuts would have to students who do or could receive DSA, and after several MP’s raised their concerns, David Willets (Minister for Universities and Science) presented their views.
Mr Willets highlighted in his talk:
That institutions should be taking on the responsibility of DSA
That there will still be DSA
That DSA payments and the definition of "complex needs" should mirror the Equalities Act more
They were asked by the Shadow Minister Liam Byrne, outright, ‘How much is he seeking to reduce the DSA budget by? In this financial budget and next.’
This was not answered outright, they are: ‘Still consulting’ ‘have no specific number’ ‘will count on whole host of things’.
My concerns with David Willets response (which can be seen in full here) is that it is still so vague.
Who is defining the terms complex needs?
How much is the contribution that will be made to institutions?
Who is going to be regulating institutions to ensure they are supporting disabled students?
How will they ensure that institutions are encouraging and supporting disabled students when it will be at an extra cost to them?
How does a student dispute this?
Who has been consulted?
What are ‘certain’ disabilities?
What is a reasonable adjustment? (who is defining reasonable adjustment, how can we ensure it is not by their clarification and by that of the student)
There are so many more questions, and I do encourage those who have to time to watch the debate (If not in full, do look at David Willets section).
After the debate David Willets was actually looking for Anglia Ruskin and I had the opportunity to ask some of those questions myself, alongside Hannah Patterson. I don’t personally feel that the suggestions at present are feasible, and rely on a proactive culture, fully embracing the 2010 Equalities Act.
That is desirable, but not the reality. We should strive for a culture change, but not to the detriment of disabled students' access to education.
It was a good debate and I am glad I got to observe it, but the fight is far from over. We have to keep lobbying our MP’s, putting pressure on those who are FOR the cuts, and ensure that personal stories continue to be heard.
A huge thank you to everyone who attended, including Anglia Ruskin students: Ben Cronin (Welfare Campaigns Rep Cambridge), Cathy McGuire (Rep Society President, Cambridge) and Alec Turner (student Activist). A big thanks also to Hannah who articulated precisely to David Willets the complications of these suggestions that are not being thought of.
And of course thank you to Julian Huppert, Campridge local MP, for organising the debate in the first place and bringing it to the attention of so many.
Credit is due to activists all over the country who have got on board with this campaign and made that debate happen to the level it did.
What next? Ensure your MP has signed the Early Day Motion