Sandra Mitchell, a mature student at the University of St Andrews, has recently launched a petition to change how Universal Credit is dispensed for those who are receiving a student income.
Universal Credit is a type of payment to assist working-age people, who are currently unemployed or being paid a low income, with living costs.
This credit takes six different types of benefits and merges them into one payment, which includes income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, housing benefit, child tax credit, and working tax credit.
Ms Mitchell, who started the petition, states in an open letter, “Under legacy benefits such as tax credits, student income is not taken in to account, allowing families to still receive child tax credit alongside their student loan, which would go a long way to helping offset the costs of raising a family.
“But because Universal Credit classes student income as unearned income, it is taken into account and deducted pound for pound, leaving many claimants with no award or very little.”
Since student income is currently deducted much more than a paid income, Ms Mitchell’s petition calls for student income to be treated the same and to instead deduct 63 pence in the pound, as well as an additive of a work allowance to be provided to students.
Ms Mitchell also said, “We are calling on the government to review how student income is calculated to allow for more support and to allow families to lift themselves out of the trap of poverty and low-paid jobs.”
Ms Mitchell further challenges the current policy by arguing that a full-time working week at a university as a student should count the same way paying work does.
She continues her argument by noting that many students take out loans to allow them the opportunity to receive an education which will allow them to work towards higher-paying jobs.
Ms Mitchell added, “If this is allowed to continue then we are potentially denying our country of seeing some of our best and brightest from fulfilling their potential, and this in turn will have a knock-on effect for universities, who will start to notice a decrease in their student intake.”
Stephen Gethins, North East Fife MP, also commented saying that students, particularly noting those from disadvantaged areas, should be supported in studying at university instead of becoming victims of Government austerity.
The local MP said, “It is shocking but not surprising that the Tory government continues to impose its austerity agenda and policies like Universal Credit which it knows to be flawed.
“Students like Sandra deserve better, she has worked so hard to get to university and should be able to study without the fear of her family going hungry or having to give up her course.”
Mr Gethins continued, “I am very pleased the students are being supported by the University but their treatment by the UK Government is not acceptable and I have written to the Secretary of State inviting her to St Andrews so she can meet students affected.”
Rector Srdja Popovic and the Rectorial team have also advocated for Ms Mitchell and a change in the calculation of Universal Credit for those who are receiving student income.
The Rector said on his Facebook page that “the government’s new welfare plans are making it impossible for disadvantaged students to remain in University,” and he also applauded Ms Mitchell for her efforts and advocacy.
On 31 October, Mr Popovic said, “Injustice can only be fought when people have the courage to make a stand against it. Thank you to St Andrews student Sandra Mitchell for fighting for all those students who are having their lives ruined by the Government’s new Universal Credit plans.”
Ms Mitchell’s petition stood at 381 signatures at the time of the issue going to press (Monday 19 November).