Writer Freya Corcoran examines what the consequences of Liz Truss’ government will be for students.
There was a time in her political career when the UK’s new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, may have appealed more to the nation’s masses. Her history of pro-EU sentiments, state education and previous involvement with the Liberal Democrats, all lead to her characterisation as a fairly centre ground politician, with traits that would appear popular to a high number of the UK electorate. However, when examining the policies of Liz Truss’ most recent political career, these centre ground opinions seem to have escaped her repertoire.
Despite Liz Truss being the fourth consecutive Conservative Prime Minister over the past 12 years, there is a significant difference between the current period of conservative power in comparison to that of the Cameron, May and Johnson administrations. This is largely due to the cost of living crisis, which was exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, along with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. Undeniably, the most pressing issue for the majority of students at this moment is the exponentially rising cost of living. Along with several other policies introduced by the Truss administration, this will be one of the major defining features of British politics for students and most of the British public.
According to Unite Students, 60% of students in the UK express that money stress has impacted their mental health. With the cost of living continuing to increase, not only will money stress become more wide-spread amongst the student population, but students who have already been exposed to such stress will likely experience it more severely and more frequently.
It is important to distinguish between the cost of living crisis and the Liz Truss administration, as it was a pressing issue in the months prior to her appointment as the Conservative party leader. Nevertheless, her response to the issue will be a crucial factor in the reception of her premiership given the consequential impact that the crisis has and continues to have on British society.
In the three weeks since her victory in the Conservative party leadership contest, the impact that her administration will have on students across the UK has started to look less and less positive. Students are a unique demographic, as 74% rely on government loans to cover at least some, if not all, of their living costs, according to The Student Money Survey. With living costs rising at much faster rates than those at which student loans are increasing, there is a critical window of cost which is not covered, leaving many students in difficult situations.
Disappointment with her tax policies is widely shared across the political spectrum, particularly amongst students who are struggling to make ends meet while studying full-time. According to the National Student Money Survey, 62% of students have part-time employment and on top of this, 34% admitted that financial problems are negatively impacting their university grades. These issues are only set to worsen, and under the Prime Minister’s new tax policies, a number of people feel that the rising energy prices and increased money stress is at the benefit of nobody, except for the companies which are already recording multi-billion pound profits.
Dante Phillips, a representative from the Glasgow University Conservative Society, expressed considerable praise for Ms. Truss when discussing many of her policies. However, he felt that her handling of the cost of living crisis – significantly, her lack of a windfall tax implementation on energy companies with over £170 billion in excess profits – has not been the most adequate. Interestingly, Dante felt that Labour leader Keir Starmer’s tax policy was more appropriate in order to increase government aid to those who need it, whilst encouraging investment by keeping taxes low.
In line with many conservatives and non-conservatives alike, Dante feels that many of Truss’ political opinions and potential policies have been drowned out during the Tory leadership campaign, including those regarding students. During the leadership campaign, Liz Truss named herself as the ‘education prime minister.’ However, attention to students was not highlighted in any of her policies and whether this was a result of the campaign style or her lack of attention to such issues, it can be said that students – along with other demographics – feel somewhat neglected by the new Prime Minister. With education policy suggestions, such as automatic OxBridge interviews for all students in England who receive 3 A*s at A Level, there is a strong argument that her priorities for education are in the wrong place.
When looking at the Prime Minister’s policies, it is clear that there is not a significant priority for supporting students. With regards to the tightening of student loan payback in England, along with other reductions of student support, the Truss administration could go on to have a detrimental impact on new and current students across the UK.