Starmer announces he would keep Labour pledge to scrap tuition fees

Elliot Chappell

Keir Starmer has announced that he will maintain Labour’s current commitment to scrap university tuition fees if elected to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as the next party leader.

The pledge is one of ten promises that the MP for Holborn and St Pancras will be unveiling ahead of the BBC Newsnight hustings being held on Wednesday evening.

The frontrunner in Labour’s leadership race will also be calling on the Conservative government to restore maintenance grants for students in further and higher education.

Commenting on the promise, Starmer said: “Under the Tories, tuition fees have tripled and young people are leaving with university with nearly £60,000 worth of debt. Let’s be blunt: we need to end the scandal of spiralling student debt.

“Young people cannot wait another four years for a Labour government to tackle this issue. That is why I would urge the Chancellor to use next month’s budget to invest in the next generation by restoring maintenance grants for students in further and higher education.

“At the same time, ministers should set out robust plans for how they intend to invest and support vocational training and lifelong learning for people who choose not to go to university.”

The full set of pledges as listed by Starmer’s campaign include:

  1. Economic justice: Increase income tax for the top 5% of earners, reverse cuts to corporation tax and clamp down on tax avoidance.
  2. Social justice: Abolish universal credit and the welfare sanctions regime, set a wellbeing goal and prioritise it equally with GDP, stand up for universal services, defend the NHS and scrap university tuition fees.
  3. Climate justice: A green new deal, introduce a Clean Air Act to tackle pollution locally and demand international action on climate rights.
  4. Promote peace and human rights: No more illegal wars, introduce a Prevention of Military Intervention Act, put human rights at the heart of foreign policy and review all UK arms sales.
  5. Common ownership: Support common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water, end outsourcing in our NHS, local government and justice system.
  6. Defend migrants’ rights: Full voting rights for EU nationals, defend freedom of movement post-Brexit, create an immigration system based on dignity and compassion, end indefinite detention and call for the closure of centres such as Yarl’s Wood.
  7. Strengthen workers’ rights and trade unions: Work with trade unions, tackle insecure work and low pay, repeal the Trade Union Act, oppose Tory attacks on workers’ rights.
  8. Devolve power, wealth and opportunity: Introduce a federal system, including a regional investment bank and control over regional industrial strategy, abolish the House of Lords and replace it with an elected chamber.
  9. Equality Act: Remove obstacles to limit opportunities and talent by building on the achievements of the party, which include the Equal Pay Act, Sure Start, BAME representation and the abolition of Section 28.
  10. Provide effective opposition to the Tories: Provide “forensic” opposition to the government linked with the membership and a “professional election operation”, unite the party, promote pluralism and improve the party’s culture, take robust action to eradicate antisemitism and maintain effective links with trade unions.

Labour vowed to abolish university tuition fees in the 2017 general election, and did the same in 2019. They were first introduced under New Labour in 1998, with students initially paying £1,000 per year.

Fees can now be set at rates going up to £9,250 annually, following changes introduced by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government in 2010.

Around £16bn is loaned to approximately one million students a year in England and the value of outstanding loans at the end of March 2019 stood at £121bn.

Government figures predict that the sum of outstanding student debt will reach £450bn by 2050, while the average amount of debt for a student who finished studying in 2018 was £36,000.

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