This week has seen Theresa May become Prime Minister following a rapid dwindling of Conservative candidates. Having previously outlined her plans to ‘toughen up’ on international students, it seems apt to take a tour of May’s voting history with regards to issues concerning student and young people, to see what might lay ahead for us.
First up is one to which we can all relate – university fees. May’s stance seems somewhat blurry on this issue. During Tony Blair’s time as Prime Minister she opposed every vote on increasing the cost of education (his government raised the fees from £1,225 p.a to £3,000). However when the Coalition government proposed tripling the fees from £3,000 to £9,000 p.a., May voted in favour. During David Cameron’s tenure (during which time May was Home Secretary) she did not oppose the controversial policy to retrospectively alter student loan term agreements. Similarly, she strongly supported George Osborne’s 2015 budget which saw the removal of maintenance grants.
Affordable Housing and Living Costs
Throughout her time as Home Secretary, May has voted against restricting the fees charged by letting agents to tenants or prospective tenants. She chose to vote against calling on the Government to take ‘real action’ on jobs, affordable accommodation, rising energy and water bills and the cost of commuting. Similarly, she voted against a move to halt increases on expensive travel fares that many students face if studying far away from home. She has also been a strong supporter of all of George Osborne’s budgets which have been harshly criticised for their impact on young people, including the proposed removal of housing benefits for 18-21 year olds, and the introduction of a Living Wage only for those over 25. However, she has continually voted to increase the threshold for income tax, meaning low earners (such as students who work part time jobs) do not have to pay tax until they earn over £11,000.
Access to Employment
By committing to Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, May has adversely affected young people’s employment opportunities as half of the UK’s top graduate employers stated they would reduce British recruitment in the event of a Brexit result. However, Cameron’s government has been committed to ‘widening participation’ in higher education, meaning May has participated in a a scheme that aims to help those from lower socio-economic groups into universities and other higher education schemes and into placements that were previously more commonly occupied by those with economic advantage. By increasing people’s opportunity to gain a university education, it could be argued that May has supported increased employment opportunities for young people. According to Government data, the number of pupils eligible for free school meals who entered higher education increased from 13 per cent in 2006, to 23 per cent in 2013. In terms of workers’ rights, May voted to restrict trade union activity and make strike action more difficult by voting in favour of a 50 per cent turnout requirement to validate a strike ballot.
Whilst her stance on increased taxation thresholds is beneficial for low earners, it also means higher earners get off lightly in terms of tax, something which many argue increases the gap between rich and poor. In fact, May has voted against a tax on bankers’ bonuses, the ‘mansion tax’, and a higher tax rate for those earning more than £150,000. She also voted in favour of the ‘Bedroom Tax’ which saw an alteration to Housing Benefit Entitlement resulting in a loss of welfare for those with a spare room.