Can’t pay? Won’t understand.

What angers me most about the opposition to raising the cap on student fees probably isn’t the rioting and vandalism that the protesters get up to. It’s the ignorance, stupidity and ill-informed manner with which the opposition is presented and articulated.

“I can’t afford nine grand”, “it will put poor kids off university”, “we shouldn’t have to pay because Clegg and Cameron didn’t”. Wrong, dangerous, and cobblers.

Of course in some ways it’s very easy for me to comment, my student debt is pretty small compared to some leaving University now, it’s not much more than £10k. On the other hand I was expected to stump up my tuition fees in September each year, the state basing the amount on the means of my parents, regardless of their willingness to support me; it was expected of them. How very progressive.

Others are leaving University this year with debt of more than twice what I have behind me, yes their tuition was free at the point of need, but their debt is a mill stone around their necks as they embark on the hard journey to getting a job and paying it back. It’s debt they can’t afford leaving many in a perilous financial state in harsh economic times. Except of course that’s total nonsense.

I wouldn’t give a toss if my SLC debt was £100k or more, it wouldn’t cause me a second thought. Know why? It isn’t real debt. I have real debt and you can tell the difference pretty quickly.

The problem with the current debate on student debt is the ignorant misconception that it’s like a mortgage. It isn’t anything like a normal loan. You will and can never default on the debt. No one will ever chase you with a stick demanding payment. The interest rate is inflation, so effectively zero – this year inflation was flat so it really is zero. You’ll never lose your house, car, shirt off your back or anything else if you can’t keep up with repayments, because the repayments have to keep up with you. You pay 9% of everything you earn over a threshold of £15k a year by PAYE or in your tax return. If an average graduate gets paid £20k on leaving University, they’ll be paying £450 a year in repayments. When I was working I spent more than that in a year on breakfast. And I don’t eat breakfast.

If you have SLC debt and are thinking of paying it back as quickly as possible, do yourself a favour – wise up, and don’t pay back any more than your statutory repayments, no one will thank you for doing anything else.  If you’re that desperate for the extra £50 disposable income, get a paper round.

So you cry at me you can’t afford £9000 a year because you’re from a working class background, your parents can’t afford to fund you through university, you’re not like the Eton toffs behind the policy. That may very well be true, but it isn’t what will stop you going to University. The NUS and Labour Party telling you that you can’t afford it will. Your own ill-informed prejudice will. You’ll be expected to pay nothing upfront, and nothing until you earn £22k. Yes you’ll be asked to pay 1% on top of inflation, but that’s still the cheapest debt you’ll ever have. And just like now, if you never earn enough to pay back the full amount, after 25 years, the debt dies. No one holds it against you, the state just writes it off as a favour between friends.

So what is really the problem here? Is it really that the policy is regressive, discriminatory and inherently unfair? Or are we having and uninformed debate, lead by party political combatants seeking an easy poll pleaser playing on the fears of people they aren’t giving the whole story to?

The villains of this piece aren’t the Lib Dems or the Conservatives, it’s the duplicitous, malicious, scaremongering left.

I used to write and get paid, now I read and don’t.

Former UUP staffer, currently living in London. @mjshilliday

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