Mounting student debts in the United Kingdom

In 2015 approximately half a million new undergraduates embarked on student life at universities across the UK, but thousands more British students also settled into their studies at universities across mainland Europe.[1]

As the United Kingdom becomes the most expensive place to study in Europe, thousands of students are opting for a free degree outside the UK – whether it’s in Denmark or Bulgaria. British Council research published in 2015 declared that up to a third of British students are now considering overseas study, which is higher than it has ever been. If you’re an EU citizen you can receive a free university education – crucially with your lectures taught in English – in around half of all European countries. So it is hardly surprising that more and more British youngsters are seriously considering this as an alternative to studying in the UK. Testament to the clear rise in levels of interest in courses across Europe UCAS has announced it would consider adding European universities to admissions forms.

A third of English 18-year olds now apply to university, a proportion that has recovered from the dip that followed the introduction of the new fee regime in 2012. Today’s 16 to 18 year olds are beginning to worry about debt; a ComRes opinion survey commissioned by the Sutton Trust reports that 78% of young people were concerned as potential students about the cost of living and 58% by having to repay student loans.

With tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year, many students feel as if they can no longer afford further education if they remain in the UK. A report commissioned by the Sutton Trust, in 2014, found that on average students in the UK will graduate with a debt of £44,000. This is a staggeringly large amount of money, especially for a recent graduate who may not have secured themselves a job. College education in the US is often viewed as being extremely expensive, however only 70% of US students graduate with debt while in Britain all students graduate with debt almost twice the US level.[2]

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/oct/03/british-university-students-who-study-abroad-europe

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/09/student-debt-kick-in-teeth-for-poor-families

Typical pay in Scotland rises above England for first time

pay rates

The typical pay of a Scottish worker has risen above those in England for the first time, according to a new study. The country is on the brink of closing its seven year long “jobs gap” and returning to its mid-2008 employment rate. One of just three parts of the UK yet to restore pre-crash employment rates, Scotland is just 9000 jobs short of closing its post-crisis “jobs gap” the Resolution Foundation has said.

The non-partisan think-tank which works to improve the living standards of those in Britain on low to middle incomes, found that prospects for living standards of low and middle income Scots rests on the strength of the labour market. Closing the gap would be a positive step for living standards more broadly, the group has said.

Connor D’Arcy, Policy analyst at the Foundation, said:

“The next Scottish government should play a central role in fostering such a change.”

 

Britain: The Fat Man of Europe

“Sweet diet drinks ‘better than water’ to help you lose weight” screamed a headline in The Times.[1] This is a ludicrous claim in my opinion. Obesity levels in the United Kingdom have more than trebled in the last 30 years and, on current estimates, more than half the population could be obese by 2050.[2] The evidence is right in front of our eyes every time we leave the house. The streets are full of obese people waddling along yet articles like this are still being published.

In The Times on November 11 2015, it was claimed that studies have shown sweet-tasting diet drinks are better for weight lose than drinking water because they suppress the desire to consume sweet things. The University of Bristol found that sweet tasting diet drinks were more effective for weight loss than sugary drinks – this is pretty obvious if you ask me. Well done for pointing out the obvious; sugar laden drinks will naturally be worse for you than those which are made to taste sugary with sweeteners. In 2012 one experiment in the United States showed that obese people ate fewer desserts if they were given diet drinks rather than water, which could suggest that their sweet tooth might have been satisfied by the sweeteners in these drinks.

This is all well and good but I believe the people who write these articles and conduct these experiments are missing the underlying point surrounding the obesity crisis. By claiming that a more effective way to lose weight is to consume sweet diet drinks instead of water these people are merely perpetuating the crisis. Obese people will read these articles and believe that instead of increasing the amount of exercise they do, instead of cutting back on junk food or fizzy drinks they can merely drink sweet diet drinks to help them lose weight which will not have an effective impact in the long term.

I fundamentally disagree with the claim “Sweet diet drinks ‘better than water’ to help you lose weight”. Water is an appetite suppressant and drinking it before meals can make you feel fuller and therefore reduce your food intake. WebMD states that drinking water before meals results in an average reduction of 75 calories per meal; this translates into consuming 75,000 calories less per year if you drink water before just ONE meal a day.[3] If you find water boring don’t turn to sugary drinks – instead place a slice of lemon in your water to give it added flavour without compromising on the healthy aspect of your drink.

Drinking more water has proven to be an effective tool in the battle against the bulge. So shed those kilos by consuming more water, not sweet diet drinks! Britain topped Europe’s obesity league in Western Europe in 2013. Hardly surprising if these are the sort of articles which get published in The Times.

[1] http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/science/article4610651.ece

[2] NHS website

[3] http://life.gaiam.com/article/how-drinking-more-water-can-help-you-lose-weight

‘Cheating the Chancellor…Britain’s Benefit Problem’

Lazy left wing socialists are ruining our country, a dramatic statement perhaps – but a fair one?

In April 2015 75% of people agreed that too much money was being wasted in the benefits system “paying benefits to people who don’t need them”, according to a survey for the Financial Times.[1] David Cameron’s government has been arguing for a reduction of welfare spending in the United Kingdom as part of their programme of austerity. However, government ministers have also argued that a growing culture of welfare dependency is perpetuating welfare spending and claim that a cultural change is required to reduce the welfare bill.[2] Perhaps unsurprisingly these opinions are very similar to reasons given in the 1800s which led to the qualifications for receiving aid to be tightened, forcing many recipients to accept employment. The United Kingdom, as a welfare state in the modern sense, was anticipated by the Royal Commission into the Operation of the Poor Laws 1832, which found that the old poor law was subject to widespread abuse and promoted idleness in its recipients.

A change is needed in the work ethic of the United Kingdom – a change that will mean people no longer reside at home and claim benefits instead of actively seeking work. There are those who claim benefits, and quite rightly so. They are unable to work due to illness, disability, or remain unemployed despite seeking a job and it is these people who the welfare state should and does support. An interesting concept could be to introduce a system whereby those who are on benefits, but physically able to work, should be required to volunteer or do charity work in order to be able to claim job seekers allowance. This is in fact something which has been discussed by politicians. Before the re-election of the conservative government in 2015, David Cameron committed the next Tory government to abolishing the Jobseekers’ Allowance for 18-21 year olds. It is to be replaced with a ‘youth allowance’ that will last for a maximum of six months – after which claimants will have to undertake an apprenticeship or daily community work.[3]

However, too many people abuse the system which has a series of knock on effects often not thought about in any great depth. People are too lazy to work; they falsely claim that they are too ill or disabled to work. In 2013-2014 fraud and error in benefits payments remained excessively high at £3.3 billion – 2% of the total forecast benefit expenditure.[4] This is far lower than the figures believed by the public, who often believe that up to 27% of the welfare budget is claimed fraudulently, however it is still a staggering amount of money. In June 2015 Denise Lonie was jailed for 12 months are claiming £30,000 in benefits that she was not entitled to. Lonie hid her relationship for more than four years, claiming she was a single mother, in order to claim Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.[5] In September 2015 Kathleen Rice was sentenced to 15 months after stealing almost £80,000 over 8 years by insisting she was not sharing a house with the father of her two daughters, while also claiming she received no financial help from him even though he was in full-time employment.[6] It is for reasons such as these that Tory MP Andrew Rosindell stated, “This government has been, and is right, to reduce the size of Britain’s welfare bill”.

Benefit frauds have another negative impact, one surrounding the stigma which is attached to people who claim benefits. There are the people who need to claim benefits, as mentioned above. Those who are too ill to work, those who have not managed to find a job but have a strong work ethic, a sense of pride, self respect. Yet these people are often lumped in with the ‘scammers’ when people talk disparagingly about those who claim benefits. The ones cheating the system, the minority, ruin it for the majority.

However change is coming. With the election of another Conservative government there are moves to restrict the amount people can claim as well as an attempted crackdown on those fraudulently claiming benefits. In a move condemned by many, families with more than two children will not receive tax credits or housing benefits for their third or subsequent children under a fundamental change to the welfare system. The move, which is to be introduced in April 2017, will save an estimated £1.35 billion by the 2020-21 financial year.[7] Additionally, the benefit cap will be reduced from £26,000 to £23,000 in London and £20,000 in the rest of the UK. Yet public opinion on the whole appears to support a reduction in welfare spending.

‘Lazy left wing socialist are ruining our country’ is a sweeping statement, yet the number of households in the UK receiving more in total benefits has risen by 11.3% since 1977 – particularly during the 10 years of Labour government from 1997-2007.[8] So a sweeping statement yes, but there is a modicum of truth in it.

[1] G. Parker, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/a548291c-e763-11e4-a01c-00144feab7de.html#axzz3r1uwoIna, April 20 2015

[2] ‘Conservative Conference: Welfare needs ‘cultural shift’’, October 2012

[3] A. McSmith, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/generalelection/david-cameron-wants-jobless-young-adults-to-do-charity-work-in-return-for-benefits-10050160.html, February 17 2015

[4] M. Brown, ‘Most Households in Britain get more in benefits than they pay out in tax’, The Express, June 26 2014

[5] J. Beatson, http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/benefits-cheat-who-claimed-single-5888216 , Daily Record, June 15 2015

[6] D. Meikle, http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/crime/benefits-cheat-who-stole-80000-6421911 , Daily Record, September 11 2015

[7] A. Grice, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/budget-2015-live-emergency-uk-benefits-to-be-cut-for-families-with-more-than-two-children-10376015.html , July 9 2015

[8] [8] M. Brown, ‘Most Households in Britain get more in benefits than they pay out in tax’, The Express, June 26 2014