Dazed staff and designers close to us speak out about the Tories’ move to cut grants for students brought up in low-income households
Last week, the Tories officially scrapped all student grants. They did so quietly, with little fuss, burying the move in a back-room committee session on a Thursday morning when they thought the world wouldn’t be watching.
The world was watching, and an outcry ensued, but really there was nothing anyone could do. Despite strong opposition, and without the opportunity for a vote on the floor of the House of the Commons, the change passed — and just like that, over half a million students from low income families lost the government funding they relied upon. Funding of up to £3,387 for basic essentials, like heating or food.
Ironically, just three days previously the Prime Minister gave a speech on ‘life chances’ where he spoke about wanting to “fight disadvantage and extend opportunity” to everyone in society. Of course, he’s not that serious about fighting inequality. After all, this comes from the same government that tripled tuition fees, abolished EMA, and forced young people to work unpaid for the state benefits they’re entitled to (whatever anyone says, jobless young people do pay tax — ever heard of VAT?)
For many young people hoping to enter the creative industries, abolishing grants will serve as a powerful disincentive. These industries aren’t exactly known for paying well even when you do get a job, and when facing debts of £50,000 upon graduation, it’s totally understandable that many young people would dream about and aim for more financially lucrative careers like law or banking — or even not to go to university at all.
As a result, Britain’s vibrant cultural and creative scenes will suffer. Many of the artists and designers we respect the most here at Dazed, and indeed some of our own staff, simply wouldn’t be able to enter the industry today. To find out more, we asked a selection of Dazed favourites and staff to share their experiences.
RICHARD MALONE, FASHION DESIGNER
“My parents weren’t in a position to support me doing a degree or giving me handouts, so I had to find a way to manage it on my own. It can be quite hard when you’re surrounded by a lot of privileged people in art school. If I’d applied a year later, I wouldn’t have been able to go. Once the fees went up I think that was it for a lot of people, I wouldn’t have been able to get a bank loan to pay my fees (as an Irish citizen I wasn’t eligible for a loan), so that would have been it.
The diversity in art schools is really weakening as a result, there aren’t those interesting conversations and dialogues now, you often have a load of rich kids paying someone else to pattern cut, then someone to sew, someone to make the fabric, its really outrageous, quite depressing really – there are people who simply can't compete with that but who probably have triple the talent, and some actual drive or reason for doing it.
It’s actually really sickening to know that if any of your younger family members – cousins or whatever, wanted to enter the fashion industry they just couldn't, or even if I attempted to do it now I couldn't. The ironic thing is that you see fashion brands appropriating working class culture all the time. It just feels like a whole part of society has been priced out.”
EMMA ALLWOOD, DAZED FASHION FEATURES EDITOR
“Without maintenance grants, I would never have been able to intern. Without interning, I would not be where I am now. Through a combination of grants, bursaries, and employment, I managed to graduate from university with money in the bank, which meant I could afford to work for free. Whatever you think of internships, they unfortunately remain a vital part of securing experience and employment in the creative industries. Not everyone has the privilege to be able to work for little to no money, and now even fewer people will. Students from less economically privileged backgrounds than myself are already being dissuaded from attending university because of the eye-watering fees, now they'll be even more put off – I know I would've been. Galliano and McQueen were both from working-class backgrounds – how many talented people will fall by the wayside because of this?”
MATTHEW MILLER, FASHION DESIGNER
“I wouldn't be able to go to university today. I come from an incredibly deprived city with mass unemployment, high crime and drug abuse amongst young people. The only way I could afford the materials I needed in Art College were from government bursaries for students whose parents were unemployed. I also worked 25 hours a week to pay my rent in a warehouse, picking and packing books. The bursaries were not there for me to piss up the wall, they were there to give me the tools I needed to create and craft a future. It's a sad day for social mobility. It's getting harder and harder for young people to do anything in the creative industry. We are very quickly becoming an empire of nothing and what you get from that is mediocrity.”
JAKE HALL, DAZED WRITER
“I come from a single parent, working class background, which meant that university was only ever an option if help was available in terms of funding. A combination of scholarships, grants and bursaries enabled me not only to pursue higher education and move away from home, but also to complete the Year Abroad that formed an obligatory part of my course. Without grants, university would never have seemed a viable option. The mountain of debt that now comes with studying would have scared me off without a doubt. Why should it be the case that the wealthy can coast through education whereas talented but underprivileged youth are deterred?”
ANNA CAFOLLA, DAZED DIGITAL ASSISTANT
“I’m from a family of six: I received EMA through school, and the maintenance grant throughout university, as did my younger brother. I also won a scholarship to complete my MA. Without this financial help, I most definitely wouldn’t be in the position I’m in today. These grants put me on equal footing with my peers, and gave me peace of mind while studying. I worry about the pressure this puts on my two younger siblings, on the cusp of leaving school and making decisions that I once made, but that are now impacted by the widening chasm the government has created for them and others. It’s widening a gap that could swallow talented but disadvantaged students whole.”