Two unsurprising but depressing headlines this morning – tuition fees looks set to go up, and Royal Mail is heading for the auction block.
The new minister in charge of higher education, David Willetts, made his views about university students pretty clear in an interview with today’s Guardian – their degrees are a “burden on the taxpayer”. And there we were thinking education was a benefit to the country. Silly us.
In the interview, Willetts didn’t commit to raising the cap on tuition fees; he doesn’t want to prejudge the outcome of Lord Browne’s review of higher education funding, which is a rubber stamp for raising fees in all but name.
He did, however, say that students should see higher fees not as a debt, but “more as an obligation to pay higher income tax”.
This is arrant nonsense.
You pay higher income tax when you earn a lot of money – £40,000, £50,000, £100,000. Don’t tell me that higher fees will only become fully repayable when graduates have hit those kind of earnings, or that interest on tuition fee loans and student debt will only kick in at those pay levels. Already, graduate debt – let’s call it what it is – is a source of worry for many students. Increasing this debt could be crippling.
Speaking of income tax, the CBI never fails to disappoint. With weary predictability, its director-general Richard Lambert has called for the top rate of income tax to be brought back down from 50% to 40%. Funded by massive public spending cuts. Hit the poor to fund the rich – nice one, Richard.
As for Royal Mail? Well, according to postal affairs minister Ed Davey, it will be split off from the Post Office and privatised in a £9bn flotation. That would be the same Royal Mail whose profits jumped by 26% last year. And will private companies really be queuing round the block to take on the Royal Mail’s massive pension deficit and deliver post to rural locations? Or are we going to be topping up the already giant taxpayer subsidy for the private sector?
Elsewhere, the independent Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has warned that the government’s public sector cuts could raise unemployment close to 3 million – a nice big increase in the country’s unemployment benefit bill there – and hit the poor hardest.
And last but not least, the PCS trade union warns of thousands of job losses in the UK Border Agency. Because the so-called ‘problem’ of immigration can be tackled with a massively reduced border agency, right? Right?