Money saving expert Martin Lewis on Labour’s fees policy: ‘Poorer students will subsidise city investment bankers’

Here’s part of what Martin Lewis, the Money Saving Expert, said on the BBC’s World at One today:

This is the worse type of politics for me. It is the politics that may appeal to people on the surface but it is financially illiterate…If any other party was launching a policy that effectively meant that poorer students would be subsidising city investment banking graduates, which is what this does, there would be protests in the streets and it would be led by the Labour party. I simply don’t understand how they’ve launched this.

Let’s look at this very simply. It’s not the amount that you borrow for university that counts, it’s how much you have to repay. You repay 9% of everything earnt above £21,000 and you do that for 30 years. So, as your previous guest said, most people will not repay in full over 30 years their £6,000 tuition loan and the maintenance loan they get on top. In fact, I’ve done calculations that it will only be graduates on starting salaries of £35,000 a year and we assume that goes up ahead of inflation year after year. That’s why I say city investment bankers, city accountants and city lawyers are the people who will gain from this policy. But to do that universities will be able to give less bursaries for poorer students.

…but the whole concept here of cutting tuition fees is a populist focus group policy that does not benefit the people that the public thinks it does and the sooner we stop calling these things student loans and start calling them what they really are, which is a graduate contribution which only the successful financially actually pay back, the less people will be scared off going to university and the more we can have a constructive discussion about it. And Labour has deliberately, I believe, fallen into the trap of going with the didactic that this is a debt, and all their language is about talking about a debt, when what really counts is how much you repay afterwards and all sides of the political spectrum need to change on this.

Here’s the full audio of what Mr Lewis said on the programme:

Featured article image by the Cabinet Office

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Just for the sake of balance you understand, here (from his website) is another part of what Martin Lewis said:

    “Labour isn’t the first one to be financially illiterate over the tuition fee issue. The Coalition itself did it when it set up the new 2012 system. Not just because it fundamentally miscalculated how much people would repay, but also because it allowed universities to offer some poorer students a choice between a fee waiver and cash as a bursary. …I was out there shouting vociferously: “Make sure you take the cash.””

  • Financially illiterate? Is that when you consider the effects of reducing fees in isolation without considering the increased contributions those high earning graduates would make as a result of the changes to pension taxation? Oh, right, so that would be the IFS and Mr Lewis then.

  • 4 articles on the same subject is somewhat going OTT is it not ?

    It certainly gives the appearance of a party seriously rattled by the policy of an opponent.

  • “graduate contribution” – A very good term, because as is clearly the case the majority of UK graduates won’t actually repay the monies they borrowed to pay for their university education. Perhaps the LibDems should take this rebranding on board as it does enable the debate to move on.

  • Peter Watson 27th Feb '15 - 11:59pm

    Students who drop out without graduating will also have to repay their loans so perhaps we should call it a “student contribution”.

  • In fairness won’t those city bankers. city lawyers, city accountants etc be the ones that will be worse off under the new pension rules Labour will bring in to pay for the cuts in tuition fees? So surely the better off will be subsidising the lower paid graduates? I’m no expert and I’m sure Simon will shoot me down if I’m wrong, but I’m guessing that’s how the man/woman in the street will see it.

  • @SimonShaw

    I rather suspect Labour have spent time costing the proposal to ensure it is do-able rather than land themselves in the same position as Clegg !

    Odd that so few of the usual LD tribalists have seen fit to comment on the various articles isn’t it.

  • If it takes this Labour leadership 40 months to work out how to spend £3bn, then how are they going to fare running the government with a £700bn budget?

  • Duncan Scott

    This was a headline policy that had to be right in time for the GE, it doesn’t matter how long it took to get there. Now in every LibDem/Lab marginal Labour will hammer on about reducing tuition fees and the LibDems will have to argue against it. I think Miliband and Balls have realised that to win the GE they have to smash the LibDems, this could well be the policy that does it.

  • Philip Rolle 28th Feb '15 - 1:41am

    Every Lib Dems criticise Labour’s policy on this, they enable the debate to be focused back onto “Clegg and the Lib Dems lied to you”.

    Better to forget tuition fees and argue that pension rules need to be simplified so that everyone gets the same relief, say 25%.

    Then announce a proposal to allow people to withdraw the tax relief from their pension plan once every five years and spend it.

  • David Evans 28th Feb '15 - 2:11am

    It is profoundly sad that so many Lib Dems still choose to pretend that it is all about the fairest scheme to fund Universities and ignore the fact that to the electorate it is simply about not trusting Nick. Sadly our great party will continue to go downhill until they realise their error of their ways and based on the reaction of so many today there is a long way still to go.

  • Eddie Sammon 28th Feb '15 - 6:31am

    The way to get political capital out of this is not to point out that our policy is more socialist than Labour, but to point out all the reasons the policy is bad, like Vince Cable did:

    1. Hits the poorest students due to repayments.
    2. Hits universities and/or the treasury.
    3. Increases instability and uncertainty.

  • @Eddie Sammon

    The policy
    A Makes no difference whatsoever to the poorest students
    B Makes no difference to university funding and may actually provide a surplus to the treasury compared with th existing system
    C Is a policy. They’re supposed to make a difference. Are political parties meant to maintain the status quo in order to avoid uncertainty? Should we abolish elections to get rid of uncertainty?

  • Eddie Sammon 28th Feb '15 - 7:28am

    Hi Steve, Labour want to pay for it using pensions tax relief for high earners, even though the best way to do this is to cut the lifetime and annual allowance, which the coalition has already done, but regardless this higher rate pensions tax relief was meant to pay to get rid of the deficit, which is partly why the policy is getting panned across the board.

    I’m no fan of the Conservatives, not even their fabled economic policy, I’m just saying.

  • Tony Dawson 28th Feb '15 - 8:22am

    Any policy which is not a genuine and open/transparent tax on ALL graduates (including historic ones like me) is stupid and partial.

    If Labour brings out a silly policy, leave it to sensible independent commentators to criticise it. The minute a Lib Dem mentions the word ‘tuition fees’ all it does for most young people is make them switch off and blank over and remember Nick Clegg’s ‘pledge’ which was then claimed to be no such thing.

  • Simon Shaw 28th Feb ’15 – 12:01am…….@MartinB
    I rather think a party seriously rattled by the policy of an opponent would avoid all mention of the topic…….I believe, instead, that there’s a strong feeling that Labour have got themselves into a serious mess. Taking over 40 months from initial populist announcement to providing some detail demonstrates the difficulty they’re in….

    A party ‘thinking clearly’ would avoid the issue; a party ‘rattled’ would start lashing out in all directions……

    40 months to define a promise sounds rather better than 7 months to betray a promise…and I’m sure that, combined with the re-opening of this “Pandora’s Box”, will be how the electorate will view this…
    If memory serves, when the dust settled all that remained was the ” Spirit of Hope”…..At the moment it seems that, as May approaches, it’s all we have left…

  • Eddie Sammon 28th Feb '15 - 9:11am

    Just watched the BBC news at 10 from last night on this and their coverage was appalling, so much so I lost interest and switched it off.

    The current fee is not £9,000, but the current maximum fee. The BBC journalist who had an opportunity to scrutinise Miliband tried to go for a populist question about how in touch Ed Miliband is with student living costs.

    I need to get on Twitter so I can point this out in public. Private complaints achieve little.

  • Against this, you might like to look at Martin Lewis’s own more nuanced guide to how the system works: Graduates may pay as much as £98,000 in loan repayments – and the city bankers won’t pay that much.

    One of the nasty aspects of the system set up by the coalition was the way in which universities were urged to set up “bursaries” of money off fees for poorer students when what was needed was cash up front for cost of living. There’s quite a lot of university accommodation which costs more than the maximum student loan (or, for poorer students, student loan plus grant). Eating on campus is often run by private providers too; there are no longer the cheap student cafés that existed ten years ago. As a result poor students are appallingly disadvantaged at university. Homelessness among students is no longer uncommon (most homeless students manage to couch-surf with friends but this doesn’t help their studies). Poor students sometimes have to choose between books and food. Remember that students are now required to have networked computers and to pay to print their coursework – and this isn’t cheap.

    The increase in tuition fees seems to have acted like an invitation to profiteer at students’ expense. Labour’s suggestion of more money available for living expenses is a step in the right direction though I’m sure that many providers of university accommodation and other university services see this as a further invitation to raise their prices.

    I’d like to see someone addressing the serious question of student poverty – which has a serious impact on the ability of poorer students to do well – but I’m not holding my breath.

  • One of the problems is that most LibDem workers who are out on the doorsteps prefer Labours policy to the coalition policy on tuition fees. I think this is a masterstroke by Miliband and Balls, knock £3,000 off tuition fees and change pension allowances on the wealthy to pay for it. How many people are going to disagree with that, no matter what Martin Shaw says I don’t think there will be many.

  • How can you trust labour on Tuition fees? Didn’t they say they wouldn’t introduce them and then they did? Didn’t they say they wouldn’t raise them, and then they did. They set forth a review which recommended unlimited fees, and 5 years after the event they publish proposals that can only be seen as an electorally skewed. Who really believes this is their last take on the matter – so more importantly, what’s next Ed?

  • Simon Shaw 28th Feb ’15 – 9:23am …[email protected] seem to be suggesting that the issue of student finance wouldn’t have come up in the forthcoming general election but for the fact that yesterday Labour finally managed to cobble together a detailed policy and/or the Lib Dems (Vince in particular) have laid into the inconsistencies.

    Are you by any chance new to politics?

    There are now four, or is it five, separate threads on Tuition Fees; unprecedented.?. I would far rather fight the election at a time ( and on ground) of my choosing, instead of the ‘knee-jerk’ ‘yah-boo’ reaction to Labour’s plan….

    As for my being new to politics??? Are you incapable of writing a response without disparaging asides and snide remarks?

  • Philip Thomas 28th Feb '15 - 12:10pm

    Why would universities be paying less bursaries to poorer students? Actually £200m is going towards increasing maintenance grants: and Labour claims this policy will be fully funded, meaning all of the money lost by reducing fees will be made up by the state. If that is true then there’s no reason for universities to reduce spending in any area.

  • I love the way that it’s only city bankers and accountants that earn over £35k in Martin Lewis’s world. What about computer programmers, doctors, head teachers, MPs? Or for that matter university professors?

    It’s also financially illiterate* in that ignores the fact that the major effect of this policy is not on the people who pay it but what happens when they don’t. Instead of pretending this isn’t government borrowing until the future taxpayer has to pick up the pieces of Cable’s inability to understand basic economic principles (the idea that anything less than £9k a year was going to be the norm) and do simple sums means that large proportions of this “student debt” gets dumbed back onto the main debt balance sheet.

    And it ignores that the fact that Cable’s scheme makes no guarantees about the terms under which repayments will be made so it’s both possible and likely that, in fact, the £21k threshold *won’t* track increases in earnings and that more and more people will end up paying more.

    That’s before we get into any discussion about the principle of the matter and the sheer amount of damage done to the quality and character of the university education done by the utter stupidity of this stumbled step into further marketisation.

    * – come on, it’s today’s favourite phrase!

  • Stephen Campbell 28th Feb '15 - 12:34pm

    @expats: “Are you incapable of writing a response without disparaging asides and snide remarks?”

    As far as I can tell, he is indeed incapable of posting without resorting to snide remarks and rudeness. He is, in my opinion, the rudest person on this site and for some reason the rules about politeness here on LDV don’t seem to apply to him. Several other people on this site have had their comments blocked for much less, yet Mr. Shaw seems to have been given free reign to be as impolite as he likes. He does come across as a thoroughly unkind, insensitive and often illiberal person.

  • Only a couple of weeks ago, Lewis told an audience of students at the LSE that he was “torn on” the idea of reducing fees, since he could see that it had “some merit”. Perhaps he was suffering from a little financial illiteracy at the time. It can happen to anybody – Vince Cable had a particularly bad attack yesterday.

    Lewis’s main argument seems to be that poor people who are alarmed by the idea of a £45,000 debt are, in fact, stupid and worrying unnecessarily – which is an easy thing to say when you’re worth nearly a hundred million.

  • @Stephen Campbell
    “He is, in my opinion, the rudest person on this site and for some reason the rules about politeness here on LDV don’t seem to apply to him. Several other people on this site have had their comments blocked for much less, yet Mr. Shaw seems to have been given free reign to be as impolite as he likes.”

    There is a lot of truth in that. I once had a comment banned because I used the word “daft”. Simon says worse things in nearly every post he contributes. Not that I mind – in fact I wish he posted more.

  • @Jack
    “I love the way that it’s only city bankers and accountants that earn over £35k in Martin Lewis’s world. What about computer programmers, doctors, head teachers, MPs? Or for that matter university professors?”

    Well, quite. I’m not convinced by Lewis’s projections at all. According to him, his figures are all based on the idea that a graduate’s salary will increase steadily by 3% pa through the course of their career. Hence, he reasons, the only people who will ever pay back more than two thirds of the current loans are those who start on ridiculously high salaries.

    This doesn’t seem remotely realistic to me. I’m pretty sure all the graduates I know – including myself – have experienced several sudden substantial pay increases during their careers, either though promotion or moving to a different employer.

    If my own salary had followed the trajectory predicted by Lewis, I calculate that I would be earning less than half of what I actually am earning now.

  • @ Malc.
    “One of the problems is that most LibDem workers who are out on the doorsteps prefer Labours policy to the coalition policy on tuition fees. I think this is a masterstroke by Miliband and Balls”

    No they don’t and no it isn’t.

    It’s just more proof of the shallowness and cynicism of the Labour party and those who support it who think is a good idea.

    Labour can’t think up a single policy on the basis of what is right in principle and practice. They are so wrapped up in their warped, contorted political strategies that they wouldn’t even recognise such a policy if it jumped up and bit them on the nose.

  • @Paul Walter
    So what is your explanation for allowing Mr Shaw to post? I’ve never once read anything constructive in his numerous comments.

  • Stephen Campbell/Stuart…..I don’t wish to alienate anyone on this site…However, I posted my 28th Feb ’15 – 10:14am because I resent being spoken to as if I my opinion is of no value….

    Simon Shaw, by all means disagree with me but please refrain from patronising asides….I have read several of your recent posts and you seem to feel that gratuitous innuendo, regarding those with opposing views, are acceptable….They do not, at least to me, follow the spirit of LDV rules…

  • @Steve
    “Financially illiterate? Is that when you consider the effects of reducing fees in isolation without considering the increased contributions those high earning graduates would make as a result of the changes to pension taxation? Oh, right, so that would be the IFS and Mr Lewis then.”

    Actually, Lewis has confirmed himself (on Twitter and in comments on his blog) that what you say there is completely right. He has complained that his “financially illiterate” comment has been misquoted and that he was only talking about the tuition fee size itself, and was specifically NOT taking any account of the changes to pension relief.

    Which seems an odd way of looking at it, given that the pension relief is a key part of the whole policy.

  • Philip Thomas 28th Feb '15 - 6:42pm

    @Steve-freedom of speech? I really don’t think we should encourage the editors to start censoring comments on the ground they lack constructiveness. If Simon Shaw wants to make comments which lack constructive value, that is his right…

  • Should we abolish elections to get rid of uncertainty?

    Good question,so what year is the EU referendum?

  • RC

    “It’s just more proof of the shallowness and cynicism of the Labour party and those who support it who think is a good idea.”

    The last poll I saw ref tuition fees was a YouGov one which showed 54% to 21% in favour of reducing tuition fees, even if that meant less funding to the universities. However, the Labour party policy is to ensure the universities will be no worse off. Why is it “shallow” or “cynical” to give the people what they want when it is affordable?

  • Simon Shaw
    Do you support the Lib Dem policy of raising the tax threshold further, even though the IFS tells us 75% of the gains will go to taxpayers in the top 50% of the income distribution?

  • Simon.
    It reduces it for everyone because whether you walk into a job at £35, 000 or work your way up to earning it an £18.000 loan is less and generates less interest than a £27,000 loan. Below that it really doesn’t make any difference, The loans will be written off eventually meaning that you still owe nothing. You could of course ask the poorest students what they think of Labour’s proposed increase in the maintenance grant!

  • Simon Shaw

    The maximum fees will be reduced from £9,000 to £6,000 for everyone. All graduates – regardless of their income – will have less debt when they finish university.

  • When someone claims not to understand something it is often hard to know whether it is simply an inability to grasp the complexity or whether it is a wilful refusal to engage with the implications. Unlike Simon Shaw, I would avoid responding to comments that appear to be wilfully obtuse.

    I am not sure what level of intelligence is required to accept that poorer graduates in the £15 to 22 000 bracket are better off that under Labour’s old system and that under their new proposals there would be an advantage for more of the more wealthy graduates. Indeed the very wealthy graduates would have the biggest financial advantage.

    None of this logically defends the present system in absolute terms, it merely illustrates how other systems are worse.

    No scheme of this sort can be looked at in isolation; obviously an increase of the higher 40p rate could offset Labour’s regressive proposals. This could well be an implication that they do not want to highlight. What is interesting however is not so much what Miliband is proposing, but what it tells us about Miliband’s politics and how he operates. It seems here that he will push a policy through against logic and against more worthy targets to benefit from a claimed £3bn tax take from pensioners rather than go back on his 2011 promise.

    Although I very much doubt that Miliband will gain enough seats to become PM, in party political terms, this will be a great pity for Lib Dems as the outcome of the election that would most likely improve Lib Dem ratings would surely be a spell of Miliband as PM. Clegg has suffered greatly from his position in power, I would predict that it would not be any better for Miliband.

  • stuart moran 1st Mar '15 - 9:53am

    Simon Shaw

    Is there any actual Lib Dem policy you believe in?

    Can you tell me what policies you want to see in a future manifesto?

    Let us start with tuition fees. You don’t like the 2010 no fees, you don’t like the Labour alternative. If you had a blank sheet what would you do?

    You criticise and insult but offer no solution. Are you intellectually incapable or just shy?

    With respect to tuition fees I detect a real chip on your shoulder. I ask you for the fifth time, in the interest of openness, did you go to University?

  • stuart moran 1st Mar '15 - 10:02am

    Since when did Martin Lewis become the arbiter on all that is student finance?

    Some of his assumptions have been called into question, and does he have a political agenda? Who knows…….

    All in all this has done what Labour wanted…..force the Lib Dems back onto the field discussing tuition fees

  • Philip Thomas 1st Mar '15 - 10:10am

    @Martin That Miliband isn’t the shrewdest political operator on the block isn’t exactly news, is it? In fact I’m glad he isn’t as politically smooth as, say, Tony Blair.
    As for Miliband as PM vs Cameron as PM, the only scenario in which I prefer Cameron is one where he is in coalition with us, and even that is putting country before party!

    It is always possible that Miliband will turn out to be a better PM than Leader of the Opposition. Lets face it, that wouldn’t be very difficult!

  • Tsar Nicholas 1st Mar '15 - 10:23am

    Simon Shaw

    “But it’s not “debt” in the normal sense of the word. It’s a “notional debt” or a “conditional debt”.”

    When a graduate applies for a mortgage they will find that it is anything but notional.

    Lib Dems – the party of private landlords.

  • Philip Thomas 1st Mar '15 - 10:23am

    @Simon Shaw
    The difference between taxes payable above a certain level of income and debt repayable above a certain level of income is that the debt is finite. If your son earns several billion pounds, his student loan will be paid off, but he’ll still have to pay taxes, no matter how much tax he has already paid.

  • stuart moran
    “Since when did Martin Lewis become the arbiter on all that is student finance?

    Some of his assumptions have been called into question, and does he have a political agenda? Who knows…….”

    Well, he IS on the telly a lot, so I guess he must know more than anybody else about financial matters… at least that’s what Paul and Simon seem to assume.

    Simon has been gleefully misrepresenting Lewis for years. Lewis has stated that he did not support the 2012 reforms, but you wouldn’t get that impression from reading Simon’s endless citations.

    Lewis’ actual position on the Labour proposals is vague and inconsistent. He’s said he supports certain aspects of it, and has given mixed messages about whether the fee cut itself is a good idea (regardless of his characteristic OTT rhetoric quoted by the OP). Just two weeks ago, he told an audience at the LSE that he was “torn” on the idea as he could see that it had “merit”.

    He’s called the Labour scheme “financially illiterate”, but on his website he uses exactly the same words to describe the Tory/Lib Dem scheme. It’s not at all clear which system (if any) he thinks is more financially illiterate than the other – but in an attempt to clear this up, I’ve tweeted him the question, and will let you know if I get a reply (unlikely as I’m sure he gets piles of tweets).

  • @Simon
    Constantly quoting somebody in the context of defending a system which he has said clearly he does not support, is misrepresentation pure and simple.

  • Simon, here’s the thing, The more you quote people back and try to twist what they say in a vain attempt make the support your views the more alienating it becomes. Do you actually want anyone to vote Lib Dem and if you do, do think trying to cow them into submission is a good way of going about it.? I’m sorry but I did not vote Lib Dem to do things like triple tuition fees and nothing is going to persuade me that it was good for students, the country or the Lib Dems. All I’m seeing here is an excessive loyalty to a Conservative Party policy that I did not vote for and is plainly a vote loser. As other people have pointed out Coalition loyalists are digging themselves into an ever deeper hole that sees them going from a policy of getting rid of tuition fees, to saying that they will not exceed £6000 to now defending £9000! Honestly it beggars belief.

  • Philip Thomas 1st Mar '15 - 8:16pm

    @Simon Shaw. I really hope you’re not making a self-fulfilling prophecy. I at any rate have more than zero intention of voting Liberal Democrat in May.

  • @Paul Walter (1st Mar ’15 – 8:29am) – I agree, it seems that many don’t understand the tuition fee’s, student loans and repayment system.

    The only time the system that can be said to be a disincentive, is when under 18’s are waking up to university and starting to discover they are expected to start paying for stuff. Once it is explained how they will be paying for the seemingly vast tuition fee’s and maintenance costs, namely by taking out Student loans (and applying for sponsorships, scholarships and grants: parents not been to university, single parent family, living in a deprived area), which only become payable if they satisfy the earnings criteria, it largely becomes a non-issue. Obviously, once they are working pep talks are sometimes needed because they suddenly see all the deductions: PAYE, NI, Student Loan. At which point a short introduction to the tax system is appropriate…

    I would be interested to hear about anyone who took out a student loan since 2004, and is now on a low income who is materially worst off because they have an outstanding student loan…

  • All that has happened is that the public has been reminded of our cock up over Tuition Fees in 2010 and 2011, it was not the fact that fees were increased but that we went from one extreme position to the complete opposite overnight. It was catastrophe from which we have never recovered. The only chance to reduce that problem was a leadership change and we shirked that as well.

  • Martin Lewis was appointed by the Government to educate student about student loans. His message to them: Don’t worry about it. It is not a debt. Isn’t this mis-selling? (see his other website for advice on this).
    Given a choice of borrowing £6,000 a year or £9,000 a year I think it is obvious that students would borrow £6,000. Labour might be accused of being financially illiterate, but those who support higher fees are not thinking about all the issues. Young people do not understand about debt. They will have had no experience of debt. Their parents may be pushing them to go to university. Their schools WILL be pushing them to go to university, and now we have Martin Lewis, Head of the Government’s Taskforce (responsible for educating students about loans) telling them it is not a debt. Those who have experienced debt will know that it generates a lot of stress. It is a strong risk factor for Mental ill Health. Half of people in debt have a mental disorder. It can have diverse and long term effects on the student, their family and society. Telling students it is not a debt is a deception – and immoral, in my view, and tantamount to mis-selling.
    And why should the UK have the most expensive higher education system in the world? Come on LibDems – stick to your principles. Promise to scrap tuition fees and go a step further and promise to write off the student loan book. Then I will vote for you.
    (Incidentally, well done LibDems for having a public forum and not just a secret one).

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