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Student Debt must be reduced

March 7, 2009 11:00 AM
By David Goodall in the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference 2009 in Harrogate

Good morning conference. I am here today to speak in favour of the motion and of item 5 in the motion to reduce the burden of student debt.

I could be speaking in favour of these lines for the obvious reason of being a father of 12 year old twin boys and purely looking at their financial and educational future.

I could be speaking in favour of reducing student debt for the obvious reason of being the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate standing against the Labour Cabinet minister in Southampton responsible for higher education for higher education. It would be good for my electoral prospects in a city with two universities.

I could be speaking in favour of reducing student debt for the reason cited by many which is that the prospect of large debt discourages these from low income families attending university.

All three of these reasons could be valid reasons to support reducing student debt, but they are not my reason for supporting this part of the motion. My reason is simple and it is printed on all our membership cards:-

"The Liberal Democrats exist to build and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity"

That is my reason.

All our tax and benefits policies are geared towards making the system fairer and more just. The richest 10% should have a heavier burden of tax than the poorest 10%, not as currently exists under Gordon Brown's inverted Robin Hood approach to the tax and benefits system.

Currently the country asks students to pay for their tuition, their accommodation and their food when they have no income and restricted entitlement to benefits. This is done on the grounds they are full-time students. Why this is an offence punishable by financial sanction I don't know. Indeed access to the benefit system would be greater if they decided not to improve themselves and sat around at home and did nothing.

This must change, it is not a fair, free and open society unless it does, and people will be enslaved by poverty, ignorance and conformity unless it does change.

So conference vote for the motion as a whole and for reducing student debt in particular.