Jo Johnson: DSA changes will ‘improve’ support for disabled

The government will not halt its planned changes to Disabled Students’ Allowances as they will “improve the levels of support overall” for students, according to Jo Johnson

June 12, 2015

The universities and science minister spoke in an adjournment debate on mental health in higher education institutions on 11 June. Adjournment debates are half-hour debates introduced by a backbencher.

The government originally planned to make the changes, which would make universities take greater responsibility for the costs of DSA, in time for 2015-16.

But the plans drew criticism – former minister David Willetts was branded “arrogant and out of touch” by the National Union of Students on the issue – and the government later said that the bulk of changes would be postponed to 2016-17.

About £127 million was paid in DSA to some 56,000 full-time students in 2012-13, according to the government.

Valerie Vaz, the Labour MP for Walsall South, started the adjournment debate, urging the government to review higher education counselling services and ensure appropriate funding.

She also asked if the government would “stop the proposed changes to DSAs?”

Mr Johnson answered that institutions “are best placed to determine what welfare and counselling services they need to provide to their students”.

In a subsequent answer, he said that “the proposed changes to DSA…will be subject to a public consultation. It is vital to remember that the changes are not about removing support, but about rebalancing the source of that support and ensuring that universities and other higher education institutions play a full role in delivering their legal duties under equality legislation.”

He said there would be new guidelines “intended to improve the levels of support overall, including for students in receipt of DSA and disabled students who do not claim it. Under the proposed changes, students with mental health conditions will continue to have access to DSA-funded specialist support such as mentors.”

The debate featured an intervention from Mr Johnson’s brother, Boris, the Conservative MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, who thanked “my honourable friend and brother for giving way”.

He asked, on “diversity of students”, if it was “not absolutely vital to maintain this country’s high profile in those vital markets, particularly India, where we have seen a sad falling-away in the number of students coming to Britain?”

Jo Johnson answered that the government welcomes the “diversity that comes from international students and hope that the numbers from the country he mentioned stop declining in the years ahead and begin to rise”.

Labour MP Kevan Jones then offered an implicit criticism of Boris Johnson’s intervention when he said he wanted to “make a point relevant to the debate” with a question on mental health.

john.morgan@tesglobal.com

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