Security plan flayed

April 10, 1998

The National Union of Students has condemned government social security proposals for displaying cruelty and insensitivity towards students who are ill or caring for dependants, writes Olga Wojtas.

The Social Security Advisory Committee is seeking views on the government's policy intention that social security payments are not payable to full-time students until they finally complete, abandon or are dismissed from courses.

Students can apply for income support only after six months of having been unable to work because of illness.

This effectively upholds the previous government's policy, which students had believed would be overturned in the wake of several controversial legal actions.

But the NUS warns that the problem is compounded by the new student support arrangements, because students will no longer have access to maintenance grants.

Douglas Trainer, national president of NUS, said the union was urging the committee to appeal against the move and prevent it becoming law.

"The students affected are suffering from debilitating illnesses or taking a break from their course for very real and sad reasons, such as caring for sick relatives."

They were in the cruel position of having either to abandon their course or seeking temporary work.

"This is hardly a viable alternative for those who are ill, pregnant or caring for a sick relative," Mr Trainer said.

Richard Baker, depute president of the National Union of Students Scotland, said: "We were confident the government would change the rules for students who fall ill. Students are shocked at this news."

He said it was a morally indefensible and unnecessary blow to the most vulnerable.

And NUS Scotland claims Scottish students are in a worse position than students south of the border, where local education authorities have some discretion to continue student support payments once a student stops attending a course.

The union says that although Scottish students may retain any payment they have received, they cannot receive help during a period when they are not on a full- time course.

Mr Baker said: "We have had cases of students in serious road traffic accidents, and students who require medical help and counselling following serious violent attacks, who have been left destitute and homeless.

"They receive no grant or loan and no help from social security for six months unless they agree to abandon any future studies."

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