Last Semester, Srdja Popovic’s Rectorial team began supporting a campaign started by Sandra Mitchell, a mature student at the University of St Andrews, to petition against Universal Credit.
Rector’s Assessor Camilla Duke said to The Saint, “Since the issue of students and Universal Credit has been brought to our attention, the Rector’s Committee has worked closely with the Students’ Association and Sandra Mitchell to push for reform.”
Universal Credit is a form of payment meant to assist with living costs for those who are working-age and are currently unemployed or receiving a low income.
The credit merges six different types of benefits including income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, housing benefit, child tax credit, and working tax credit.
When people are receiving Universal Credit, every pound they earn allows for 63 pence to be deducted from their monthly payment.
However, under Universal Credit loans and grants for students are untaxed and treated as an unearned income. Thus, for each pound a student receives, the same amount is deducted from their claim.
Ms Mitchell’s campaign asks for student incomes to be treated the same as a paid income by deducting 63 pence to the pound and adding a work allowance for Scottish students.
As a single mother, Ms Mitchell started her campaign after she found she would not qualify under the new system after starting her history and divinity course at the University of St Andrews. In total, she has lost around £240 in benefit money.
In her campaign Ms Mitchell said, “We are calling on the government to review how student income is calculated to allow for more support and to allow families to lift themselves out of the trap of poverty and low-paid jobs.”
As this campaign has spread across the country, Frank Field MP, Chair of the Works and Pensions Committee in UK Parliament has begun supporting Mitchell’s campaign. Currently, the MP is gathering testimonies from students who have been affected by Universal Credit and evidence regarding the impact of Universal Credit on students.
Ms Duke also applauded Sandra Mitchell’s efforts by saying that she “has been the driving force of the campaign and has received national and local media coverage, including the BBC, The Guardian, and STV. The hard work of Sandra and many others has resulted in the formation of a select committee hearing, called by Frank Field MP.”
The Rector’s committee is also supporting the campaign by helping collect testimonies to send to the Commons Select Committee on Work and Pensions.
Ms Duke also noted Rector Srdja Popovic and his efforts and said, “We’ve relied upon the Rector’s extensive knowledge about campaigns and effective organising throughout the course of this effort, including writing the open letter and building a strong coalition.”
She further praised the campaign and said, “This is an exciting step in the right direction. The Rector’s Committee is proud to support this work and we look forward to pushing for the government to address this pertinent issue.”
The petition for changing how Universal Credit is calculated for those receiving student income currently has 1,151 signatures.