Disabled Student’s Allowances Update: July Digest

With the Summer break, there has been a hiatus in posts here at the DSAs Observatory. In early July we posted on BIS policy updates to DSAs: (10 July 2014) and the 2nd July parliamentary debate on Disabled Student’s Allowances: transcript. However, there have been some key developments relating to cuts and changes to DSAs over the course of the month, which we now signpost here, including new articles and analyses on proposed changes, the Student Loans Company response to Amanda Kent’s FOI request and changes to ministerial representation for Universities in the House of Commons. If we’ve missed anything, get in touch or leave a comment.

Cabinet Reshuffle: New minister for universities

On the 15th July 2014, Dr Greg Clark MP replaced David Willetts as the Minister of State for Universities and Science at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills. The Amano Technologies blog takes a look at Greg Clark with respect to DSAs. Julian Huppert MP, who convened the recent Westminster Hall debate on DSAs, has already raise the issue of DSAs with the new Minister, pressing for an urgent debate.

Freedom of Information Request: Student Loans Company (SLC) Respond

On June 28th, Amanda Kent made an important FOI request to the SLC. Kent observes that, irrespective of recent government announcements regarding changes to DSAs, the administration of changes to the assessment of disability for DSA eligibility documented by the SLC may have an impact on disabled people and therefore an Equality Analysis on the application process and the SLCs internal handling of the resultant applications would have been the subject of impact assessment. This Equality Analysis should be made public. The Student Loans Company responded on the 28th July 2014. In their response they state:

In response to question 1, the change of evidence criteria was instructed by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (“BIS”), therefore SLC has not conducted any Equality Impact Assessment. This question could be redirected to BIS at [email address]

In response to question 2, in order to determine whether medical evidence submitted is sufficient to conclude that a student falls within the Equality Act definition, it should confirm that the disability has a substantial and long term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. If the submitted medical evidence does not confirm this, then a student will be asked for further evidence by way of clarification. 

New Article: The Guardian: Funding cuts to disabled students will hit some universities hard

[Declaration of interest, the above article was written by Sarah Lewthwaite, who also convenes the DSAs Observatory]

On July 1st, the Guardian published a new article on changes to DSAs, this time highlighting the institutional impact of cuts. This analysis highlights the following key points and their implications:

  • The most inclusive institutions will be the hardest hit by funding changes.
  • Welsh universities will subsidise disabled students from England.
  • There will be an adverse impact on student satisfaction scores.

New article: Iansyst blog “It’s a myth that according to David Willetts ‘The DSA scheme has not been reviewed for 25 years'”

The Iansyst blog delivers an evidenced and critical view on David Willett’s BIS statement that states the DSA’s scheme has not been reviewed for 25 years. They begin

… MPs are repeating this in their replies to constituents. This gives the impression that the Disabled Students Allowances scheme had been totally neglected […] without any critique or public accountability, which is very far from the truth. It is not at all clear on what the Minister is basing this statement or in what way it could be justified.

On the contrary, the DSA has been under continual review. With thanks to the DSA timeline the following are some of the more significant reviews in the last 25 years since 1989…

The authors highlight significant changes to DSAs and refute the Government position that DSAs have not been reviewed.

New article: Journal of Disability and Society, ‘Government cuts to Disabled Student’s Allowances must be resisted’

[Declaration of interest, the above article was written by Sarah Lewthwaite, who also convenes the DSAs Observatory]

This short academic paper, published in July, places proposed cuts to DSAs within a conceptual frame, focussing particularly on the relationship between DSAs, disclosure and how disability is defined in UK higher education. The article identifies how disabled peoples’ access to higher education will be endangered by cuts. Research suggests that if DSAs are cut, the impetus to disclose disability will be reduced; as a result many disabled students within higher education could become invisible within academic statistics, damaging the validity of equality statistics, with knock-on implications for the allocation of resources and satisfaction metrics. Finally, the article focusses on the ways in which DSAs shape how disability is defined (that is: who is consider disabled and who is considered non-disabled) in English higher education, and how government cuts will result in a redefinition that compromises both social and medical models of disability. Conceptually, cuts are observed to express Government’s regulation of disabled students as an enaction of biopower. The author concludes that there is a risk with the proposed cuts, some disabled students will themselves be cut; excluded from higher education or rendered invisible within it.

If you are working in this area, or involved in advocacy or consultation on cuts to DSAs, and cannot access the journal, please get in touch with the author for your copy (50 copies are available).

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