I have a Student Loan. I’m not alone in this. I’m fairly sure there’s a pun in there somewhere, but let’s not dwell on it. My Student Loan is ancient, going way back to the early years of the Student Loan Company, brought in as the then-Tory government phased out student grants and started
turning education into a massive profit-making exercise updating the face of education to truly reflect the world we live in. Anyway, there goes my Student Loan, like a wheezy granny shuffling down the road with her zimmer frame, modest, necessary and nothing like the big, brash, demanding R&B stars of a loan that students have to take out nowadays. Nowadays. Christ, I’m old.
So my Student Loan sat there, unpaid because I have never ever had a job that paid me anything like a decent amount of money, given that the minimum wage had yet to be invented. It accrued interest over the years, what seemed like pennies at first but which is now apparently multiplying at an alarming rate. I’m still not making enough money to pay it off. Which means that every year I have the joy of the Deferment form to fill out. The Deferment form basically asks you to prove that you’re too poor to repay your loan, so it’s generally not exactly an uplifting experience, more of a look how shit my life has turned out kind of experience. An experience I’ve been putting myself through for twenty years now.
For the majority of those years, I’ve been a full-time stay at home mother. There is no box on the form for full-time stay at home mother. Instead, you have to state that you’re receiving third party support and – get this – ask the person who is supporting you to write them a letter. So year after year, any full-time stay at home parent has to ask their spouse/significant other to write a letter to the Student Loan Company, stating that they give them weekly pocket money but not enough to have to pay back the loan. Which isn’t humiliating at all, obvs. I’ve never quite understood why the letter from the spouse/significant other has apparently more weight than the applicant themselves just being able to tick a box on the form and state the amount – does the fact that we have a debt make us less trustworthy? Perhaps there are still relationships in which one partner puts down an amount of housekeeping money on the table and tells you to buy something pretty, but I don’t know of any. The lines are generally more blurred than that; joint accounts with wages, child benefit, mortgage payments and direct debits flying in and out with no sense of this money being mine and this money being his, which makes a mockery of the whole thing. Or -if I were married to a millionaire and wanted to cheat the system, do they not think I’m capable of forging a letter from my significant other claiming to only pay out £50 a week?
Several times when I’ve filled out the form to prove that I’m poor, they write back demanding further evidence because they don’t believe that I’m that poor. Perhaps if I took a more Christlike, Blessed are the Poor view of the world, I might find that flattering, but I don’t. I just find it really annoying as I hate filling out forms, so having to do them twice is an absolute bugger. It generates a ridiculous amount of admin, for myself and also for them, which given that they’re not getting any money from me, seems pointless. Why go through this every year? Why not once every five years, or a box to tick that just says “my circumstances have not significantly changed during the last 12 months so I still don’t need to pay anything” – job done.
This time around, I filled in the form, copied and printed whatever else I needed to and sent it all off. This time I got three different letters back, all saying different things but basically amounting to “we’ve not received sufficient information to accept your application.” Phoning up – again, an annual event – oh joy, oh rapture, oh person who barely speaks English repeating the same sentence back at you over and over “it says on the system that it hasn’t been submitted, so there’s nothing I can do. Yes I understand but it says on the system that it hasn’t been submitted.” Hanging up, I want to scream. I’ve been doing this for twenty years now – why can’t they just accept that I don’t have the money to pay it back? Why go through this time-consuming farce every single fucking year? The most stupid thing – it costs them more than it costs me. It costs them money to process my application every year, print and send out letters, staff the phonelines. If there was a big red button to press online stating “I’m eligible for deferment” then it would save us all a lot of time and money, but hey – throw in a five yearly audit, or send the full form to a few people at random each year to test whether the honour system is working, just for the cynics. Given that apparently 40% of these older loans are being defaulted on, the current system evidently isn’t working anyway, so why stick to it?
It boils down to this; I hate dealing with them. Hate them. Which is a very negative state to be in, and not at all zen or enlightened of me, and probably if I could meditate on it and send them my love then I’d have a much more positive experience with them. Whatever. The difficulty is – I can remember education being free. There are people barely a generation above me who not only received full student grants – at a sum that actually covered the cost of living – but were also entitled to housing benefit and able to sign on during the holidays. So yes, there’s a chip on my shoulder that believes that I shouldn’t even have had to take out the bloody loan in the first place – my Uni cohorts were the last to receive any kind of grant, the first to enter this
lousy Brave New World of debt-based education. God help my kids if they decide to go to Uni – it seems as if selling off several of your vital organs is the only way to navigate the path to a degree without accruing massive debt. That, or moving to Scotland.
Perhaps my hated seems unreasonable. But maybe take a look at this. Yes, you read that right. The government sold off my loan and others like it – £890m worth of loans to be exact – to Erudio Student Loan company. For £160m.
I will put my hand up at this point and admit that I don’t fully understand the numbers, or how any of this works. Because it seems that the government, back in 2013, basically wrote off most of our debt in order to sell it on to a private firm. That’s over £700m of debt which should go back into the public purse, but which the government has written off. Which means that the £700m now gets paid back to a private company, for profit.
National Union of Students president Toni Pearce said the move was “extremely concerning” as it would see “the public subsidising a private company making a profit from public debt”.
“The impact of this sale won’t only affect borrowers, but will affect everybody.
“The simple fact is that having these loans on the public books would be better off for the government in the long run.
“Selling off the loan book at a discount to secure a cash lump sum now doesn’t make economic sense.”
Well no, Toni, and well put. It doesn’t make economic sense. It also – bear with me here – doesn’t seem very fair. My question is – and forgive me for my inherent naivety – if the government could write off over £700m in order to sell the books to Erudio, why couldn’t they have just wiped off the equivalent from our loans? If they wanted to raise a lump sum, why not send a letter out; we’re a bit short of cash so we’re doing something drastic. if you pay your loan off in full, right now, we’ll write off 50% of it. A half-price sale, if you will. Which potentially could have raised over £400m for the public purse, rather than the £160m. And would have left people like me feeling much happier- I’d have run to get my cheque book, just to get the bastards off my back. It’s been happening with the Occupy movement, after all. So why can’t the government get on board? Because they’d far rather see their cronies making a profit out of us?
No, really – rather than making life easier for ordinary people – people who evidently aren’t going to make it into the top income brackets – the government would rather perpetuate a corporation that exists solely to make a profit out of debt. A profit out of poverty. The figures involved make a mockery out of the whole endeavour, as is made clear by Occupy;
The Rolling Jubilee Fund, an initiative of the Occupy movement, has been accepting donations and buying up student loan debt for pennies on the dollar from debt collectors, and then forgiving the loans altogether. The group has spent about $107,000 to purchase $3.9 million in debt, organizers said.
I’m overworking the dough here, I know (another bad pun in there somewhere, I think) but let’s make this straight; if you’re a private company, you can buy up a student loan for less than the face value of the loan and make a profit from it. If you’re the student, you can’t ask the government, or the company, to allow you to pay off your loan according to those same terms. Try asking the government to write off the equivalent percentage from your loan – “Can I pay it off according to the pennies on the dollar rate?” Try phoning up Erudio and asking to pay them off according to what they actually paid out for your loan – it won’t get you very far.
It’s just been announced that Osborne is going to do it again; (links to Daily Mail, sorry) sell off more student loans to a private firm. The entire thing feels cynical and corrupt. Why not let debt-ridden students pay back their loan at a reduced rate instead? Let people be the ones who profit here, rather than corporations. I’m getting ridiculously angry just thinking about it and it’s only Tuesday. I can’t use up an entire week’s quota of justified rage on a Tuesday.
So excuse me, I have to go apply for deferment. Again. Because I don’t think that scrawling Can’t Pay Won’t Pay across the letter they sent me, or Fuck You Capitalist Scum over the envelope will be accepted as proof of entitlement. Pity.
photo credit: graduation hats via photopin (license)