Article: Price of aspiration

The following article was written by Chuka Umunna MP and published by the South London Press on Friday 15 June.

In our communities we have always valued aspiration – the desire to get on and do well for ourselves and our families. When I was elected in 2010 I knew that enabling local people – from whatever background – to work hard, do well and succeed would be one of the key markers I would be judged on by the people who put me in my place.

Days after I was elected, I knew that job had already got harder. The Liberal Democrats chose to go into government with the Conservative Party – and pursue economic policies which have precipitated a huge drop in business confidence, a shrinking economy, rocketing unemployment and now a double-dip recession. For communities like ours, where people have all too often had to work harder and struggle for longer than others in order to succeed, it’s been particularly hard.

Ladders that were let down for future generations to climb are being drawn up. It’s true that university is not for everyone but it is our communities’ children, no matter how gifted, not the children of a Cabinet of millionaires, who are being put off by the £9,000 fees this government has introduced when Nick Clegg promised not to. I objected to this fees rise, and continue to fight it in Parliament, but there are other, less high-profile, obstacles being placed in front of those who want to succeed.

Shockingly, the government now wants some apprenticeships to be reserved for those who feel able to borrow thousands and thousands of pounds to pay for the privilege. Currently the Liberal-Conservative government funds about 50% of the cost of advanced and higher apprenticeships, as well as other further education courses for those over 24. This summer, the government will introduce plans to cut that support to zero and replace it with loans like those for university students – creating apprenticeships that are just for the rich, not just anybody with the drive to do well.

These apprentices and further education students, some of whom I am due to visit today at Lambeth College, will have to pay up to £4000 each year of their course. Last year this would have meant some 1,450 apprentices and students at the college being hit with these high costs. If the fees are introduced, I fear many will stay away. I lead on this area for Labour and will not let the Liberal/Conservative government get away with it. Our community owes the next generation a better chance in life than that.