It sounds dramatic, but students could tip the balance of power at the next General Election. First thing’s first, everyone needs to register to vote by 20th April. If sufficient numbers do, studies have shown that students could determine who forms a Government in May. And rightly so. Students – at college or university, studying full time or part time – are incredibly important members of society, with a huge stake in our country’s future.
Since 2010, when I was elected MP for Sheffield Central, the constituency with the highest number of students in the country, I’ve worked hard to make sure students are listened to and taken seriously by politicians. Together with NUS, I set up the All Party Parliamentary Group on Students to provide a direct student voice in Westminster.
As a representative of both Sheffield universities, I’m pleased that Labour has put students at the heart of the General Election campaign. Our £6k fee commitment, with increased support for living costs and a future move towards a graduate tax, is a strong offer to students. Many of the issues raised with me by students are about accommodation and Labour will take tough action to protect tenants.
We’ll tackle rogue landlords, with a national landlord register, and we’ll ban letting agents’ fees, as well as offering longer tenancies for those who want them, and controlled rents. And we’ll strengthen our universities, by taking students out of net migration targets, re-gaining our leading position in recruiting students from around the world. These are all issue raised with me by students in Sheffield.
But I know from my conversations that students don’t only want to see change on ‘student issues’. This election is about future direction of our country. There’s a crucial choice between Labour and the Tories, and the dividing lines could not be clearer. We will use the power of Government to make our economy work for everyone – acting in the labour market to raise wages and tackle abusive zero hours contracts that leave people unsure if they’ll earn enough money to pay their bills.
Tackling growing inequality will be central to an incoming Labour Government. We’ll abolish the hated bedroom tax that’s mostly affecting disabled people and act against the harsh benefit sanctions regime which is driving millions to food banks when they lose vital income, often without knowing why. Alongside raising income tax for the highest earners, and the tax on bankers’ bonuses, we’ll act against the scandal of tax avoidance. And there’s a bigger picture too.
While the Tories jostle with UKIP to see who will take us out of EU quicker, Labour will rebuild our place at the heart of Europe, and use the position to win bold new international agreements on climate change at the Paris Conference later this year. We will insulate 5 million homes to bring down carbon emissions and reduce fuel bills as we head towards decarbonising UK energy production by 2030.
We need a Government that can tackle the immediate issues that students face, create a stronger and fairer economy for all and engage positively with other countries to address the global challenges we face. May 7th gives us that chance.
Paul Blomfield is Labour MP for Sheffield Central, founding Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Students and Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Universities. He has been shortlisted in the Guardian University Awards as this year’s Inspiring Leader in higher education.