Scottish Election 2021: Call to stop student loan discrimination against working mothers

A proposal to suspend a “punishing” financial penalty on working mothers who are paying back student loans could become a reality in the next Scottish Parliament after both the Scottish Greens and SNP said they would end the discriminatory practice.

The Scottish Greens will pledge to suspend interest on student loans during maternity and paternity leave, when they launch their manifesto on April 14, in a bid to end the situation where women pay back far more for the same student loans as their male counterparts.

While student loan repayments cease when income is below £25,000, as is the case for many women during maternity leave, the interest on the loan continues to accrue, effectively cancelling out a portion of what they had paid back until that point.

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The Scottish Greens propose suspending the interest on student loans for women on maternity leave.

The party’s education spokesman, Ross Greer, said with women still taking the overwhelming majority of parental leave, the current student loan system directly penalises mothers.

He said a heterosexual couple who took out the same student loan at the same time and went on to have multiple children could expect to see the man’s loan paid off years before the woman’s.

“The student loans system punishes parents, especially mothers,” he said.

“That it's been able to do so for so long is outrageous.

Ross Greer MSP

“While our wider proposals on student support are focused on moving away from loans and towards grants and bursaries, the Scottish Greens’ solution to this particular example of everyday sexism is a simple one – just suspend interest on loans for as long as someone is on parental leave.”

He added: “Governance of the Student Loans Company may be an issue reserved to Westminster, but the Scottish Government is able to change its policies insofar as they affect Scottish loans. This was demonstrated by the decision to raise the repayment threshold to £25,000, a far more costly change than what we are proposing here.

“We simply cannot allow this motherhood penalty to continue.”

Nicola Sturgeon last week unveiled economic plans inlcuding new measures to help women financially “at key moments in their life, such as suspending the interest on student loans during maternity leave”.

Gillian Martin, SNP candidate for Aberdeenshire East, said: "We know that women have been adversely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic – with the crisis exposing and exacerbating already existing inequalities.

"If re-elected, the SNP will suspend the interest on student loans during maternity and paternity leave – a measure which will ensure graduates are not financially penalised for having children.”

The move was welcomed by Joeli Brearley, chief executive of the campaign organisation Pregnant Then Screwed.

“Our legislation encourages women to take nine months leave from work to do the most important job there is – raising a new human life,” she said. “It does not encourage the same of men.

“Maternity Allowance is only £151 a week, which is less than minimum wage, and while new mums are missing out on pension contributions and are often missing out on opportunities to progress their career, they are also being charged interest on their student loan.

“It’s no wonder that the average woman’s pension pot is over £100k less than a man’s. This is completely unfair and again goes to show how the specific needs of pregnant women and mothers are often ignored.”

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