Our Response To Government's Proposals To Weaken Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA)

Thu,4 July 2024
News Education Equality & Rights
Disability Rights UK (DR UK) and Disabled Students UK are pushing back on the Government’s proposed changes to Disabled Students Allowance (DSA), which seeks to place more responsibility on higher education providers (HEPs) to deliver DSA. Moving responsibilities away from the Government.

The former Conservative Government launched the "Non-medical support for disabled students in higher education" call for evidence on the 10th April. The deadline to respond was the 3rd of July. Our full response can be accessed in the PDF or Word documents below.

This call for evidence proposes to shift responsibility for non-medical help (NMH) to Higher Education Providers (HEPs). It comes after similar cuts to DSA in 2016, where the Government removed non-specialised non-medical help (e.g. notetakers, lab assistants) from the scope of individual DSA entitlement. This meant that it became universities' responsibility to deliver, and funding to deliver it came from Government in a Disability Premium pot - rather than via individual entitlement. This disability premium pot wasn't ring-fenced, so funding was misallocated - and in practice the cuts meant that students lost access to the support that they need. 

The recent call for evidence proposes additional cuts to DSA - for specialist non-medical help (like BSL interpreters) to also become university responsibility. This would mean that Student Finance England no longer had responsibility to deliver any human support - only assistive technology. 

Moving more responsibilities to HEPs will put Disabled students at a substantial disadvantage, at a time when the odds are already stacked against them. For more context on the barriers that young Disabled people face when they transition into adulthood, you can read and watch the evidence DR UK gave to the House of Lords Public Services Select Committee last winter. Support from universities is already limited, and the number of barriers Disabled students face when trying to access higher education is growing. These barriers include but are not limited to; previous DSA cuts, consistently unlawful university practice, limiting Disabled students’ access to Universal Credit, and insufficient accessible student housing.  

As a result of these barriers, Disabled people already experience disproportionate barriers to higher education, which will only be exacerbated by this Government proposal's attempt relinquish their responsibility for Disabled students. 

The justification for this proposal is that, by shifting the responsibility to HEPs, the Government is encouraging universities to create more inclusive environments. However, without providing the necessary resources or infrastructure to support universities to do this, or enforcing accountability for universities that don't comply, it will only result in cuts to support and disruption to Disabled students’ studies. When responsibility is shifted onto education providers without any means for accountability or oversight, it is just an opportunity for the Government to shift its statutory right, outlined in the Equality Act 2010, onto non-state bodies. 

Our consultation response, written with the support of Disabled Students UK, lays out our key concerns with the proposals: 

  1. This call for evidence does not prioritise the lived experience of Disabled students.  
  2. Universities already act unlawfully and fail to deliver their current DSA responsibilities; they should not be given more responsibilities.   
  3. A robust system of accountability for HEPs is urgently needed.   
  4. Inconsistency in HEP practice, and a shift from individual entitlement for support, leads to dangerous gaps in provision. 
  5. Proposals would further risk the mental health and wellbeing of Disabled students. 
  6. The proposal is impractical and unworkable.   

Bethany Bale, DR UK’s Policy Officer for Education, says "the aim of these proposals is not to improve DSA, it is to lessen Government responsibility and cut costs. This will make it harder for Disabled students to access the support they need – when we’re already at a substantial disadvantage. 

They claim to fix the ways that DSA isn’t currently “working optimally” but the current issues with DSA aren’t going to be solved by HEPs taking on more responsibility. The current issues with DSA are the barriers to accessing it. Many students don’t qualify, most international students aren’t eligible, and much of the support that needs covering is no longer included in DSA. None of this will be improved by shifting responsibilities onto HEPs. We need more support from DSA, not less.” 

These proposals do not reflect the needs of Disabled people. We urge the Government to reconsider them, reflecting on the lived experiences of Disabled students and learning from past mistakes with DSA reform.    

DR UK's Response to “Non-medical support for Disabled students in higher education” Call for Evidence PDF

DR UK's Response to “Non-medical support for Disabled students in higher education” Call for Evidence Word Doc