Changes signalled to the student loan scheme in Thursday's Budget will discriminate against older people and almost certainly breach human rights law, the Green Party said today.
In the lead-up to the Budget, Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce has signalled plans to restrict access to student loans for living costs for students over the age of 55.
"This is age discrimination, plain and simple," Green Party Tertiary Education Spokesperson Gareth Hughes said.
The Human Rights Act and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act set out that it is unlawful to refuse to provide goods or services to someone on the basis of age.
"Refusing loans to older people is a clear-cut case of age discrimination and is simply unfair," Mr Hughes said.
"Everyone should have the same access to education and support no matter what their age.
"In the current recessionary environment, many people need to retrain after losing their jobs. For many older people, higher education is not a luxury, but a necessity.
"We're all living and working longer, and soon 55 will be mid-career for many people. It shouldn't be any harder for older people to upskill and retrain than for young people," Mr Hughes said.
Mr Hughes said the Government should be very careful about legislating to breach human rights legislation.
"Not only is it simply wrong and unfair, it may expose the Government to considerable legal risk because of the way the student loan scheme is set up.
"It exists outside of legislation, so simply legislating to change the eligibility requirements might not remove the Government's legal obligation to abide by human rights law.
"This could expose the Government to legal action against it on the basis of discrimination.
"It would be much smarter to abandon this discriminatory policy than to wade into a complex legal minefield trying to justify that discrimination.
"Everyone has the right to access higher education. Age shouldn't come into it," Mr Hughes said.
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