I found out about the cancer when I opened the mystery envelope – “Survey on your cancer care”, it said. I laughed at the strange mistake until the point when I googled the acronym the consultant had used in his letter to my GP. TCC did mean cancer – and I hadn’t been told.
It would be a lie to say I wasn’t sent reeling at the news – though google said the cancer was very early stage and would more likely than not never come back. Plans for the summer went out the window as I waited to see a consultant, and among those plans went finishing my degree that year. I was assured that I could get a student loan the next year, so I deferred the assessments.
I sent my application to Student Loans, including what letters I had about the cancer, and quickly got a letter back saying the loan was granted in full.
When the date came for the loan to come in nothing came through, so I called Student Loans. A cheery woman on the end of the ‘phone said the problem was on my university’s end, and gave me instructions to give to them so it would be paid.
I called university countless times but was always unable to speak to someone in the department I needed. Once I went in and after waiting an hour was told the department I needed was closed. A couple of days later I went in at 9am, woozy and sore after my first checkup under general anaesthetic. The woman I spoke to said she followed all the instructions given by Student Loans, and I just had to wait.
Student Loans said nothing had been changed after a few days, and again after the weekend. So off I went to university again. By this time I was living on my credit card and borrowing the rent. I decided to be incredibly firm, rehearsing telling them that I wasn’t going to leave without some sort of explanation.
In the end the manager of that department came down, explaining that that office had had to take all their telephones permanently off the hook in order to get anything done. He explained the Catch-22 which I had already suspected I had fallen into.
Student Loans would not pay the loan without the university confirming my attendance. The university’s Welfare Advisor had told me that the university only had to confirm my registration (as a deferred student) and that the money would be paid.
The sticking point is that the university would not confirm my registration, as they could not legally do so without proof, from SLC, that they had properly processed my application under the special rules to do with health. Due to previous study I did not have a years’ grace in the system, so my application had to be by those rules.
I desperately e-mailed student welfare and got to see the same welfare advisor as last year. He helped me with an appeal and found out that many students around the country had fallen foul of a new policy by SLC – the real reason they wouldn’t release the money.
Though my application, and those of many other sick, resitting students, should be accepted under the SLC’s own rules, this year the SLC appeared, to welfare advisors up and down the country, to have been operating an undisclosed, blanket policy of refusals of loans to those resitting due to health. Welfare advisors suspected, as did I, that this was done under grounds of austerity.
I fail to see the logic that I am worth saving from cancer but not worth a £7000 loan of “taxpayer’s money”. The only person for a moment who thought I don’t was a family member snapping under pressure of finding a NHS cancer consultant that would properly treat my 88 year old grandmother. Is this how things are now?
In an ideal world I should be looking for a job, or working one already, but I had to leave my last job due to the time and energy pressures of commuting in London while studying full time. I just couldn’t do both. I enjoy my degree and have the next essay lined up to go. Topic, research, all in a neat pile. Just right now I’ve been too drained by all of this to do more than reading in the past month.
The specialist who has been checking my bladder has just left the NHS. I had to chase my second checkup appointment, and a third hasn’t yet arrived. I’m sure that either one will come with a different doctor, or a few ‘phone calls will sort it out. But I’m tired. I’m drained and I’m poor and I’m scared.