Education

– in the House of Commons at 2:28 pm on 21st December 2010.

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Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons) 2:28 pm, 21st December 2010

May I take this opportunity to wish you a very merry Christmas, Mr Speaker?

I understand that the pre-Christmas recess Adjournment debate was often a cheerful occasion. Unfortunately, the scrapping of the education maintenance allowance does not lend itself to festive cheer. In fact, it has much more of the Dickensian Christmas about it. Perhaps the House can imagine the Minister trudging back to his Department through the snow and sitting in his office, where he is visited by the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future.

In Christmas past, the jolly folk of the Department for Children, Schools and Families invested in young people. There were rosy cheeks and smiling faces as extra teachers and teaching assistants were employed to work in brand new school buildings up and down the country. What would the ghost of Christmas present reveal? If he took the Minister on a journey to Nottingham, he would see more than 4,000 learners in receipt of EMA worrying about their futures. Half of them might be aware that the Government's cuts mean that if they want to go on to university, they can expect to end up with debts of £30,000 or £40,000 when they graduate. They might also have seen last month's increase in the number of 16 to 24-year-olds out of work, which took the youth unemployment total to 943,000-almost 20% -and one of the highest figures since records began in 1992. The other half might be wondering how they will manage the second year of their course once the EMA is withdrawn, and how they will cope without this essential help with the cost of travelling to college and with materials, books and lunches.

The Minister might also see Malcolm Cowgill, principal of Castle college in Nottingham, writing to his local MP to say:

"I believe that the Department for Education has made the wrong decision, that disadvantaged young people in Nottingham will suffer as a result of this decision, and that Ministers' ambitions to raise the participation age to 18 will fail. I am concerned students will continue to enrol but the extra burden of earning additional money will mean more students withdraw mid-course and do not achieve their aims."

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

The hon. Lady makes a powerful argument, but would it not be better to concentrate the support on the 12% who say that they would not continue in education if they did not get the EMA, rather than spread it out among all young people?

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

The vast majority of those who receive EMA receive it at the highest level and are from the most disadvantaged families. They need that extra money. Whether they would stay in education or not, it is an important part of supporting them while they continue with their studies.

The Minister might also see my young constituent Kyle Simpson, a talented swimmer who is training for 22 hours a week, before and after college and competing at weekends, emailing his MP to say:

"My mum needs all the money she can get for my training fees. Education Maintenance Allowance really helped me and gave me an incentive to be at college and do my best. Now I don't know what to do".

The Minister might see New college in Nottingham, which has found that the EMA has increased participation, reduced the drop-out rate by 9% and seen success rates 8 % higher among those who receive it. The college concluded that without help to fund their travel, many learners would not be able to stay in further education or choose the course that was best for them. He might also hear the college's principal Geoff Hall, who says:

"Education maintenance allowance has not only helped participation, it has also improved success. Surely this is too big a step, surely it should be phased so that we can take time to measure the impact?"

And what of Christmas future? If the Business Secretary does not bring down the Government, it could look very bleak indeed, including reduced social mobility, especially among those from ethnic minorities or one-parent families; fewer young people going on to further education or successfully completing their courses; and even higher youth unemployment, meaning another lost generation without the skills and education needed to secure the jobs of the future. Of course, it is not too late. Just as Scrooge realised the error of his ways, the Minister could still change his mind. After all, the Prime Minister has done so on school sports funding. The Minister can still decide not to decimate support for the most disadvantaged. I hope he will take the opportunity to spread a little Christmas cheer and agree to think again about this unfair, unproductive and unnecessary cut.

Photo of John Hemming John Hemming Liberal Democrat, Birmingham, Yardley 2:33 pm, 21st December 2010

May I wish you a merry Christmas, Mr Deputy Speaker?

I rise on an issue that continues to concern me greatly. I repeat my declaration of interest that I chair the justice for families campaign. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House wish to see the best possible outcomes for children who enter the care system. In trying to improve this, Tony Blair encouraged adoption, but made a big mistake along the way in miscalculating the percentage of children adopted from care.

Before I go any further, I should be precise about what I mean by "care". When I say "in care", I do not include those children voluntarily in care under section 20 of the Children Act 1989. In 2005, for example, 8,600 children left care and 3,400 of those left through adoption. That is 39.5%. If I could get the Department to analyse the figures by age, it would be clear that the majority of young children are leaving care through adoption. In Scotland, however, only 17% of the children who left care in 2009 aged under five left care through adoption. I accept that this includes a broader category, but if we take the numbers and uprate them for population size, we see that England has a rate of adoption from care in excess of 50% more. That is more than 1,000 children a year in England who are adopted rather than returning to their parents.

It appears that the substantial shift, which was a result of the previous Government's pressure on authorities to increase the number of adoptions, was that children left care through adoption rather than returning to their parents. I see this in terms of individual cases where the judgments at times defy reason. It can also be seen very clearly when comparing practice in Scotland with that in England.

The Department has refused to provide many figures about the English system although some are now trickling out. When the adoption targets came in, there was a net flow into care. That would imply that the adoption pressure did not result in additional children leaving care, but instead caused the destination to change. Because the adoption target was miscalculated, there has been a general belief that adoptions from care were only a low percentage. An article written by Alan Rushton in 2007 about adoption from care states:

"Nevertheless, it would be wrong to think that any wholesale moving of children from birth families into adoptive families is taking place. Adoption from care concerns just a small proportion (6%) of all looked after children in England."

That is clearly a misunderstanding of the situation. The Department was reporting 6% for a figure that, properly calculated, was more like 40%.

The concentration on adoption also means a lack of child protection. Peter Connolly died in August 2007, but nothing much changed until the criminal prosecution in 2008. Some 7,400 children were taken into care to the end of March 2008, 8,200 in 2009 and 9,500 in 2010. However, often the wrong children were taken into care and more babies were suspected to have died from child abuse in calendar year 2009 than in calendar year 2008. In 2008, the figure for England alone was 47 babies and 97 other children. In 2009, that increased-notwithstanding the increase in numbers of children taken into care-to 75 babies and 111 other children. There are two sides to this problem and both are unacceptable. Although the adoption targets and financial incentives were scrapped from 1 April 2008, the practice is still skewed by the pressures that gave rise to the initial changes.

The children themselves are asking why their families have been split up. There was a meeting recently in the House, attended by the Minister of State with responsibility for children and families, at which a girl asked why her sister had been adopted and she had been banned from seeing her. Additionally, as children such as Winona Vamey and Tammy Coulter get older, they are acting to reverse the adoptions.

The aggressive way in which the courts have gone after families has created many refugees from the UK-mainly from England although there is one from Scotland. Susen McCabe, Kiel and Lucille O'Regan, Fran Lyon, Kerry and Mark McDougall, Sam Thomas, Emily Burgess, Sam and Vanessa Hallimond and Angela Wileman are only a few examples for whom emigration was necessary to fight the system. Sam Thomas made the mistake of coming back to England-Somerset-and her daughter has now been put up for adoption.

At the same time, the rights of mothers such as Rachel Pullen and Husan Pari to even contest their own cases are removed on the basis of expert reports saying they are too stupid but which are later found to be in error. However, the Court of Appeal passes these cases through on the nod. False allegations of satanism and Munchausen's syndrome continue to be accepted by the courts without a legal right to a second opinion. Dr Fintan Sheerin, Professor Mary McCarron, Professor Cecily Begley and Dr Jo Murphy-Lawless from Trinity College, Dublin wrote to me recently asking why these cases still happen in countries that pride themselves on respect for human rights. My answer was that the courts do not always properly follow the law in hearings that are held in secret where people get imprisoned in secret for complaining about injustice.

All this is in fact inhumane. Given time, the European Court of Human Rights may point this out. However, I hope that the Government will respond to this more quickly. More work on analysing the SSDA903 return is needed. It is not acceptable to use the code "other" for something as important as this.

Journalists such as Christopher Booker, Camilla Cavendish, Sue Reid, Denise Robertson, Daniel Foggo and many more have raised concerns about how the system is a machine for miscarriages of justice, but it keeps steamrolling over families and children. Many of the families affected will be lighting Chinese lanterns as a protest on Christmas eve at 10 pm. They will include Phil Thompson, whose great-grandchildren were put up for adoption for no good reason by Walsall council.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Labour, Sefton Central

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and it might give him chance to catch his breath as he seems to be in a great rush. I do not wish to detract from the serious cases that he mentions, but does he recognise that in many cases in which children are adopted from care it is because of the serious problems in their families and the neglect and abuse that they have, sadly, suffered?

Photo of John Hemming John Hemming Liberal Democrat, Birmingham, Yardley

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. There is a need for a care system, but it has to get things right. One of the reasons children are often taken into care is that the mother has been a victim of domestic abuse. Women's Aid argues that we should protect the mother and child and keep them together, rather than say, "Oh, you as a mother have been a victim of domestic abuse. We are taking your child."

This morning or late yesterday, I received an e-mail about Kirsty Seddon's case in Oldham. She was brought up in care and essentially that has been used as an excuse to remove her child. Luckily, the European Court of Human Rights is taking the matter seriously, and has now written to the UK Government asking them to comment on the admissibility of her case. There is a fair chance that, whereas this has gone through the UK courts on the nod, it will end up being picked up by the ECHR.

Even if the Government fail to do something, Parliament should be able to act to identify what is going on. Things happen that defy reason, which is why people have to emigrate to get away from the system. I will not rest until Parliament or the Government act to stop these miscarriages of justice. Sadly, the family justice review does not seem to recognise the true situation. The Munro inquiry seems to have a better focus, but both inquiries are hobbled by not having enough members who are not part of the system. We have the usual "quis custodiet" question when the people who are substantially part of causing the problem are being asked to correct a problem that they themselves do not recognise exists. That needs to change.

Photo of Luciana Berger Luciana Berger Shadow Minister (Energy and Climate Change) 2:40 pm, 21st December 2010

I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, and wish to raise the pressing issue of the scrapping of the education maintenance allowance, which will be reduced under the replacement scheme-the enhanced learner support fund-to a paltry 13% of its current funding.

I have been overwhelmed by the correspondence and representations I have received from young people, their families and teaching staff decrying the Government's decision. We keep hearing from the Government that nine out of 10 students would still continue with their further education without EMA. It is incredibly frustrating to hear these figures continually being trotted out because the study that this premise is based on is flawed: it asked only young people who study in school sixth forms, rather than those in further education colleges, which the majority of EMA recipients attend. Furthermore, the students polled came predominantly from white backgrounds, which does not reflect the true national make-up of the learners who receive vital EMA support.

I met a number of different student groups in Liverpool on Friday, and I asked them whether they would have started their courses without the EMA. Unsurprisingly, they said that although they would have tried, they would not have been able to afford it. Every young person I spoke to said that they put their EMA towards their travel costs, which were anything between £2 and £4.50 a day, with some students travelling up to two hours a day to attend college. They spent the remainder of their £30 a week on lunch, stationery and materials for their courses.

On a visit to the university of Liverpool, I spoke with some final-year modern language students. I met a young person called Danielle, who said that she would never have gone to college without her EMA-and if she had not gone to college, she would never have gone to university. Now, however, Danielle is about to graduate with an excellent degree and has a bright future ahead of her. The evidence from Liverpool community college about the benefit of EMA, in stark contrast to the flawed study the Government keep referring to, is that the retention rate is 5% higher for those receiving EMA than for those who do not receive it. There is a lot of similar evidence from colleges up and down the country, and at the end of today's sitting, I will be presenting a petition collected from Liverpool community college and signed by 2,500 young people and teaching staff from across Merseyside. I share their concerns that the Government's plans to remove EMA will have dire consequences on post-16 education in the Merseyside city region.

I have four questions for the Minister. First, why have the Government broken their pre-election pledge to keep EMA? Secondly, will the enhanced learner support fund cover students' travel costs-a vital element of how the EMA is used? Thirdly, may we have a definitive answer on what will happen to students who have started their first year at college on the understanding that they will receive EMA throughout their course? Will they continue to receive it in their second year? Finally, according to the Government's own figures, 76,000 young people stay on in further education because of EMA, saving the Government more than £4 billion on young people not in education, employment or training. How do the Government reconcile those figures with their continued reference to "dead-weight"-a term that many people have found incredibly offensive?

EMA offers so many young people from low-income households the opportunity to study without financial strain, and in many cases that can make the difference between a student achieving at college and not. The loss of EMA will damage our country's economic future and is yet another betrayal of young people, in addition to many of the measures introduced over the past couple of months, whether on tuition fees, the loss of the future jobs fund and so on-the list goes on. I urge the Government to reverse their decision to abolish EMA.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Labour, Sefton Central 2:45 pm, 21st December 2010

The abolition of the education maintenance allowance is one of the issues that have caused greatest concern in my constituency. One of my constituents from Thornton wrote to me to say that he has signed the petition in the name of my hon. Friend Luciana Berger. He wrote:

"I am writing to you in my capacity as an employee of a large FE establishment in North Liverpool"- and as one of my constituents. He continued:

"I have recently become increasingly alarmed at the ConDem's plans to scrap Educational Maintenance Allowance for FE students. Given recent developments in the HE sector and last week's student protests in London, it would seem that scrapping of the EMA is simply another plan to further undermine the education sector as a whole and, in many cases, to deprive learners of their right to an education. Although the abandonment of the EMA may have a lesser impact in more affluent areas, its effects will be felt much more in areas such as your constituency where an above-average number of learners are indeed in receipt of EMA. The ConDem's plans to 'bolt on' a much lesser amount to the Discretionary Learner Support Fund will of course minimise the number of learners in receipt of financial assistance, and learners may be faced with finding other means of supporting themselves, and I have no doubt that some of these means may be less than legal."

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

My hon. Friends are making a good case for the education maintenance allowance, but does my hon. Friend share my concern about young carers? College principals might not even know that some of their students are young carers, who need the incentive that EMA can give them to keep attending and to struggle on with their caring work load as well as their education.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Labour, Sefton Central

Young carers are one of a number of vulnerable groups for whom EMA is especially important, and its loss would hit them and those who depend on them particularly hard. I hope that the Minister will consider that point among others.

My constituent told me that some of the means by which students will support themselves might be less than legal. He said that that was

"an opinion that I have heard in person on more than one occasion from students themselves".

I have also heard similar comments about the potential of drug dealing as a source of income for students who lose EMA. I thought his was a balanced and responsible view of the impact of EMA from a member of staff with much experience.

The principal of Hugh Baird college in south Sefton, Jette Burford, also wrote to me saying that 84% of young people at the college currently receive EMA; that there is a clear indication that it has become a key part of the family income for those families; and that its discontinuation is very likely to impact on the participation rate locally. Ms Burford mentioned both the impact of losing the EMA on participation and attainment, and the fact that many students depend on it for help with their transport. When she wrote to me she did not know that Sefton students were likely to lose their free travel passes because Merseytravel has had its budget cut by two thirds.

EMA is essential for many students from low and middle-income families when it comes to travel, books, equipment and food, and its loss will make it very difficult for students to continue to study. EMA is a means-tested allowance of between £10 and £30 per week. Some 635,000 learners received at least one EMA payment in 2009-10, and about 80% of those received the full £30. That means that the people receiving the £30 come from low-income families on less than £20,800 per year. The loss of EMA for students from such low-income households will create a big hole in family incomes, which is something that college principals have commented on.

EMA was introduced by the previous Labour Government to help with the cost of books, travel and equipment, and payments are made on the condition that students attend classes regularly. The evidence from colleges is that the incentive to turn up on time has worked well, and the evidence in Merseyside is that those on EMA outperform by 7% those who are not in receipt of it. Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies gives a similar result.

The Department for Education is stopping new EMA at the end of this month, before it has alternative arrangements in place. The Department plans to stop paying the EMA in July 2011 to existing 16 to 18-year-old students who will be halfway through their courses. That means that EMA will be completely gone by July 2011-an unseemly rush. EMA has been widely credited with helping to create a big increase in the number of young people going on to college in the last seven years. The IFS revealed that EMA increased the proportion of 16-year-olds in full-time education by 4% and the proportion of 17-year-olds in full-time education by 7%.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that Newham sixth-form college in my constituency has the largest percentage of students receiving EMA. When I spoke to those at the college last week, they informed me that, in order to stay on at school, many students just handed the £30 a week to their families.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Labour, Sefton Central

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point about the impact on family incomes, not just on the incomes of individual students.

The Association of Colleges continues to make it clear to Ministers and MPs that it thinks that the decision to abolish EMA will have a detrimental effect on recruitment, retention and achievement among 16 to 18-year-olds. A number of trade unions are also worried that axing EMA will mean that colleges are hit by further funding cuts-cuts that will put even more college jobs at risk. The coalition argues that 90% of the cost of EMA is "dead-weight", but as my hon. Friend Luciana Berger said, that is an offensive statement to many students. It implies that students would have gone on to study without EMA. That claim does not stand up to scrutiny. Research by 157 large colleges and other, smaller colleges shows that students who receive the EMA have better attendance records and are more likely to complete courses than wealthier students who are not eligible for support. That research was published in The Times Educational Supplement on 3 December. Despite coming from the poorest families and, in some cases, having low qualifications, EMA students miss fewer classes and are more likely to stay in education than wealthier students. The IFS has confirmed that the costs of EMA are completely offset by the benefits, even taking into account the so-called "dead-weight" effect.

EMA has been a big success for students and the economy. It has improved the life chances of many, from low or middle-income families. EMA has improved this country's skills base, because of the improved results among students receiving it, and has increased access to university for many, many students. The case for abolition is flawed, as it will see a cut in attendance that will not be addressed by the enhanced learner fund. As one college principal said to me, there is no way of knowing which students would stop attending and which would carry on if EMA was withdrawn. A review of EMA would be one thing; its abolition quite another. The coalition needs to withdraw its plans and it should continue with the widespread support for our young people that EMA promotes.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education) 2:53 pm, 21st December 2010

Let me start by congratulating my hon. Friend John Hemming on getting so much into such a short speech. I know that he has a long-standing commitment to family justice, and it was clear from his speech that he shares the coalition's commitment to ensuring that children in this country are able to enjoy safe, happy and carefree childhoods-an ambition that is shared across the House, as is our desire to give every child the chance to achieve to the very best of his or her abilities. In responding to my hon. Friend's excellent speech, I want first to make the point that this Government recognise the importance of keeping families together. The law is clear: children should live with their parents wherever possible and, where necessary, families should be given extra support to help keep them together.

Photo of John Hemming John Hemming Liberal Democrat, Birmingham, Yardley

The difficulty is that it does not appear that the law is being followed. Will the Department establish an ombudsman scheme to review individual cases and see why the law is not being followed?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

I know that my hon. Friend is meeting our hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education on 12 January, and I am sure that he can raise that with him at that meeting.

In most cases-indeed, the vast majority of cases-the extra support enables children to remain with their families. However, we are equally clear that there has to be balance in the system, so that where a child is suffering or at risk of suffering significant harm, the local authority has a statutory duty to take action to safeguard and promote the child's welfare. However, it is important to remember that local authorities cannot remove children from their parents' care-unless it is with the parents' consent, of course-without first referring the matter to a court. Similarly, local authorities cannot-again, without the parents' consent-place a child for adoption with prospective adopters without a placement order made by a court. Needless to say, adoption can be a highly emotional time for the child, the parents and those adopting, but we know that outcomes-certainly in educational attainment and health-are as good for children who are adopted as they are for children growing up with their birth parents.

Photo of John Hemming John Hemming Liberal Democrat, Birmingham, Yardley

Given that something like a quarter of adoptions are disrupted, and the children are returned to care, does my hon. Friend take on board the point that any statistical test of the effect of adoption should include the effect on those for whom it fails?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

The figures are based on comparing the overall statistics for children in care with those for children who are adopted.

Although we recognise that adoption will be suitable for only a relatively small number of children, it is none the less important that we get things right and help more children who need adoption to find secure and happy homes with adoptive parents. We believe that one of the best ways of achieving that is through more collaborative working with voluntary adoption agencies, so that adoption services are enhanced and families are found for the most difficult-to-place children. We also want to see improvements in adoption practice, particularly in the matching of black and minority ethnic children with prospective adopters. Race should not be a barrier to a successful placement. What matters is a loving and stable family environment. That is why my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has written to all directors of children's services and lead members to ask them to do everything possible to increase the number of children appropriately placed for adoption, and to improve the speed with which decisions are made.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

I will give way to my hon. Friend a final time.

Photo of John Hemming John Hemming Liberal Democrat, Birmingham, Yardley

The Minister said that adoption is suitable only for a small number of children. The difficulty is that a majority of under-fives in care are adopted.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

I am not sure whether those statistics are right, but again, my hon. Friend can take that up with the Under-Secretary at his meeting. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has set up a ministerial advisory group on adoption, to provide expert advice on a range of practical proposals to remove barriers to adoption and reduce delay, but I understand the concerns that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley has raised.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Labour, Sefton Central

The Minister made an important point about the involvement of voluntary sector agencies in adoption-indeed, I have been pleased with all his comments on the subject. However, does he accept that it is important to ensure both that proper financial resources are in place for the adoption process and that no short cuts are taken? That is where things can go horribly wrong.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

Of course financial resources are always important, but the hon. Gentleman must appreciate the financial circumstances in which we find ourselves. That was noticeably lacking both from his speech and those of his hon. Friends.

I understand the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley. We need to ask hard questions about child-protection arrangements and court processes. That is why we have the review by Professor Munro, which is looking at safeguarding, front-line practice and transparency. I listened to my hon. Friend's speech carefully. We are concerned that the number of children in care adopted in the past year has decreased by 4%, to 3,200. The real question that we should be asking is not whether too many children or, indeed, too few are in care, but simply whether the right children are in care. I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is extremely concerned that, by not understanding that point, we risk undermining the work of the many excellent professionals on whom we rely to keep vulnerable children safe-or, worst of all, that we risk damaging the chances of many children who would greatly benefit from a second chance of a stable family upbringing.

I would like to turn to the points raised by the hon. Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) and for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood). The speech by the hon. Member for Nottingham South took the theme of "A Christmas Carol", and perhaps if the previous Government had learned a little from the accounting techniques of Ebenezer Scrooge, this country might not now have the worst budget deficit of all the G20 countries. I listened carefully to the hon. Members, but not one suggested how we should try to find £0.5 billion-worth of savings from the public sector, let alone the £81 billion for the structural deficit that we have to close.

We face an unprecedented budget deficit, under which we are spending £156 billion a year more than we receive in tax revenue, and a global economic environment in which the sovereign debt of nations running unsustainable deficits is leading to major financial crises for those countries. Those crises are preventing and delaying economic recovery, and we do not want this country to be in that position. Every element of public spending is therefore subject to scrutiny, and programmes that cost £0.5 billion a year cannot be exempt from that scrutiny.

We need to ensure that the young people who need support to continue their education receive it. In the current climate, however, those who need it cannot be regarded as 45% of the whole cohort, and the money needs to be better targeted. That is why we are introducing a different system of student support that will allow schools and colleges to provide help to those young people who genuinely need it in order to stay in education.

The education maintenance allowance has been in existence for about six years, having been rolled out nationally in 2004 following a pilot. In its early years, it was successful in raising participation rates among 16-year-olds from 87% in 2004 to 96% this year. As a consequence, attitudes among 16-year-olds to staying on in education have changed. When the National Foundation for Educational Research questioned recipients of EMA, it found that 90% would have stayed on in education regardless of whether they received the allowance, although the £30 a week received by the majority of EMA recipients is a helpful sum of money for a young person.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

Does the Minister accept that, even if 88% of young people would have stayed on in education anyway, the EMA encourages better attendance and allows learners to enjoy more study time, because they do not need to take on part-time work? It has therefore been important in improving the success rates for that disadvantaged group.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

The hon. Lady might be right about that disadvantaged group, but we are talking about 45% of all young people of that age. It is an expensive programme to target nearly half of that age group in schools and colleges.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I made a point earlier about young carers. I fail to see how a discretionary fund can help when young carers are so hidden. College principals and head teachers often do not know when their students are also carers, so how will they know how to target the funding? They will not.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

The hon. Lady raises a wider issue about young carers. The coalition Government are concerned about young carers generally, not just in sixth forms and in colleges but in schools, and we are identifying those young people to ensure that they have the support and help that they need. When they attend college and seek help, however, the funds should be targeted at those who are in genuine need, including young carers.

In reaching the decision to reform the system, we were concerned that the 10% of recipients who according to the evidence would be put off from staying in education but for the money from the EMA might then drop out of education. We felt that a payment designed as an incentive to participate was no longer the right way to ensure that those facing real financial barriers to participation got the support they needed. So we decided to use a proportion of the £560 million to increase the value of the discretionary learner support fund. Final decisions about the quantum of that fund have still to be taken, but we have spoken of up to three times the current value of the fund, which now stands at £25.4 million.

A fund of that size would, for example, enable 100,000 young people to receive £760 each year, and 100,000 students is about 15% of the number of young people currently receiving EMA, which is more than the 10% about whom we are particularly concerned might not stay on in education. The £760 is more than the average annual EMA of £730 paid in 2009-10, and only slightly less than the £813 paid to 16-year-olds receiving the full £30 per week. We have not yet decided, because we are still consulting on it, how the money will be paid, to whom and for what purposes.

Photo of Luciana Berger Luciana Berger Shadow Minister (Energy and Climate Change)

Liverpool community college currently pays out £1.7 million in education maintenance allowance to 90% of its students, who are in receipt of the full £30 a week because their household incomes are less than £20,800. In addition, the college disbursed £192,000. If the Minister is saying that he will multiply the current figure by three, that is still only a fraction of what goes to those most deprived households at the moment. How on earth is that going to help those students who desperately need help to get to college, to eat and to pay for the materials that they need to do their courses?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

By definition, if students at that college constitute the 15% most deprived young people, in terms of their access to income, they will receive more than the amount the hon. Lady says is currently being received by the discretionary learner support fund.

To help schools and colleges to administer the fund, and to ensure that those young people who really need support to enable them to continue their education or training post-16 get access to the new fund, we are working with schools and colleges, and with other key organisations such as the Association of Colleges, Centrepoint, the Sutton Trust, the Association of School and College Leaders, the National Union of Students and the Local Government Association to develop a model approach that schools and colleges can choose to adopt or adapt, to inform them how to distribute the funds, and to whom.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Labour, Sefton Central

The Institute for Fiscal Studies is clear that, even taking into account the deadweight effect of the 12% who might carry on attending without EMA, the costs of the scheme are outweighed by the benefits. I quoted a college principal in my speech, and colleges are clear that they will be unable to work out who would stop attending if EMA were withdrawn. I would therefore be interested to hear from the Minister how the new system is going to work. He says that he is talking to the colleges, but how will he ensure that the new fund reaches the right students?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

On that last point, the colleges are already experienced in administering the learner support fund. We are simply increasing the value of that fund, and the same college principals and head teachers will be administering it. We are talking about a significantly higher sum, however, and we will allow more discretion in the disbursement of the money, which is why we are talking to the Association of Colleges and others about how to administer it more fairly. Also, 5% of the fund will be available to cover the cost of administration.

The hon. Member for Sefton Central talked about the IFS research, as did other hon. Members. The IFS study says that the cost of the EMA scheme would have been recouped in the long run by helping to raise wage levels as a result of higher staying-on rates. I understand that argument, and I do not disagree with it. However, the IFS, in evaluations carried out with the Centre for Research in Social Policy, has previously said that EMA would increase participation by 4 percentage points, and up to 9 percentage points for young people from the poorest backgrounds. So the IFS's own findings are consistent with the Department's findings, and with the NFER's conclusion that 90% of young people receiving EMA would have continued in education regardless of the payments. For those who really do need help to participate in post-16 education-

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I understood that Ministers would take approximately 10 minutes to respond in this debate, because this is Back Benchers' time, not Ministers' time.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs

The House is well aware that we have tried to keep Ministers to 10 minutes, but we have now drifted over the 15-minute mark. I am sure that the Minister will have taken that on board, as he now comes to the end of his speech .

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

I apologise to my hon. Friend Mr Bone and to the House. I have probably taken too many interventions. I just want to cover one more point before I finish, and that is the point raised by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree about transport.

Local authorities have a statutory duty to ensure that no young person in their area is prevented from attending education post-16 because of a lack of transport, or support for it. If that duty is not being met, young people and families need to raise it with the local authority. Young people were never expected to use a significant proportion of their EMA to cover transport costs. Under the current arrangements for discretionary support funding, it cannot be used routinely for transport to and from college because local authorities have that statutory duty. However, we will consider introducing flexibility to that restriction as we develop the arrangements for enhanced discretionary learner support funding.

In today's economic climate, we have a particular duty to ensure that we continue to invest where investment is needed and to obtain the best possible value for taxpayers' money. In those circumstances, it is difficult to justify spending over £560 million a year on an allowance when 90% of its recipients would have stayed in education without it. That is why we have thought again about the most effective way of helping the most vulnerable young people to stay in education.

I wish all Members, and officials from the Department, a very good Christmas and a successful new year.