Education Maintenance Allowance

Opposition Day — [9th allotted day] – in the House of Commons at 1:13 pm on 19th January 2011.

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Votes in this debate

  • Division number 176
    A majority of MPs voted in favour of scrapping the education maintenance allowance (EMA) in England.
  • Division number 177
    A majority of MPs voted to support the Government reforms to arrangements for supporting students aged 16-19.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator) 1:24 pm, 19th January 2011

I beg to move,

That this House
believes that disadvantaged young people should gain greater access to further and higher education;
recognises the valuable role that the education maintenance allowance (EMA) has played in supporting young people from less well-off backgrounds to participate and succeed in education;
further recognises how EMA has supported choice for students in post-16 education, allowing them to travel to the best institution for their studies, which is of particular importance in rural areas;
further notes that EMA is used by the majority of recipients to fund travel to college, as well as books and equipment, and allows recipients to focus on their studies rather than taking a part-time job;
notes that EMA has been retained in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland;
further notes research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies stating that EMA costs are completely offset by its benefits in raising participation;
further notes the inquiry into educational access announced by the Education Select Committee;
and calls on the Government to rethink its decision on EMA, retaining practical support to improve access to, interest in and participation in further and higher education.

Over the past decade, we have debated the funding of higher education on many occasions. Today, we rightly focus on an equally, if not more, important prior question: whether hundreds of thousands of young people from less well-off backgrounds are to stay in education long enough to have a realistic dream of going to university.

To know what is at risk, we must look at how far we have come. Twenty-five years ago, the staying-on rate in England was 47%; throughout Merseyside, where I left school in 1986, the figure was even lower; and today it is 82%. Those figures tell an incredible story of human and social progress from the mid-1980s to today. A deep-rooted culture in some communities whereby employment at 16 years old was the norm, not education, has begun to be broken.

Students and families who in the past might well have felt that education was not for the likes of them now see it as a viable route, and in the past 10 years the education maintenance allowance has played an important part in that progress. It has sent out an empowering message of hope-that we can dare to dream, whoever we are and wherever we come from. It was one of the best policies of our Government, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Mr Blunkett who brought it in.

Sustaining that progress is something that must be worked at; instead, it is about to be thrown into reverse. In the real world, the debate about tuition fees is already changing views on university, but for the least well-off the full impact becomes clear only when it is set alongside the abolition of EMA. To those young people, it feels as though we have a Government who are stacking the odds against them-a Government who talked about social mobility in their early days but have now launched an all-out attack on the aspirations of those facing the biggest obstacles in life. They see a Government who are kicking away the ladder of opportunity. Today, the House has an opportunity to change that message and to make Ministers change course.

Before we get into the detail, however, I want the House to focus on the 650,000 young people who receive EMA. They have a strong sense that many Members do not have any idea what their lives are like.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that every single one of those 650,000 recipients should receive exactly the same amount of money that they currently receive, or does he believe that there is any scope for saving and better targeting?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

The right hon. Gentleman used to believe in EMA, because he stood right where I am standing now and told the House that he would keep it-no, that he would build on it. So it is pretty desperate-

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

I shall come to the right hon. Gentleman's question, but a little more humility might serve him well during the course of this debate.

Those young people feel that Members here-

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

I shall not give way; I am sorry. Those young people feel that Members, and indeed that the right hon. Gentleman, have no real idea of what their lives are like.

Some 80% of recipients come from homes where the household income is less than £20,800 a year, and many live difficult lives. Many are part of larger families and go without the basics during the average week, because they know that anything they take off their parents deprives younger brothers or sisters. Many others are young carers who face some of the toughest circumstances imaginable-like the one whom I met, caring for both parents, at Lambeth college-and try desperately to keep their own hopes alive of a better future while supporting loved ones on meagre resources. Some are young parents who might have missed out on an education and want a second chance, like the young mum from Gateshead who came to our hearing here in Westminster. Some have special needs and disabilities, like Daniel in my constituency, who is on the autistic spectrum. I helped him to find appropriate supported accommodation when he was in his early teenage years, and his grandmother told me at the weekend that EMA had been a vital part of his transition from residential care to mainstream college-vital in helping him to learn the everyday skills of managing his life.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Conservative, Tamworth

The right hon. Gentleman says that there are 650,000 or so EMA claimants, but he must also know that only about 12% of those people-66,000-say that they would not go into A-level education if they did not have it. EMA costs £564 million. Does he not think there are better and less expensive ways of targeting money on the kids who really need the help? [ Interruption. ]

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

The hon. Gentleman is talking about 78,000 young lives-those of the people the Government say would not stay in education were there to be no EMA.

Let me come to the heart of the Government's misunderstanding of this issue. They talk only about participation, but for the others-the Secretary of State does not seem to understand this-EMA provides the chance to fulfil themselves in education because it means that they can devote themselves to their studies.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Culture and Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution)

The right hon. Gentleman is building a very powerful case for the defence and protection of EMA. Will he take this opportunity to congratulate the Scottish National party Government in Scotland on retaining EMA and ensuring that we are fulfilling our pledge to the most vulnerable and poorest students in Scotland?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

My knowledge of Scottish politics is okay, but I think I am right in telling the hon. Gentleman that it was the Labour Administration who brought in the education maintenance allowance in Scotland, so I warn him off that subject.

I have detailed the lives of some of the young people I have met in recent weeks who are receiving EMA because it is important that the House focus its mind on those young people before we get much further into the debate. I want to clear up one myth at the beginning. EMA is overwhelmingly used to provide the basics to support education-travel, books, equipment and food.

Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Lib Dem-Tory run Warrington borough council recently passed a motion asking the Government to think again on tuition fees and EMA? In their letter to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Liberal leader and the Tory deputy leader said that the removal of EMA would cause real hardship. If the Government's own allies do not support them, how can they go ahead with this?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

I am aware of that, as I represent a neighbouring authority area. It shows that some Liberal Democrats at local level have more guts than some of their colleagues in this place, because they are prepared to say what is right and what is wrong and to stand up for the young people in their area who they know will have their dreams shattered if this help is taken away from them.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is entirely possible that an alternative, more targeted approach to providing support for young people might provide a better solution while still meeting the needs of deficit reduction?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

The Government talk of an alternative scheme, but it is a tenth of the size of EMA, which they have closed to new applicants. They have never made a statement to Parliament or set out any details of that alternative scheme. It has taken Labour Members to bring those Ministers here to account for themselves this afternoon, and that is quite disgraceful. We do not have an alternative to judge EMA against, and EMA is a scheme that works.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

I will make further progress before giving way.

EMA is one of the few practical policies that has directly supported social mobility and equality of opportunity, so today I will set out a comprehensive case for its retention-the educational case, the social case, the economic case and the democratic case. The Government wanted to close down EMA quietly. They have closed the scheme to new applicants. They have not begun to replace it, as their amendment claims. We have called this debate because EMA has worked and is worth fighting for.

Photo of Margot James Margot James Conservative, Stourbridge

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the enhanced learner support fund, which is the Government's proposed replacement for EMA, will help many of the hard cases with which he illustrated the earlier part of his speech? Some 90% of students are telling us that they do not need EMA and will continue with their studies without it. If he does not accept that figure, what would he accept as the dead-weight figure?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

The hon. Lady has just shown how hopelessly out of touch Government Members are. Is she telling me that nine out of 10 young people in her constituency who get EMA are saying they do not need it? If so, she has been speaking to some very different young people-although I am glad that she has at least been speaking to them, unlike those on her Front Bench. She needs to answer this question. The Government are proposing a scheme that is a tenth-

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

I am about to do that. The Government are proposing a scheme that is a tenth of the size of the previous one, so a fair assumption is that it will help one in 10 of the people who are getting help today. How is that compatible with the full participation in education of all 16 to 18-year-olds, to which the Government amendment refers?

I have never set my face against changes or savings to the EMA scheme. I proposed a change last year-that of giving young people between 16 and 18 the choice of unlimited free travel or EMA. Today I say this to the Secretary of State: I am prepared to discuss changes while keeping the principle of a national weekly payment scheme to support young people in education, but I am not prepared to see a successful scheme, which brings a huge range of social benefits, dismantled and replaced with a residual scheme a fraction of the size. He will have to work very hard to convince us that a scheme a tenth of the size will, in the words of his amendment, improve

"access to, enthusiasm for and participation in further and higher education."

How can it possibly do that?

Photo of Ian Austin Ian Austin Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

I met students at Dudley college, 78% of whom receive EMA. More than 90% of them told me that they would be unable to continue their education if EMA was withdrawn. They are not using it for luxuries but for their books, bus fare and lunch. In particular, those on vocational courses who are studying construction, catering, hairdressing and so on need to buy uniforms and equipment. That is what they are spending it on, and if it is withdrawn they will not be able to continue their education.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

My hon. Friend represents a constituency with one of the highest take-up rates of EMA in the country, and he is absolutely right. Some of the sneering comments about recipients of EMA show a complete failure to understand what their lives are like and underestimate the determination of those young people to make a success of themselves and to get skills that will stand them in good stead throughout the rest of their lives.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

I will give way in a moment.

The Government's answer is, "We are raising the school leaving age to 18." What kind of answer is that? Do they really think they can simply mandate that young people will have to stay on and then provide no practical support to make it work? Perhaps that is why the Chairman of the Select Committee on Education said yesterday that he thought the removal of EMA would be damaging. The Government have a lot of convincing to do as regards senior voices on their own side of the House.

Photo of Mark Tami Mark Tami Opposition Whip (Commons)

Will my right hon. Friend take on board what the Labour-led Welsh Assembly Government have done in keeping the £30 higher level because they recognise just how important this is for younger people?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

As I said, 80% of people get the £30 higher level. I also said that I am not opposed to talking to the Secretary of State about changes. However, if he is to fulfil his goal of keeping young people in education, he will have to talk about a scheme on a much bigger scale than he is proposing, and he will have to do that today.

Let me set out, first, the educational case for EMA. EMA has had a positive impact on participation in post-16 education: that is accepted by all. The Government's figures suggest that EMA makes all the difference for 78,000 young people. However, as we enter 2011, the financial outlook for many families is changing for the worse. Calculations about the affordability of staying on will have to be redone when the loss of EMA is set alongside changes to other benefits and wages. New research released yesterday by the University and College Lecturers Union suggested that seven in 10 EMA recipients will drop out of education if EMA is taken away.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

I regret the removal of EMA and the necessity to remove it, which was caused by an orgy of overspending by the Administration of whom the right hon. Gentleman was a part. A diet of cold, hard decisions now has to be taken by Ministers, and I have some sympathy with them. Choices have to be made, such as between providing nursery education for two-year-olds in the poorest areas or retaining EMA. The right hon. Gentleman accepts that there can be changes to EMA. Is there any reason why a slimmed-down version, such as that proposed by the Government, with constructive input from all sides, cannot deliver for the most needy and minimise the negative impacts?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

The hon. Gentleman is having it both ways. He started by saying that he regrets the removal of EMA, before going on to make his attack. I will make two points to him. First, he said that EMA was essentially unaffordable. Why then does the Institute for Fiscal Studies say that the costs of EMA are "completely offset" by the wider benefits that it brings? He might want to reflect on that point.

Secondly, why did the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State promise young people that they would keep EMA? More than that, why did the Minister of State, Department for Education, Mr Gibb, stand at the Dispatch Box after the general election and say that EMA would be retained? Why did they do that if it is now such a bad idea? Will he answer that?

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

On that particular point, following our joint interview yesterday, I looked up the Prime Minister's interview on Cameron Direct. He expressed some concerns and talked about the mixed messages that he had received from students on EMA. He said that the Conservative party had no plans to remove EMA. That is not a matter of pure semantics. There was no promise, and the right hon. Gentleman should not put out an untruth about the Prime Minister on this subject.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

We will leave those kinds of points to Back Benchers; we do not expect them from the Chair of the Select Committee.

The fundamental point that the Government are missing is that participation is only part- [ Interruption. ] Neil Carmichael does not have to put his hand up-he can just stand up. Participation is only part of the story; EMA helps students to succeed once they arrive at college. It stands to reason that young people do better if they can afford the books or equipment that support the course. As many young people have told me, EMA means that they do not have to take a part-time job, so they can focus all their energy and attention on their studies. College after college reports that EMA improves attendance, helps people to stay the course, reduces the drop-out rate and, in the end, brings a higher rate of achievement.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Justice)

The infamous Cameron Direct meeting that has been raised took place in Hammersmith on 6 January last year. Sadly, I was not at the meeting because I was handing out leaflets outside, but this morning I spoke to the person who asked the relevant question. The Prime Minister said:

"We've looked at Educational Maintenance we don't have any plans to get rid of them."

Where does my right hon. Friend think the Government now stand with their credibility on this issue?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

I think that it is very difficult. The Government's access to education adviser, Simon Hughes, and I were at an open meeting last week in the Commons. A young woman from Cornwall said that she had been at a meeting where the Prime Minister had made a personal commitment that he would keep education maintenance allowance. The Government have some very hard questions to ask themselves this week. Now that the voters of Oldham have told them what they think about broken promises, the Government need to reflect on whether they will carry on in such an arrogant and high-handed manner, thinking it fine to say one thing to young people before the election and change the script afterwards. I am afraid that they will lose those young people for the rest of their lives if they do not change course.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Leader of the Green Party

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Does he agree that it is entirely unacceptable that the Government still have not done a full equality impact assessment of this policy? If they had, they might be rather less cavalier about the devastating implications of scrapping EMA.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

The hon. Lady makes a point of such importance that it must be addressed by the Secretary of State. In going about his business, he is wiping away important initiatives that work and are providing real opportunity for young people, with no assessment of the damage that the policies will do and no real understanding of how they might set back social mobility and equality in our country. The Government seem to have dispensed with some of the norms of government that we took seriously, such as equality impact assessments and consultations on the major changes to educational provision. Instead, they promised to keep EMA, and then simply pull the plug when it suits them. It is not good enough.

Photo of Joan Walley Joan Walley Chair, Environmental Audit Committee, Chair, Environmental Audit Committee

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Education maintenance allowance was piloted in Stoke-on-Trent and other cities, because we needed to give additional help to students, such as those who have come down from Burslem and Tunstall today to make the point that they need that additional money. Our staying-on rates have improved from 56.3% to 80.5%. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State how it can be that people who currently receive EMA will not get that money, when people in the areas of deprivation that we represent need it for their travel costs and everything else? If they do not get it, they will not be in higher education, they will not get jobs, and there will be no solution to youth unemployment.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

My hon. Friend brings me back to the point that I was making: EMA is not just about participation, as the Government say, but about helping people to make the best of themselves when they are in education and bringing out their full potential. The Government's one-sided argument about a 90% dead-weight cost fails to acknowledge that it helps young people with one of the biggest challenges in life-to shine academically. It is very hard to put a value on that. It might open doors that would otherwise have remained closed.

Crucially, EMA supports the important principle of student choice for all in post-16 education. It means that the best sixth-form colleges, which are often some distance away, particularly in rural areas, are within the reach of young people. In most places, they do not get help with travel and transport costs, so EMA means that the doors of those fantastic institutions are opened to young people from ordinary working-class backgrounds.

Photo of Paul Maynard Paul Maynard Conservative, Blackpool North and Cleveleys

It is kind of the right hon. Gentleman to give way, I am sure. I listened carefully to the powerful case studies of people he has met over recent weeks. I am concerned, however, that he might be out of touch with some of his constituents, and that he does not fully understand the needs of those with complex needs. Is he seriously arguing that a capped payment of £30 a week will fully meet the needs of the people he described? In that case, why does he not support a discretionary learner support fund that would allow individual schools to tailor provision to the needs of their students? Why is he so scared of that?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

All I can say is that I do not think the hon. Gentleman was listening. I said that EMA makes life possible, and makes the calculations that young people have to do to stay in education that bit more doable. Is he seriously arguing that taking it from those young people will help them to make a success of their lives and circumstances? I find that hard to believe.

The vast majority of EMA is spent on travel, as a survey for the Association of Colleges confirmed this week. It states that

"94% of Colleges believe that the abolition of the EMA will affect students' ability to travel to and from College."

The survey also suggests that some students may be at risk of not being able to follow the college course of their choice due to the cost or availability of transport. That goes to the heart of student choice in education. If students do not have the ability to travel, they cannot get on to the courses that they want to study. The Secretary of State needs to come up with a convincing answer to that.

I want the Secretary of State also to think about the effect of the change on the aspirations of young people who are still in secondary school. I want him to reflect on what a young woman from my constituency told me this week-that her 15-year-old brother had already given up at school because, without EMA, he could not see any way that he would be able to go to Wigan and Leigh college to study the motor engineering course that he had planned to do. Is there not a real risk that taking the lifeline of EMA away from young people will lower the aspirations of children in secondary school? Better participation, attendance, retention and results, supporting choice and keeping hope alive for all kids-surely it all adds up to a compelling educational case for keeping EMA.

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss Conservative, South West Norfolk

Is not the No. 1 factor in education teacher quality, which the right hon. Gentleman has not mentioned? The UK has one of the worst records of having qualified teachers for low-income pupils. Why did his Government not do anything about that when they were in power?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

We did plenty of things to improve the quality of teaching, including through Teach First. I spoke about giving all young people the chance to get into the best sixth-form colleges in the country, so that they can access good teaching. Would the hon. Lady care to explain how, under her party's plans, those young people will carry on being able to benefit from the very best teaching and get the best opportunities in life? I do not think she can do so.

Photo of Paul Farrelly Paul Farrelly Labour, Newcastle-under-Lyme

EMA was being piloted when my right hon. Friend and I joined the House, and it has been a real achievement in the 10 years since. Some 1,700 students at Newcastle-under-Lyme college benefit from it, and it has raised staying-on rates. Where is the fairness in removing that income from those students and their households? Is it not the case that the impact of that will be felt not in the likes of Surrey Heath but in Bermondsey, Sheffield, Leigh, Manchester, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke-on-Trent?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

It will be felt keenly in such places. Combined with the trebling of tuition fees, my worry is that it will have a depressing effect on the aspirations of young people in the former industrial and inner-city communities that we worked so hard to lift during our time in government. That is why today's debate goes to the heart of why I and many of my hon. Friends came into politics. We care passionately about people's opportunities in those areas, and we are not prepared to see the ladder kicked away from under young people in the way that the Government propose.

The evidence that I have given on the educational benefits of EMA demolishes the claim that it has no benefit to society beyond persuading 10% of students to stay on. Until recently, I was at a loss to understand how Ministers could make that one-sided argument and use such selective facts to back up their decision, but maybe I have stumbled on the answer. Last week, I came across a parliamentary question answered by the Under-Secretary of State for Education, Tim Loughton, asking how many further education and sixth-form colleges the Secretary of State had visited since he was appointed in May. I shall share with the House the revealing answer:

"The Secretary of State has made no such visits since this date."-[ Hansard, 12 January 2011; Vol. 521, c. 342W.]

The Secretary of State was quick to get to his feet a little earlier, and I trust that he will rise again now to correct what surely must have been an inaccurate answer.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

I certainly will. All those who saw me at Farnborough sixth-form college, when I had the privilege of opening the John Guy building, will know of my great commitment to that superb college, at which so many of my students are educated.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

Either that is a school sixth form or the answer that the Secretary of State's Department issued was wrong, but it is an appalling state of affairs if he has barely ever managed to take himself along to a sixth-form college to speak to the staff and students who will be affected. [Interruption.] Yes, he has been to one in his own constituency but no one else's. That is very helpful of him. I might remind him that he is responsible for everyone's constituents. At a stroke he is axing a £500 million scheme, which will have a profound effect on 650,000 young lives and on the viability of 230 FE colleges and 95 sixth-form colleges, for which he has policy responsibility, without so much as troubling himself to go along and hear at first hand what the decision will mean.

The Secretary of State needs to climb down from his ivory tower once in a while and get out in the real world. How many students has he met who will be directly affected by the changes? Has he met any? I am not sure whether he is nodding, but if he had met some, I am absolutely sure that if nothing else, he would long since have asked his Ministers to stop implying that those high-achieving and talented young people can be described as "dead weight".

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Through my right hon. Friend, may I issue an invitation to the Secretary of State to come with me to City of Westminster college? Its principal has written to me to say that 1,500 of his students will lose their EMA, which in his experience has transformed attendance and achievement at the college.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

I will do so, but I cannot answer for the Secretary of State. I have been to sixth-form colleges in London, and that brings me to my case about social mobility. If he visits a sixth-form college while he is in the job, may I suggest that he could do worse than visit the one that my hon. Friend mentions, or indeed Newham sixth-form college, which I visited yesterday? If he does, he might meet the young man who told me about the practical effect of losing EMA. He feels that he will have to lower his ambitions in the universities to which he applies, because he thinks his exam grades will undoubtedly suffer.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

The Chairman of the Education Committee cements the impression that the Conservatives have not really thought about what it is like to be a young person in the circumstances that I have described. It is hard to put a value on the self-confidence and peace of mind that financial security gives a young person. It creates the conditions for their academic potential to be realised.

The Secretary of State talks frequently about social mobility under the Labour Government, citing the number of young people on free school meals gaining a place at Oxford or Cambridge. Time and again, he has used that figure selectively to paint a misleading picture of Labour's record, and I wish to set the matter straight.

First, I politely point out to the Secretary of State that Oxbridge is not the be-all and end-all. If he examines the university system as a whole, as my hon. Friend Liz Kendall has taken the trouble to do, he will see that between 2005 and 2007, the number of young people on free school meals gaining a place at university increased by 18%, double the rate of increase for all young people. Does the Secretary of State recognise those figures, and if so, does he accept that EMA has played an important role in securing that social progress? Does he further accept that the proportion of children on free school meals who stayed on in full-time education at 16 increased from 60% in 2005 to 70% in 2009? That is why more are applying to, and getting into, universities.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many children eligible for free school meals made it into Oxford and Cambridge in the last year for which we have figures, and in the year before that, and whether he considers it to be a triumph of social mobility or an indictment of his Government's record?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

Is the Secretary of State worried about anything else, or is that it? The figure is 40, which came down from 44. It did go down, but I have just told him that if he looks at all universities, he will see that the rate of increase in successful applications from children on free school meals was double the rate in the rest of the population. Is he not proud of that fact, and why does he only talk about Oxbridge? If his real passion in life is helping young people on free school meals to gain places at Oxford and Cambridge-as mine is, by the way, as somebody who took that route many years ago-can he tell the House how on earth scrapping EMA is more likely to make that happen? Precisely how does he imagine those kids on free school meals will get to Oxford and Cambridge when there is no EMA?

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Conservative, Croydon Central

The right hon. Gentleman makes his case with his usual passion and makes some important points about empowering student choice. He says that the Government are going too far in reducing the scheme by 90%, but acknowledges that some savings can be made. In these difficult times, what would be a safe reduction in the budget?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

I said that I am prepared to sit down and talk about making savings as long as we maintain the principle of a national scheme that supports the kids who most need support. I made the same offer on school sports. I will have that discussion, but I am saying to the Secretary of State do not just dismantle the whole scheme and lose all the benefits that come with it. If we had been asked to make a reduction in EMA commensurate with the rest of public spending, we would have struggled to argue against it, but that is not what the Government propose. The hon. Gentleman stood alongside the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State at the last election promising young people that they would keep EMA. They are the ones with the questions to answer.

The truth is that the Secretary of State cannot will the ends without the means. That will not happen. However talented those young people are, they cannot live off thin air. They cannot have a part-time job and walk miles to college and still get straight A's. I wonder whether he has much idea of what their lives are like. In 2003, he wrote an article in The Times that acquires a new significance in the light of this debate. He wrote that

"anyone put off from attending a good university by fear of that debt doesn't deserve to be at any university in the first place."

Those are difficult sentiments for an Education Secretary to be associated with, as are these, which appear in the same article:

"Some people will, apparently, be put off applying to our elite institutions by the prospect of taking on a debt of this size. Which, as far as I'm concerned, is all to the good."

How genuine is his commitment to those people who want to get in to Oxbridge?

I have worries about the Secretary of State's elitist instincts, but I read in The Times last week another interesting piece-from Mrs Gove-which contains insights from home that raise further questions about whether he is living in the same world as the rest of us- [ Interruption. ] He should listen to this. She says:

"Like all angst-ridden working mothers, I live in terror of upsetting my cleaner."

Angst-ridden mums in Leigh talk of little else. I sympathise with Mrs Gove's predicament, but I wonder whether the Secretary of State could pass on a bit of advice to all the wives of his Cabinet colleagues who fret about the same curses of modern living. May I respectfully suggest that the best way to stay on the right side of the cleaner might be not to clean the oven oneself, but to press one's other half not to remove the cleaner's kids' EMA?

Photo of Julian Smith Julian Smith Conservative, Skipton and Ripon

May I press the right hon. Gentleman a little further on exactly what percentage reduction he would make to EMA? He said he is open to reducing it, but by what percentage?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

I said that I would make a reduction commensurate with the overall reduction in spending. I would be prepared to sit down and say, "Can we make the EMA scheme work for young people at that level?", but the Government are not proposing that. They are proposing a scheme that is a tenth of the size of the current one. If the Secretary of State is making offers and rethinking, and if he has been ordered into yet another U-turn by the Prime Minister, I am prepared to talk about it, but the onus is on Government Members to tell us the details of what they are offering.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Conservative, Croydon Central

In answer to my previous question, the right hon. Gentleman spoke of preserving a national scheme, but he has made the powerful point that different students face different costs. Does he agree that if a sufficient pot of money is available, decisions are better made by individual schools that know their pupils' circumstances, rather than through a national standard scheme?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

My brother is the vice-principal of a sixth-form college, and I have asked him that question. He says that it would be an impossible task for his college to decide between one student and another. Colleges want to help students, but they would have to make those decisions with an inadequate fund that covers only a tenth of the amount that it currently covers. The hon. Gentleman's suggestion would mean passing on an impossible problem, but I welcome the spirit of his remarks. He will notice that I have deliberately moved a broad motion that invites the support of all hon. Members who want the Government to think again. It sounds as if he is one of them.

Let us not throw out everything about EMA that is a success, and that brings me to the economic case for keeping it. In short, EMA is good not just for the individuals who receive it, but for all of us in building a higher-skilled and more prosperous society, in which the costs of social failure are lower. Yesterday, the chief executive of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers called on the Government to rethink their decision. He said:

"Tough decisions have to be made, but the UK economy will increasingly need skilled engineers and technicians over the next few years. Our long-term economic health depends on making the right decisions now."

Haroon Chowdry of the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that even taking into account a dead-weight cost of 88%, the costs of EMA are "completely offset". He said:

"The initial outlay of the EMA policy is likely to be more than recouped by the increase in productivity that we expect to result from the 16- and 17-year-olds staying on in education for longer".

Has the Secretary of State made an economic impact assessment of his policy alongside an equality impact assessment? I have not seen one. Has he assessed how EMA helps to build a skilled work force that benefits us all? If we take that support away, we lose not just those skills-taxpayers must also face the higher costs of social failure as young people drop out of education. Has he made an assessment of that?

On the Government's own figures, around 78,000 are unlikely to be able to stay in further education without EMA. We cannot know for sure whether all those young people will end up unemployed if they lose EMA, but given today's figures showing record youth unemployment, it does not look good for them. Will not the Government have to provide support for them in some other form-perhaps a less constructive form-when they have reduced hope for the future?

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Shadow Minister (Equalities Office)

In view of my right hon. Friend's point about improved qualifications, will he note the figures that East Berkshire college has provided to me? It has a number of students on EMA. I have worked out that its figures on improved retention would mean that something like 45 or 50 young people in the town that I represent would be unlikely to complete their course if they did not have EMA.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

My hon. Friend is exactly right-that is borne out by the experience of many colleges around the country. Some of those young people are at risk of ending up in the benefits system. Will not the Secretary of State's policy lead to an increase in 16 to 17-year-olds seeking to claim jobseeker's allowance in exceptional circumstances, or certainly to an increase in the numbers claiming JSA at 18? We know that every young person not in education, employment or training costs more than £55,000, according to research for the Audit Commission. The IFS has said that EMA successfully reduced the number of NEETs. Will it not therefore cost more to get rid of EMA?

Those costs will add up on many levels. As Paul Gregg at Bristol University has found, youth unemployment imposes a "wage scar" that can last for decades. He suggests that scrapping EMA fails to take account of other benefits, such as lower crime. That adds to the fears that through a combination of the Government's policies, they are taking hope away from a whole generation.

I have set out the education case, the social mobility case and the economic case for keeping EMA, so let us now deal with the democratic case. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State made personal promises to young people to keep EMA. Failing to honour them will do great damage to young people's trust in Parliament and politics. From this Dispatch Box, the Secretary of State said:

"We are entirely in favour not only of the existence of the EMA but of the provisions in the Bill to secure an extension to it."-[ Hansard, 14 January 2008; Vol. 470, c. 669.]

Weeks before the general election, he said:

"Ed Balls keeps saying we are committed to scrapping the EMA. I have never said this. We won't."

On the back of these statements, does the Secretary of State not accept that young people embarking on a two-year course in September 2010 had a reasonable expectation that they would receive EMA support for the duration of their course, and that they could not have expected that the rug might be pulled from under them?

Beyond that, do the Government have a democratic mandate for this change? This time it is not the yellow Tories, but the real Tories who have broken their promises to young people. However, did any of the people who voted Lib Dem in May vote to curtail the life chances of the least well-off in this way? Unsurprisingly, the Government's amendment shifts the ground on to deficit reduction, but if that is now the Government's main argument why did the schools Minister, Mr Gibb, say to the House in a holding answer dated 7 June:

"The Government are committed to retaining the education maintenance allowance"?-[ Hansard, 14 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 307W.]

What changed after June? Did the full costs of the risky, unwanted reorganisation of the NHS become known, or did the Prime Minister choose his marriage tax break-costed before the election at £550 million, which is almost the same amount as EMA-as a priority above EMA? This confirms the growing impression that this is a shambolic ministerial team that changes its argument and does not know what it is doing.

The House may be forgiven for feeling a certain sense of déjà vu. This is a rushed decision with no warning, no consultation with those most affected, no evidence to support the decision, a growing backlash as the implications sink in, and a desperate rearguard action to justify it with dodgy statistics. If this is starting to sound familiar, it is because we have been here before with, for instance, Building Schools for the Future, school sport partnerships, and Bookstart. The fingerprints of this repeat offender are all over the scene of the crime. My question today to Liberal Democrat Members is this: how much longer are they prepared to carry the can in their constituencies for the disastrous decisions of this Secretary of State?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats

The right hon. Gentleman knows that I respect both his passion and his commitment on this issue, and he also knows that there is concern on both sides of the House about the policy to get rid of EMA without an adequate replacement. I repeat now what I have said privately, however: I will work with him, as I am working with the Secretary of State, to make sure, as far as I can, that the successor scheme achieves the objectives that are expressed in both the Opposition motion and the Government amendment. If together we can do that, then together we will improve the reputation of this House and politics in this country.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

I respect the right hon. Gentleman's intentions on this issue, but what he has just said will not be good enough for young people listening to this debate whose lives will be directly affected by the loss of EMA. A vague promise to work with the Secretary of State, with an unspecified amount of money to produce an unspecified result, is not going to do the job for them. The Lib Dems have to decide whether they want to keep the benefits of this successful scheme. Do they want the same numbers of young people in their constituencies to enter further education, or are they prepared to take a risk on this Secretary of State and this Tory-led Government?

Today's debate provides the House with an opportunity to change the message that this Government are sending out to young people. They feel bewildered and angry that they have been singled out to bear the brunt of deficit reduction, and do not understand why they in particular are to face higher costs than generations before. In Newham, they ask why they are paying with their life chances for the mistakes of others a few miles away in the City of London. In Leigh, they cannot understand why the Government want to turn the clock back to an education system based on social class, with places at university going only to those with money and connections. Today, we can show that we are listening to them. We can make a stand for equality of opportunity in education, and stop these moves towards a more elitist education system. We can call a halt to this all-out attack on the aspirations of those who have least, and keep hope alive for the hundreds of thousands of young people who will be cut adrift if the Government get their way. We can tell all young people that we value them, and stop a Government who are gambling with their life chances. I commend this motion to the House.

Several hon. Members:

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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

Order. Before I call the Secretary of State, let me say that many Members wish to speak, and if we have fewer interventions, we will get through contributions more quickly.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education 2:15 pm, 19th January 2011

I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and add:

"believes in full participation in education and training for young people up to the age of 18 and considers that support must be in place to allow those who face the greatest barriers to participation to access this opportunity;
notes that the previous Government left this country with one of the largest budget deficits in the world and that savings have had to be made in order to avoid burdening future generations;
further notes that the Government has increased funding for deprivation within the 16 to 19 budget and has already begun to replace the current education maintenance allowance system with more targeted support for those who face genuine barriers, including travel;
and commits the Government to working with young people, schools and colleges and others outside and inside Parliament on arrangements for supporting students in further education and on improving access to, enthusiasm for and participation in further and higher education."

It is always a pleasure to debate education with Andy Burnham. In previous Opposition day debates and on other platforms, I have always been impressed by the passion and commitment he brings to the aspirations of extending opportunity and advancing social mobility, and I believe he is right to focus in particular on what we can do better to support children in the 16 to 18 age range, whom we want to succeed in the examinations they take, and to whom we want to extend broader opportunities. In that respect, I welcome both the opportunity this debate provides and the wealth of interest it has provoked.

I may also say that it was uncharacteristic of the right hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a great deal of respect and affection, to make a personal comment about a member of my family in the course of his speech. I am sure that, on reflection, he will recognise that it was inappropriate and beneath him, and that he will withdraw it.

I also recognise, however, that the right hon. Gentleman was motivated in bringing forward this debate by his passion to increase social mobility. I also recognise that his bringing this passion to bear allows us all to consider what the right policies are for generating a greater degree of social mobility and for making opportunity more equal in our society.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

Not yet.

Let us consider policies on vocational education. One concern I have is that in a debate about staying on in education, the right hon. Gentleman made no mention of specific proposals to improve vocational education. I therefore have this question: does he back or oppose the policies we are putting in place? Does he back or oppose the additional investment that is going into university technical colleges? If he backs that, it is welcome, and shows that he recognises that action is being taken. If he opposes it, however, he will have to answer for saying no to reform. Does he back or oppose the expansion in the number of studio schools, specifically targeting disadvantaged young people who need a special type of education in order to encourage them to stay on? Does he back or oppose the growth in apprenticeships-the 75,000 additional apprenticeships that we are providing? All of these questions are to do with decisions about investments in improving education and the life chances of the very poorest, and we do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is in favour or against.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

In a few seconds.

This is not just about improving vocational education. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I believe in aspiration. I believe that other young people born into circumstances similar to our own, whose parents never went to university, should have the chance to go to university. That is why we are putting in place policies to improve academic education. Again however, we do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman supports or opposes the investment we are putting in to improve it. Does he support or oppose our reading check at the age of six, to make sure every child is decoding fluently, and will be literate by the time they leave primary school? Is he in favour of that, or against? Does he oppose or support our position on GCSEs? Does he believe it is right or wrong to get rid of modules in order to make them more rigorous? Does he back or oppose the English baccalaureate? Does he believe it is right to encourage more students- [Interruption.] There is only one answer that he and some-some, I stress-Opposition Members have to the question of how to increase aspiration, and it is represented by three letters: EMA. It is important that we remove barriers and that we have the right support, but in respect of social mobility it is also important that we have a coherent and inclusive widespread education policy. From the Opposition, on all these areas we have either mulish silence or reactionary opposition.

Is the right hon. Gentleman for or against our drive to ensure that more students get good GCSEs in English, mathematics, sciences, languages, modern history and geography? I could not tell last week. At the beginning of last week he was against, in the middle of last week he was almost in favour, and towards the end of last week Labour MPs were telling me that it was now their party's position to support our English baccalaureate.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can tell me which of these policies he supports or opposes.

Photo of Paul Farrelly Paul Farrelly Labour, Newcastle-under-Lyme

The one thing that I can tell the Secretary of State is that 1,700 students in Newcastle-under-Lyme will be affected by the withdrawal of EMA. This is his policy, so can he tell the House how many students in Surrey Heath will be affected?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

Overall, 45% of students are eligible for EMA. The proportion is smaller in Surrey Heath than in Newcastle-under-Lyme, but of course the number of students who will receive enhanced support depends on the new improved provision that we hope to bring in.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Minister (Health)

Ten youngsters from City and Islington college have come to Westminster to listen to this debate on EMA and they would very much like to have 10 minutes with the Secretary of State. I warn him that they are articulate, clever and very persuasive-but may I ask him to give them 10 minutes this afternoon?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

If the hon. Lady will join us, I would be delighted to talk to them at any time. Perhaps I should visit their college so that rather more than 10 of them can have a word with me.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

No, thank you. It would be a pleasure to spend time with the hon. Lady and her constituents. I know how many of them in London schools are passionately committed to greater equality.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

I will give way to the right hon. Lady and then I will try to make some progress.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Labour, Salford and Eccles

The Secretary of State has said time and time again that he supports breaking down the barriers and that he supports aspiration. Is he aware that Salford had the lowest staying-on rate in the whole of Britain before the introduction of EMA, but within months of its introduction the number of young people staying on at 16, not just to go to university but to get the vocational qualifications they need to have the chance of a decent future, increased by 10%? I am at a loss to know why he thinks that abolishing EMA will give young people in Salford the same opportunities as they have had for the past few years. I cannot believe that the Secretary of State is setting out on a deliberate path to limit the aspiration and social mobility of young people in Salford.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

The right hon. Lady knows that I am a fan of her and her policies. [Interruption.] It is a pity that more of them are not adopted by the Labour party now. However, she will also be aware that a number of things have helped to improve the staying-on rate and ensured that children have more opportunities. Central to that is ensuring that the right offer is in place in terms of the nature of qualifications, and that we improve both vocational and academic learning, as well as teacher quality. As my hon. Friend Elizabeth Truss said, policies to improve teacher quality were not mentioned in the speech made by the right hon. Member for Leigh, which lasted for nearly an hour. He did not make it clear, at any point, whether he backed or opposed our investment in expanding Teach First.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

Not yet. That was a choice and it costs, so does the right hon. Gentleman support it? We do not know. Does he back our expansion of Future Leaders? That is an investment, it costs, and we chose. Does he back it? Our expansion in the number of national and local leaders of education costs, and we invested, so does he back it or oppose it? On all those policies, we hear silence. On policies to tackle underperformance, we are extending academy freedoms to 400 new schools. Does he support that extension of opportunity? Does he support, or would he reverse, our policies to get stronger schools to help weaker schools? Does he support, or would he reverse, our policy on getting the schools commissioner back in place to turn failing schools around? Those are all policies being introduced by this coalition Government to extend social mobility and opportunity, but on every one the right hon. Gentleman is silent. He has only one policy: to spend money that we do not have.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

The right hon. Gentleman visited Westminster academy, in my constituency, which was established by the previous Government and which introduced and piloted Teach First. Some 80% of sixth-formers at that school receive EMA, but how many will receive a version of EMA when he withdraws 90% of it?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

I did have the great pleasure of visiting Westminster academy, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to do so again later this month. I hope that the hon. Lady will join me then, when we will have a seminar on how we can extend school autonomy and freedom in order to drive up standards for the poorest. The number of children who will receive support, which may be enhanced support in some cases, depends precisely on their circumstances. The point was made in research commissioned by the previous Government-not by us-that the current arrangements for EMA are poorly targeted. Some who need more support do not receive it, and some who receive support should not be receiving the amount that they do.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

I wish to make some progress, because I wish to discuss one big factor that is referred to in our amendment and lies behind our position, but which the right hon. Member for Leigh completely ignored: the elephant in the room is the dire economic situation that we inherited from his Government. I know that various Labour Members-not all, because some of them are reasonable-will say, "EMA, EMA", as though they were on the benches at Goodison Park- [Interruption.] -or anywhere else. But any policy involves a choice, the choice is dependent on the money, and the question is: where is the money coming from?

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

I shall not give way at this stage, because every Labour Member needs to be reminded of the mess that the Labour party landed this country in. I am not going to be put off, deflected or diverted from spelling out these facts. They are the facts that determine every decision that a responsible coalition Government have to take. Seven days after this coalition Government were formed, the International Monetary Fund said that this country had the largest deficit of any G20 country. Why was that? Labour Members say that it was because of the financial crisis, but the truth is that we entered that crisis with the largest structural deficit of any country in the G7. The fault for that debt and deficit lies-

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

No, not yet. The fault for that debt and deficit lies with the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. The OECD said that in 2000, thanks to Conservative policies, the UK had one of the best structural fiscal positions in the world, but by 2007 we had one of the worst in the G7. Why were we in such a weak position? It was because Labour had doubled our debt. In 1997 our national debt was £351 billion, whereas in 2010, by the time the Labour Government had left office, it was £893 billion. You cannot spend money that you do not have. The truth was revealed in a statement secreted in a Treasury desk by Mr Byrne. In a note to the succeeding Chief Secretary to the Treasury, he said "There's no money." Not a single member of the Labour party has yet had the courage to accept that truth, and to atone and apologise for it.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will.

Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Secretary of State is talking about things that have been written down. Does he also accept that this is also about values? Will he therefore clarify for the House whether he wishes to apologise for the remarks, to which my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State referred, that he made in his article in The Times about the attitude to debt and the consequences for people going to university?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

That article in The Times was actually in favour of the previous Government's efforts to improve access to university. Unlike many Labour Members, I supported what Tony Blair was doing on university tuition fees; I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman did. But never mind that, because the truth is that no Labour Member has atoned or apologised for the huge economic mess in which we have been landed. This is appropriate, because the motion stands in the name of the right hon. Member for Leigh, and he was the Chief Secretary to the Treasury when the ship was steered towards the rocks, so he cannot point the finger at anyone else-

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

Not yet. Between June 2007 and January 2008 Northern Rock collapsed, the international banking crisis began and the global recession started. All of that happened while the right hon. Gentleman was at the Treasury.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

Not yet. That may just be coincidence, but what was deliberate was that instead of getting control of public expenditure -[Interruption.] I know that Emily Thornberry does not like being reminded of what happened under her Government and on her watch, but as long as I have breath in my body I will remind the people of this country of the devastating mess that the Labour party made of the economy. It is rank hypocrisy-

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

Sit down. It is rank hypocrisy- [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman voted for it; we all know the role he played.

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

Order. The Secretary of State is getting very excited. Members are trying to intervene, but I will decide when they have stood on their feet too long. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would like to carry on putting his points across to the Chamber.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Yes, I am passionate about this. Why should young people be saddled with the economic mess left by that lot? That lot then come back here to say that we are taking opportunity away, knocking the ladder away and increasing youth unemployment, but who created this mess? It was the guilty men and women on the Opposition Front Bench. When the right hon. Member for Leigh was Chief Secretary to the Treasury-

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education


When the right hon. Gentleman was Chief Secretary to the Treasury, in the first three months-we should remember that the economy was growing at the time-he borrowed an additional £7 billion, and in the next three months he borrowed an additional £21 billion. For every hour that he was Chief Secretary, our debt rose by £5 million-and as I said, the economy was growing at that time. Perhaps he will now take the opportunity to defend his impressive stewardship of this nation's finances during those seven magical months.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

I was the Chief Secretary to the Treasury who produced the spending review that was described by the Prime Minister as "tough" in 2007. If the right hon. Gentleman is so clear about all those "facts" that he is setting out for the House, why did he promise in March 2010 to keep the education maintenance allowance?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

Since coming into office, I have had many opportunities to look at the devastating mess that was left to us. I have also had the opportunity to reflect on the number of interviews and books written by those who sat alongside the right hon. Gentleman in government. One is a chap called Darling-do we remember him as Chancellor of the Exchequer? He pointed out that in autumn 2007 we had reached the limits of what should have been spent, but when the right hon. Gentleman was still in the Treasury he was spending and borrowing more.

It is also the case that a gentleman called Blair-Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, the former Member for Sedgefield-said:

"from 2005 onwards, Labour was insufficiently vigorous in limiting or eliminating the structural deficit".

Mr Blair reflected on what should have been done and said that we should have taken "a new Labour way" out of the crisis. First, he said that we should have kept direct tax rates competitive, which we have done. He thought there should be a gradual rise in VAT and other indirect taxes, which we have brought about, and that we should have pushed further and faster on reform of public services, which we have also done. Why? Because, Mr Blair said, the danger is that

"If governments don't tackle deficits, the bill is footed by taxpayers, who fear that big deficits now mean big taxes in the future, the prospect of which reduces confidence, investment and purchasing power. This then increases the risk of a prolonged slump".

And that is precisely what the policies of the deficit deniers on the Opposition side would do-increase the risk of a prolonged slump, with economic policies that make no sense, at a time when we all need to focus on helping the poorest by getting the deficit down.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

At one moment the deficit is cited as the reason for the abolition of EMA, and in another moment we will no doubt hear the educational reasons. The right hon. Gentleman cannot seem to make up his mind. I wrote to all the secondary schools in my constituency asking what percentage of 16 to 19-year-olds were receiving EMA-in a constituency and borough where incomes are considerably lower than in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency. In every case the heads replied that it was more than 50%. In one school it was as high as 75%, and in Walsall college it was nearly 60%. These were matters that I raised on the Adjournment last week. What will happen to those who now receive EMA, and young people in the future, who want to stay on beyond the compulsory leaving age but find it very difficult, financially, to do so?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, whose commitment to this issue I know to be profound, which is why he raised it on the Adjournment last week, when the Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend Mr Gibb had a chance to reply. I would, of course, expect that in any disadvantaged constituency such as the one that the hon. Gentleman represents so well, a significant number would be in receipt of EMA. Nearly half of students receive EMA.

I put that to the right hon. Member for Leigh, but I received no reply. He grudgingly acknowledges, under questioning from Government Members, that there is a case for reform-so far, so good-but when put to the test and asked what sort of reform, what numbers, what tests and on what basis, he did not- [Interruption.] Is he now retracting? Free bus travel is mentioned, but has the cost to the Exchequer been taken into account? [Interruption.] Look, I am asking the right hon. Gentleman questions, but once again he is ducking and diving, dodging and weaving, and refusing to address the vacuum where policy should be.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Conservative, Croydon Central

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the suggestion made by the shadow Secretary of State-that the cuts to every budget should be proportional-would have been the wrong course to go down, because that would have prevented the Government from protecting the schools budget in real terms?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It was interesting to hear the shadow Secretary of State arguing for the equivalent of the Geddes axe, with every service receiving the same cuts. That would presumably mean cuts to the NHS, cuts to the schools budget and cuts to Sure Start simply in order to satisfy his desire for consistency on this policy. As the right hon. Gentleman should have discovered when he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury, to govern is to choose, and to have priorities.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, Bedford

There are 1,200 students in my constituency who receive EMA. My right hon. Friend is giving them a very good lesson about who is responsible for the difficulties they will encounter over the coming months: the previous Government. Will he also teach them two other lessons? First, the shadow Secretary of State was part of the Government who spent all the money so that there is nothing left. When it has been spent, there should be some answers about what needs to be done with the wreckage left behind. Secondly, there is the lesson that when we are in tough times, we need to focus resources on those who are most vulnerable.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

My hon. Friend makes an admirable and correct point.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

I am happy to give way to my hon. Friend the Member for-Nuneaton, I believe. [Interruption.] No, I should have said my hon. Friend Christopher Pincher.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Conservative, Tamworth

Is my right hon. Friend aware that almost 80% of institutions offer tailored support to disadvantaged young people quite separately from EMA, yet only 11% know about it? Is it not more sensible to target help by increasing knowledge about that alternative funding that is available, as it comes from institutions and so will not cost the taxpayer as much?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

My hon. Friend makes a good point. One point identified by the previous Government's research commission is that one of the biggest barriers to participation is inadequate advice and guidance.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

I am now confronted with an embarrassment of riches. I would like to give way to ensure that as many Members as possible have the chance to intervene. I give way first to Jack Dromey.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Housing)

I am grateful to the Secretary of State. Erdington has high youth unemployment, but excellent young people who want to get on. Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that it is the combination of soaring tuition fees, the abolition of EMA, the scrapping of the future jobs fund and now the cuts forced by his Government on local youth services-a toxic combination-that will dash hopes, deny aspiration, fuel rising youth unemployment and lead once again, as in the 1980s, to a lost generation of young people?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

That is a passionate intervention, and I know that the hon. Gentleman has devoted his whole life in the trade union movement and elsewhere to trying to secure a better deal for the worse-off. I take nothing away from the force with which he makes his case, but practical steps are being taken, including in his own constituency, to provide a better deal for the worse off. That includes a new arrangement with a comprehensive in Sutton Coldfield to sponsor a school in his constituency so that they can both enjoy academy status and both have their standards driven up. I hope that I can co-operate with him and secure his support on that policy, alongside many other policies that we wish to introduce so as to target support better on the disadvantaged.

Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Labour, Wirral South

In response to Christopher Pincher, the Secretary of State mentioned the discretionary support fund that is available for schools, but one of the most common questions that I have been asked by principals of colleges and schools in my constituency is whether the fund is available for transport. EMA is vital to give young people a choice of college and school courses, so will he comment on whether funds will be available to help young people with the cost of transport?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

That is a very good point. The hon. Lady has alighted on something that is critical and constructive. I shall say a little more about transport in my speech, but one thing I should say is that local authorities have a statutory duty to ensure that there is no barrier to participation for 16 to 18-year-olds because of transport. Currently the discretionary learner support fund cannot be used to fund transport, but I would like to ensure that any replacement for EMA can cover additional transport costs. However, we must ensure that local authorities cannot shirk their responsibilities in law.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

I shall give way to three more Members-one from each party.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

Can the Secretary of State give some assurance that the reform will mean that the people who have been highlighted by the shadow Secretary of State as being most in need will get more help, and that the new system will be better for those people, whom we should care about most?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The aim of the coalition Government is to target support better on those who need it, and our first concern is for those with special educational needs, those with learning difficulties and those who face real barriers to participation. I have had an opportunity to talk to my hon. Friend, who I know is passionate about these issues, and a number of his colleagues to try to ensure that the solution we frame, in keeping with the principles outlined by Simon Hughes, captures exactly those most deserving cases.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Labour, Lewisham, Deptford

Some 1,400 students at Lewisham college, most of whom are from ethnic minorities, receive EMA. Would it not be invidious for the principal of that college to have to choose just 140 of those students under the Secretary of State's revised scheme? More importantly, what does the Secretary of State have to say to students on two-year courses, 229 of whom will be cut off at this moment without any possible hope of continuing their courses, without the £30 a week that matters enormously to very low-paid families in my constituency?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

Any Member of Parliament representing a Lewisham constituency is dealing with a huge range of difficult educational and social issues. I had the opportunity to visit Haberdashers' Aske's Knights Academy, which has a sixth form, in Lewisham last Friday. I had a chance to talk to the students and principals there and they would like to see several changes, broadly in line with the coalition Government's education policy. One position that I think is shared between the right hon. Lady, me and the students to whom I spoke is the belief that any replacement for the EMA needs to be, as my hon. Friend Dr Huppert pointed out, targeted on those in the most need. Of course, those people will be more heavily represented in a constituency such as the right hon. Lady's.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Conservative, Brigg and Goole

I shall have something more to say on EMA if I am called to speak later, but on transport, let me set out the situation in north Lincolnshire. When our Labour-run council came to power it increased the cost of the post-16 travel pass by 500%, so it was giving money with one hand through the EMA and taking it back with the other through the transport passes, which went up from £30, when the Conservatives ran the council, to £180-and they are now £195. Will the Secretary of State ensure that whatever replaces EMA will provide for people in constituencies such as mine who live in very rural areas, for whom getting to college is a great expense?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

My hon. Friend makes a very good case. As he is a former teacher and he came to the House to advance social mobility, I take seriously everything he says on these issues.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Dr Huppert is tweeting from the Chamber right now that the shadow Secretary of State has refused to meet Simon Hughes, but in fact the shadow Secretary of State has already met him, and is prepared to meet him at any time. Is it in order for a Member, in the course of a debate, to make points about participants in the debate without doing it here so that everyone can hear the point they are making and have an opportunity to rebut it?


The Tweet in question:!/julianhuppert/status/27730735787933696

"Ah, Andy Burnham's real agenda leaks out. Simon Hughes, in charge of developing a better replacement, offers to work with him. He refuses."

Submitted by Richard Taylor

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

What I can say is that it is for me to keep order in the Chamber. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has brought this to my attention, and I am sure that no hon. Member will be tweeting from the Chamber to let people outside know what is going on.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making his point, but I do not know what it says about my hon. Friend Andrew Percy or Joan Ruddock that while they were making their interventions, he thought his own Twitter feed was more intriguing than the points they had to make. However, he is a genial soul and I know they will forgive him everything, as will I.

Let me return to the central theme of many of the interventions we have just heard-the need to target support better on the poorest. In the context of everything we are doing in education, the coalition Government have already made a series of decisions, with constrained resources, to make sure that the poorest benefit from our policies. We are extending free child care to 15 hours a week for all three and four-year-olds. That did not happen under the previous Government and I had hoped they would support it, but we have introduced it. We are also extending free child care to 100,000 of the poorest two-year-olds. That happened on this watch. Those 100,000 children would not have received free child care and preparation for school if it had not been for the commitment of the coalition Government. I am grateful that some Opposition Members, such as Mr Allen and Mr Field, support us, and I am sure that many others recognise that this is a progressive step that all should applaud.

We are also implementing a pupil premium-£625 million this year, rising to £2.5 billion by the end of the comprehensive spending review. As a direct result of that, every poor child will have thousands more spent on their education. That money will be invested in better teaching, one-to-one tuition and catch-up learning, all of which is additional money on top of the schools budget. That policy was rejected by the Labour party in coalition negotiations. In order to make sure that all those interventions to help the poorest could be funded, the coalition Government had to take some tough choices, one of which is to replace EMA with a new system of support.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

In a second.

The reason why we are replacing EMA-beyond the desperate financial situation that we inherited-is that we are making our policy based on evidence that was commissioned, sifted, prepared and analysed by an organisation that was working for the previous Government. The National Foundation for Educational Research was commissioned by my predecessor to look at the barriers to continued participation in education for 16, 17 and 18 year-olds. I shall go into some detail about what the report argued. It concluded that the EMA or any replacement for it should be targeted better at those young people who feel that they cannot continue in learning without financial support. That argument has consistently been made in the debate by a number of people from different parties. Yes, we acknowledge that there will have to be cuts-although the right hon. Member for Leigh will not say how many-and yes, we acknowledge that some of the people who currently receive it might not be the most deserving. If the economy were growing it would be fantastic to offer that incentive, but given that it is not, let us make sure that those most in need are supported.

Half of young people receive the EMA, but only 12% of them-so 6% of students overall-said that they needed financial support to stay in learning. The NFER says that financial support should be increasingly targeted at those most in need, and I could not agree more. Specific financial barriers to learning-which have, I must in fairness add, been mentioned by the right hon. Member for Leigh-are faced by particular students. I am particularly conscious of the need to support students who have learning difficulties, and I am aware that when students have caring responsibilities they need more support. I am particularly aware that when students are teenage parents, additional financial support will be required because of their specific circumstances. In the scheme that we are developing, all those considerations weigh heavily with me.

There are also individuals in specific circumstances who need additional support, as the right hon. Member for Leigh has also pointed out. Additional support sometimes depends on the course one pursues. If one is pursuing a catering course, the cost of buying whites and knives and so on will be more than the cost of an academic course in a sixth form where the books are supplied and the costs of participation are less. We need to take that into account, as well as the need for straightforward support. There are poorer students at school who will be eligible for free school meals-and quite right too-who will not have that support in FE colleges. One of the questions in my mind is how we can ensure that the basic maintenance needs to keep body and soul together, which poorer students require, will be available, whatever institution they attend.

There are also students-particularly, but not exclusively, in rural areas-who face barriers to participation because of transport costs and transport sparsity. Again, I am looking at all those areas. I am helped by the detailed work that has already been undertaken by the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark. His job as access advocate is not just to explain how our policies can help social mobility at every stage; he is making sure that the replacement for EMA deals with all the real-world issues. I am grateful to him for his support, as I am grateful to any hon. Member who can make constructive suggestions about how we can better target the money given the constraints under which we operate.

Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Labour, Bolton West

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the research about students staying on was flawed? It was narrow, talked only to young people in sixth forms and did not talk to their parents, who actually make the decision about whether the child can stay on at school.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making that point. In fact, the survey was wide-ranging; more than 2,000 people were approached. It was scientifically conducted, and the organisation was commissioned by the previous Secretary of State. I had my differences with him, but I think the research is impeccable. However, the hon. Lady makes a good point about parents. As I am sure all Members are aware, any child who stays in education beyond the age of 16 makes their family, and of course the mother, eligible for child benefit. One of the things that Mr Brown explicitly stated when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer was that he envisaged, in the first instance, that child benefit would go in order to pay for EMA. He said subsequently that actually they could pay for both child benefit and EMA because of the success of the Labour Government in removing our debt. Now that we have a massive debt, there is a tough decision to be made, and this Government have decided to keep child benefit for those over the age of 16. The question for Opposition Members who want to maintain EMA at its full level is whether they would cut child benefit to pay for it.

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

I want to take the Secretary of State back to the subject of vulnerable young people, particularly young carers. I have raised the point in debate on a number of occasions, for example in the Christmas pre-recess Adjournment debate. Removing a national scheme, from which a group of young carers in Salford benefit, particularly because almost all of them are in receipt of EMA, and replacing it with a scheme one tenth of the size and at the discretion of college principals, will not be the answer. College principals do not know who their young carers are. The right hon. Gentleman needs to be clearer, and more work needs to be done, because those young people deserve the support offered by EMA and they will not manage without it. They will struggle and their caring work load will swamp them.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

The hon. Lady makes a good point. We want to ensure that learners with caring responsibilities are looked after. They are a small but growing number, who face enormous challenges and are living heroically, attempting to balance their responsibilities. In any replacement scheme, we need to ensure better targeting. The truth is that the current scheme does not effectively target those people.

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan

The NFER data that the Secretary of State has highlighted are startling, in that they demonstrate the amount of dead-weight and inefficiency in the existing arrangements. Can my right hon. Friend tell us whether he has had any helpful suggestions from the Opposition as to what changes could be made to target support more efficiently, particularly in light of the needs of many students that he has highlighted?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I have had a couple of helpful suggestions from Opposition Back Benchers-I shall not name them-who recognise that we need to make reductions and believe that support can be better targeted. I have looked at their submissions and they have helped to shape my thinking. In the same way, I have been fortunate in that a number of Liberal Democrat and Conservative colleagues have made points to me about how a replacement scheme should be targeted. Many of the arguments had occurred to me beforehand, but many were made with such force and passion and were backed up with such persuasive facts that they have certainly shaped our policy. The opportunity exists for other Members to make such points, and although I am not sure that the seminar-style atmosphere of an Opposition day debate is necessarily ideal for such submissions, I am always grateful to receive them.

Photo of Julian Smith Julian Smith Conservative, Skipton and Ripon

On behalf of students and staff at Craven college in my constituency, I thank the Secretary of State. They made strong representations to me about the need to look at travel in the reworked EMA, so I thank my right hon. Friend for agreeing to do that.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

I want to make some progress.

On travel, it is important that we recognise that local authorities are under a statutory duty to support young people aged between 16 and 19, and, up to the age of 24, any young learner with learning difficulties, to get to school or college. It is the law. Local authorities are failing in their statutory duty if they do not provide support. The Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 strengthened that duty. Local authorities must consult young people and their parents, publish an appropriate plan and ensure that there is access.

I appreciate that local authorities, like all of us, are having to deal with the consequences of the desperate financial mess the previous Government bequeathed us, but the best local authorities are showing the way. Oxfordshire provides transport and totally waives the cost for any student whose family is in receipt of income support, housing benefit, free school meals or council tax benefit. Essex waives travel costs for children in receipt of a range of benefits. In Liberal Democrat-controlled Hull, any student in receipt of education maintenance allowance also receives a travel grant to cope with the full cost-

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

I suspect they won't if a Labour council takes power, but if people are wise enough to vote Liberal Democrat at the next local election in Hull-[Hon. Members: "Oh."]-or for the Conservatives in any seat where we are well placed to defeat Labour, they will have a council that is fulfilling its statutory duty. It is no surprise that there are Liberal Democrat and Conservative councils that ensure that all students receive the support they deserve. It is striking that that is in addition to EMA.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Transport costs are obviously a major factor for students all over the country. Can the Secretary of State explain why under the Transport for London fares rise approved by Boris Johnson, EMA-receiving students are charged 65p per bus fare, whereas under the previous Ken Livingstone regime they all had free bus travel to encourage young people in London to stay on in education? Will the Secretary of State have a word with his friend the Mayor of London?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that opening salvo in the Re-elect Ken campaign. Behind it, there is an important point, which is that in London transport and travel costs are significantly less-whoever the Mayor is-than those faced by people in rural constituencies. I was particularly struck by the testimony of Sir Alan Beith that students in his constituency may need to undertake a round trip of two hours a day to reach a further education college. In constituencies such as those represented by the hon. Members for Wells (Tessa Munt) or for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), significant journeys have to be undertaken. I am also aware that because of the nature of sixth-form and FE college provision, many students will travel further for their sixth-form education than they would for school education. That is why the statutory duty exists. I am grateful that the Local Government Association has been so positive about so many coalition policies, and I shall work with local authorities to ensure that we can continue to provide that support. Let us be clear: EMA was designed and implemented to augment an existing statutory duty, not to replace it.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

I shall not give way at this stage. I am conscious of the amount of time that has passed, and conscious too that many hon. Members want to speak in the remaining part of the debate.

If we are to increase participation, and if we are to generate greater social mobility, we need to be clear: we need to remove barriers. We also need to ask who faces the largest barriers. How can we help them better and what are the other barriers, as well as the financial one? The research shows us that, yes, the cost of transport, the cost of equipment or the cost of some maintenance can be a factor for some students, but it also shows us that there are bigger barriers: poor guidance, with students not being offered the right advice; poor choices, with an inadequate range of courses available; and above all, poor attainment. The real barrier to participation in education after the age of 16 is the quality of education that a person has received up to the age of 16. Yes, half this country's students are in receipt of EMA, but by the time that half this country's students reach the age of 16, they do not have five good GCSEs. We discovered the other week that barely 15% of students have GCSEs in the five essential areas of English, mathematics, science, languages and the humanities.

If we really believe in generating social mobility in this country, we must ask ourselves how every pound is best invested. Graham Allen is quite clear: spend it at the beginning. Frank Field is quite clear: spend it early on. The coalition Government are quite clear-

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

I am sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker.

The hon. Member for Nottingham North-a Labour Member-and the right hon. Member for Birkenhead are quite clear that we should invest in the early years. That is what the coalition Government are doing, and at a greater rate and in a more powerful way than the previous Government. The investment in early years, the reform of education, the investment in the pupil premium and the range of reforms that I mentioned earlier-the right hon. Member for Leigh has remained silent about them-make up a powerful package to generate greater social mobility.

The question for all hon. Members is: are we going to be sufficiently grown up to acknowledge that we have a deficit, or are we going to be deficit deniers? Are we going to be progressive enough to target support at those who need it most, or are we going to say that the existing system is perfect and need not be reformed? Are we going to say, "Let's get our whole school system right," or are we just going to spend more on one unreformed benefit? There is a basic choice today: vote with the Opposition, and therefore vote for reaction, complacency and deficit denial; or vote with the Government, and therefore vote for progressive policies, an education policy that will really change things and an opportunity, at last, to kick-start social mobility in this country.

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Shadow Minister (Health) 3:01 pm, 19th January 2011

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate. I wish that the Secretary of State would stop the nonsense of talking about deficit denial. We know that the bankers caused the crisis. We invested in the economy to ensure that we could keep people in work and in their homes, and so that we could fund education-that is the difference between us and the Government.

We are considering not only cuts to EMA, but the Government's wholesale betrayal of balancing their cuts towards young people. EMA has been a lifeline for young people, especially those from less well-off backgrounds, of whom there are many in my constituency. However, the cut must be considered in the context of what has happened to the likes of Halton under this Government. In addition to the cut in EMA, we have faced a massive £180 million cut in Building Schools for the Future. The tuition fees policy will have a particular effect on my constituents, and we experienced a £1.2 million education cut last year, although Tory-controlled Cheshire West and Cheshire East councils had a cut of only £600,000. We must not forget that the Government have made a deliberate ideological attempt to make cuts in Labour authorities and areas.

EMA has been an important tool to support young people in education and to encourage them to stay on, succeed and realise their aspirations. It also supports choice because it allows young people to choose the institution that is best for them, not just the nearest one. Ending the payment stacks the odds even more against those who have least but want to get on in life.

Halton benefited from being one of the original pilot areas for EMA. There was a 55% increase in EMA recipients between 2004 and 2010, with last year's numbers exceeding 2,000 recipients. From talking to young people, I know how important EMA has been to them, so its withdrawal will lead to students dropping out and becoming NEETs-those not in employment, education or training-which will have a significant economic and social impact in deprived areas such as Halton. That would go against the so-called coalition's policy of reducing the number of NEETs, and it would also reverse the marvellous progress that has been made in Halton to reduce its proportion of NEETs from 8.3% in 2007 to 4.5% last year.

The Association of Colleges reports that the National Foundation for Educational Research estimates that 12% of young people who received EMA believed that they would not have participated in their courses if they had not received it. In some colleges, half the students surveyed said that they felt that they would not be able to continue their course following the withdrawal of EMA, while a further third thought that they would need to weigh up the pros and cons of staying on at college.

Mike Sheehan is the widely respected principal of my constituency's Riverside college-the college I attended. He has turned round a number of failing colleges and is achieving great things at Riverside college. He says that the withdrawal of EMA on new year's eve has adversely affected recruitment to the college's January programme. The figures are down by almost three quarters-just 25 students compared with 106 last January. He is worried about the students who enrolled on two-year courses in full expectation of receiving EMA throughout their course. It is unfair that EMA is being withdrawn partway through courses, and the Association of Colleges says that that will affect 300,000 young people throughout the country. Mr Sheehan says:

"Attendance, retention and achievement have risen drastically at Riverside College in recent years. We are absolutely convinced that EMA has played a significant part in bringing about these improvements. It has provided a real incentive for young people to attend fully and to stay at college."

Some surveys have pointed to higher attendance and take-up rates for courses among young males from disadvantaged backgrounds who receive EMA. That is especially important in deprived areas such as Halton, and that is to say nothing about the higher earning potential of better-qualified students who complete college and the contribution to the economy that they can therefore make. According to this month's Commons Library statistics on EMA and the Government's research figures, that contribution more than offsets the costs of the EMA programme.

Both the Secretary of State and his shadow spokesman touched on a fundamental aspect of EMA for students from poorer backgrounds: the ability to pay for meals, books and educational equipment. One of the main uses of EMA, however, is the funding of transport. In December 2010, the Association of Colleges commissioned a survey to detail the accessibility of transport to people aged 16 to 19 attending college. It found that 94% of colleges believe that the abolition of EMA will affect students' ability to travel to and from college. The support given by local authorities is extremely varied. Some 29% of authorities provide transport while 20% give financial support. Around 18% provide both, but 27% provide neither. Existing local authority transport provision is extremely patchy, and local authorities cannot be expected to pick up the tab for the withdrawal of EMA.

The Secretary of State might wish to examine Halton's case. We had £30 million taken out of a £130 million budget as a result of the local government settlement, in-year cuts and other changes to programmes. If he thinks that any council, let alone a small one such as Halton, can bear such a cut without services being affected, he is in a different world. Councils cannot find additional funding to fill that sort of gap.

Photo of Paul Farrelly Paul Farrelly Labour, Newcastle-under-Lyme

Does my hon. Friend agree that, as with the rest of the cuts agenda, the Secretary of State's debt argument is simply a spurious decoy? Estimates of the debt position improved following the election, so the position was better after the election than when the Secretary of State promised that he would not abolish EMA.

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Shadow Minister (Health)

We worked hard on the economy to keep people in work and to give them housing support. Today's unemployment figures show the effect of the cuts that have already taken place, and we will see the real effects in the next year or two. The Government's position is a red herring.

I will make another point to the Secretary of State, if he will listen for a second: if he is to bring forward another policy, when will we see it? As Mr Sheehan told me, the situation is causing a lot of uncertainty in colleges.

This is another example of the Government's broken promises, as we have seen with the economy, health and transport. We have heard that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State said that they would keep EMA, so this is a big broken promise on education. They are letting down hundreds of thousands of young people throughout the country, and at least 2,000 or 3,000 young people in my constituency will be affected over the next few years. This disgraceful policy discriminates against the poorest and the most deprived communities, so the Secretary of State should apologise for it today.

Several hon. Members:

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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

Order. Before I call the next speaker, I point out that many hon. Members wish to speak. The previous speaker set a good example by not using the full eight minutes. The fewer the interventions, the more speakers I can call.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee 3:09 pm, 19th January 2011

It is a pleasure to take part in the debate about scrapping the education maintenance allowance. I share the frustration of many Opposition Members about the potential impact of abolishing it. However, although they may deny the relevance of the deficit, my anger is directed at the Labour party and the state in which the previous Government left the public finances.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

You should remember you're the Chair of the Committee.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

I am entirely happy to chair a Committee and to bear witness to the reality of education funding. I am involved in education and serve on the Committee because I care passionately about improving the quality of education and opportunity in this country. We may hear from others later, but the shadow Secretary of State did at least have the goodness to recognise that there was room for reducing the deficit. However, he would not tell us where, what, when or how. When I consider the attempt to make more effective interventions in the early years and I look at the nursery education opportunities for two-year-olds, I ask myself whether I would prefer to cut that or keep the EMA.

A Labour Member suggested that there might be differences between Members. In my constituency, some students travel for an hour and 40 minutes each way to attend Bishop Burton further education college. That is a real issue for a rural area such as mine. However, I know that half of all 17 and 18-year-old full-time students are eligible for the EMA, and I am aware of the chronic crisis and pressure on educational budgets-the desperate desire to deliver the outcomes that we have struggled to provide from our system. I have said it before, and I will risk repeating it: I know that the Labour Government were utterly committed to trying to close the gap. They had will and they had resource-a resource which has sadly gone-yet too often the gap widened rather than narrowed. I do not blame the Opposition for using this issue today, but I hope that we will collectively, not in a party political way, take the limited funds that are available-the deficit is not an irrelevant fact but the fundamental elephant in the room-and look to do what is best. We had a lot of spending previously, and we have a diet of hard decisions now. They must be faced.

The shadow Secretary of State suggested that the best approach was to cut everything by the same amount. Is that really the strategically sensible way to ensure that we improve outcomes for people in our society, not least those with least? I do not think that it is. So I am interested to know how the discretionary learner fund-the replacement for the EMA-will work, because of the realities faced by my constituents, who travel over three hours a day to get to an FE college, and who then achieve at the end of that. If those people manage to do that in the face of great difficulty and personal inconvenience, I want to be sure that colleges such as Bishop Burton, which run private enterprises to make profits so that they can have a fleet of vehicles, are not disadvantaged. Despite those vehicles, the college is worried that the students, who often live in small hamlets, need to travel from their home to the pick-up point for the college bus. We need to ensure that we have a system-whether financed by local authorities or the replacement for the EMA-that covers that.

It is hard to believe that the EMA as it stands is the most sensible use of scarce resource. I am not trying to make a party political point, and I am mindful of my position as Chair of the Select Committee, but I want us to devise the system that works most effectively and yet does not deny the reality.

When I was first elected as a councillor-in Cambridge-many years ago, I went to a budget survey meeting with the public in a local shopping centre, which the then Labour council had arranged. I was handed a form which gave a list of spending areas for the budget debate. It said, "Please tick all those areas where you would like to see more spending." I am a small-state Conservative in some ways, and I found many items on which I wanted to spend more. I was terribly aware of what went on in my ward-the lack of provision for young people, the need to do more in many areas-and I wanted to tick many boxes. However, the Labour council had sensibly included a proviso, which said, "All we ask is that for every box you tick to give more money, you identify another item on which you want to spend less."

That is the challenge that faces the Select Committee, which will look under the bonnet of the new fund. It will examine engagement and participation by 16 to 19-year-olds. We want to ensure that the dire warnings by the shadow Secretary of State are not fulfilled and that young people are not put off education, but we must realise that we are in a highly constrained position because of this Government's financial inheritance. Like that wise Labour council many years ago, every time we say, "Let's save the EMA"-Opposition Members have not made it clear so far whether they want to save all or half of EMA-we should ask, "What will we cut?" Just as, in that shopping centre, members of the public, like me, were told, "It's not enough to say you want better youth services; you've got to tell us where to save the money too," if hon. Members are to do justice to the young people, whom we all want to see given decent and proper opportunity, we must ensure that we do so in a financially responsible manner.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield 3:15 pm, 19th January 2011

It is an interesting debate, but I found it hard to concentrate on the Secretary of State's speech because I was expecting a speech that was focused particularly on the motion and on EMAs, but he seemed to want to talk about almost everything else. He spoke endlessly about the economy but said little about the EMA.

In my brief speech, I want to make a couple of points. First, as a former Chair of the Education Committee, I say to the current Chair that, as Nye Bevan said, it is a question of priorities, but he and I, and other hon. Members, served on the Committee when it conducted an inquiry into NEETs-one of our last inquiries under the previous Government, and I believe that the impact on NEETs of the removal of EMAs will prove very much more expensive than the NEET budget.

I beg the Government to think in terms of the broader picture. The previous Government introduced EMAs because we knew that if we could keep a young person on in education from 16 to 18, we had got 'em-they stayed on, and not just to go to Oxford and Cambridge, which the Secretary of State is obsessed with. The one thing that annoys me most is the obsession with which kids who had free school meals went to Oxford and Cambridge. I am a London School of Economics graduate, but I must point out that there are many much better universities than Oxford and Cambridge. There are brilliant universities-the university of Huddersfield in my constituency is fantastic. It has one of the best design and engineering departments in the country. So please, Secretary of State, do not be obsessive about Oxford and Cambridge.

The record is there to show that as a result of the successful policy of introducing EMAs, many more young people-a tremendous number-now stay on from 16 to 18. They do not do all the posh things such as going to Oxford and Cambridge or the Russell Group universities, but they stay on for apprenticeships and training; they go for craft training and become technicians. The Secretary of State shares my desire to get more kids to become technicians. There is nothing wrong with that, and EMAs have meant that many more have come through. We know that without EMAs, many young people will be put off doing so.

With EMAs, we have changed the educational culture; it is the one area in which we have done so. Kids now stay on until they are 18 and that opens up their lives to new opportunities. The abolition of EMAs will change the culture back to what it was before.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

In a moment.

We must also consider the long-term implications and the unintended consequences. I pray in aid a recent report from the Equalities Commission. It showed how many young people from ethnic minorities were unemployed and the sort of employment those who worked had. For example, 25% of Pakistanis are taxi drivers. It showed how many Pakistani, Bangladeshi, black, and white working-class young people have been brought into education and stay in education because of EMAs. If those young people are not in education or training, they will not get jobs. The long-term cost to our communities will be frightening.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Shadow Minister (International Development)

In the local college in my constituency, 50% of young people surveyed who receive the EMA have said that they are unlikely to be able to stay on in education. That is a damning indictment. Secondly, is my hon. Friend aware that it is predicted that the Government will spend some £40 million trying to cancel the EMA? Young people will feel very let down if it is true that so much money will be spent doing that. It is appalling.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and I agree with it, but may I press on and say two more things? The first is that when I chaired the Children, Schools and Families Committee, it always believed in evidence-based policy. That means listening to all the evidence, not just taking one bit that we like and saying, "I'll base the policy on this," and ignoring all the other evidence. I ask the current Chair of the Education Committee, when he has an inquiry on the subject-he will have one; it will be too late, but he will have one-to bear in mind that we always took all the evidence.

I have not heard one mention today of Professor Alison Wolf, whom the Secretary of State appointed to look at 14-to-19 education and vocational opportunities. What on earth happened to that? This is just like the increase in student fees; we are to have a White Paper, after the Government have decided what they will do about student fees. It is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. The fact is that the Secretary of State has got one of the country's leading experts-Professor Alison Wolf from King's College London-to look at the issue, but he will make all the major decisions that will influence how many young people stay on in further and vocational education before she brings forward her report in spring.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding the House that the coalition Government enjoy the support and advice of the leading figure in the world of vocational education. I am aware of two detailed reports on the effectiveness of the education maintenance allowance: the 2007 Institute for Fiscal Studies report, which showed that the allowance had a marginal impact on both attainment and attendance, and of course the National Foundation for Educational Research report, which was published in autumn last year. Can he tell me of any other serious reports, from the NFER or anyone else, that make a contrary case?

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

May I remind the Secretary of State of what one of his favourites, the Policy Exchange, said?

"The only possible remaining argument for the EMA is social justice-that young people from poorer backgrounds deserve to be supported from 16 rather than at 18. This is a pretty weak argument".

So that is another one, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies has looked again at its original research, as he well knows.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education

Has the hon. Gentleman actually read the 2007 IFS report, or the 2010 NFER report? If he had read those, and the Policy Exchange report, he would have seen that those three serious academic reports all say that the EMA does not produce the benefits that he, in his passion, would like it to.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

The IFS report, taken on its own, shows that even if only 8% to 10% of people took up the EMA, that would pay for its cost, in terms of the fuller picture. Today, we are talking about the full cost and impact, and the change in the culture in our country. It is interesting; I thought that the Secretary of State was going to tell us what the hell had happened to the Alison Wolf report, and why he was introducing policy before he had even bothered to listen to the leading expert, who he has working on the issue. A lot of us have actually contributed to her inquiry. What was the point of talking to the Government, and giving one's advice and experience, when the Government ignore it because the Secretary of State has introduced his policy before Alison Wolf introduced hers? We will wait and see what the report brings us.

We are at a pivotal moment. I think most people in the House would agree that we have to make some changes-extraordinary ones. If I sat down with a group of people who care about education in this House, and we discussed what we were to cut, we could think extraordinary things. If I were really pushed and wanted to defend the EMA, I would go for larger class sizes, because there is real evidence that slightly larger class sizes do not make all that much difference. That might upset some of my colleagues, and I agree that there are priorities to be set and choices to be made, but this Secretary of State has never given us a chance to set priorities.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

I will not give way. The fact is that we could have that negotiation and discussion. It is right that there should be priorities, but removing the EMA will hurt all communities, up and down the land. In my constituency of Huddersfield, two FE colleges, Kirklees college and Huddersfield New college, depend heavily on educational maintenance allowances; they do a wonderful job in bringing young people who would not otherwise have the chance into education across the piece.

I am reminded that many people on the Conservative side do not actually know much about FE. [Interruption.] Listen a minute. Only last June, the Association of Colleges gave a golden award to six people who went to FE colleges. A person could not get through the Conservatives and Liberals who were gathered around Colin Firth as he got his award. He never went to university; he went to an FE college. Those people in this House who understand the wonderful job that FE colleges do will share my feeling that this is a shameful day in educational policy-a day on which the Secretary of State did not have the courage to defend his arguments, but instead first used the lifebelt of taking more and more interventions to save him making a speech, and secondly went on about the broader economy. This is a shameful day, and the Secretary of State should be ashamed of it.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Liberal Democrat, Mid Dorset and North Poole 3:26 pm, 19th January 2011

May I say how pleased I am that the Secretary of State is working with schools and colleges on how the enhanced learner support fund should operate? The few comments that I shall make today are intended to feed into the work that I understand is going on in the vital area of supporting participation in 16-to-19 education and training, and into the work that my right hon. Friend Simon Hughes is carrying out. I believe that there should be a comprehensive view across all education and training for that age group.

Over several years, I have received a number of representations about the unfairness of the EMA system, and I am quite convinced that there is a need for reform, but equally, I am concerned that its replacement should provide sufficient support. On the point about unfairness, I would like to quote just one constituency case-a rather unusual one. A single parent, earning just over £30,000 a year, had triplets in a local sixth form. I wrote pleading letters to the relevant Labour Minister, saying that surely there should be more flexibility to take into account individual circumstances, but to no avail. Of course child benefit is not very helpful when one has triplets, either, because for the second and third triplet, the rate is considerably lower.

There must be many cases where a family has two or more siblings in post-16 education, yet the system that the Labour party is defending so vigorously did not have the capacity to respond to individual circumstances. I believe that we need something that is individual and targeted. It is clear to me that we need to address potential barriers to entry faced by individual students in accessing the most appropriate courses of their choice, and how those barriers can best be overcome.

Like the Secretary of State, I believe in choice and social mobility. That means access to the right institution that offers the right range of subjects for the particular student. I represent a constituency that is relatively affluent, but it certainly includes young people who need and deserve our support. It has a mix of urban and rural areas. I concur with the points made about the very long journeys that have to be undertaken by some students.

I shall deal briefly with the main barriers, as I see them. I see transport as a major barrier. It is not enough to say that local authorities have a statutory duty. The local authorities that cover my constituency have long since abandoned providing transport for sixth-form students, and have taken the attitude that EMA replaced the need to cover public transport. They have been quite gruelling, saying, "Ah, there's another school or college that is closer, where you could do more or less what you want to do." That is not good enough.

Poole local authority, for example, has grammar schools. If a young person has gone to a secondary modern school from the poorer part of town, it is right that they should have access to the grammar school if they have worked hard to get the qualifications. I ask the Secretary of State to look at that. We believe in social mobility, and with the grammar school system there is a particular problem.

With reference to FE colleges, we need to take on board the reasons why young people go on to further education. It is often because it offers a totally different type of course from those they were able to do at school. Again, there is a problem with a local authority funding transport because somebody wants to go to a college of further education rather than to their local comprehensive school. School might have been a bad experience. I have lectured in further education for many years. It is inspiring to turn around students who have had bad school experiences and turn out to be brilliant students in a different setting. I am concerned that we may be depriving some children of those opportunities.

My constituency has no FE colleges, which inevitably means a great deal of travel for youngsters there. Students from my constituency go further afield, beyond Bournemouth and Poole college, in the opposite direction to the specialist college, Kingston Maurward, which has incredibly interesting courses. Originally one of the agricultural colleges, it offers many course that are suitable for particular interests, such as work with animals. It is extremely important that transport is paid.

I am concerned that the issue of transport costs is not as simple as it sounded when the Secretary of State was talking about it. I would support the introduction of a young people's travel card. I would make a sacrifice. I am eligible for a bus pass although I do not have one. Even if I had it, I do not think I need to be able to travel all over the country for free. I believe many people would accept a cut there.

A further barrier is the cost of equipment. Bournemouth and Poole college has an amazing reputation for catering and hospitality, as hon. Members might imagine. Of course, the equipment is expensive, and students must have help with that. We have discussed the fact that some courses need more expensive books than others-for example, students going on to study art will need expensive materials.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Liberal Democrat, Mid Dorset and North Poole

I had better not, given the time.

There is a big difference between school, where free school meals are available, and the local college. Young people's life chances can be transformed by going to college, but they need to have enough food.

I draw attention to the young people who are vulnerable and particularly disadvantaged-those not living in a family home for whatever reason, children in care, care leavers, young people who are homeless, children and young people with learning difficulties, teenage parents and young carers. We need some red lines: some groups of young people must be protected, come what may. In future, we must enhance access, ensure success and allow our young people to achieve their potential, regardless of background and financial circumstances.

I have two specific questions. One is about young people who are part-way through courses and who may not have EMA for the next year of the course. How will that be tackled? Will there be ring-fencing? I am worried about colleges and schools having pots of money and its going off into other activities. Finally, we seem to be facing a big threat today, but together we could work on the opportunities arising from it.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Opposition Whip (Commons) 3:34 pm, 19th January 2011

The Government's decision to abolish EMA will damage young people's prospects throughout the country, but in a constituency such as mine in east London, the results will be frankly disastrous. Removing seven eighths of the money and establishing, possibly, a residual discretionary support fund will be no compensation. It will place colleges and schools in the impossible position of allocating resources thinly but fairly among many deserving students.

At present, more than 5,000 students in my local borough of Newham receive EMA-more than two in five of all of our 16 to 19-year-olds. It makes a real difference to them and to their families. Our 16-plus participation rate is up almost 13% since EMA came on-stream, from 81.4% in 2003-04 to 94.1% in 2008-09. Newham sixth-form college is the largest in London, and more than three quarters of students receive EMA. The vast majority are on the full £30 weekly allowance. Students I met reported giving the contribution to their parents for their keep, so let there be no mistake: this money will be sorely missed.

Newham's average household income is £455 a week. Only three other English local authorities have higher levels of child poverty. Silver spoons are in short supply in Newham. For most of the students at Newham sixth-form college, EMA is not just nice-to-have pocket money but a financial necessity. It helps with the costs of travel, buying books and other course requirements, and contributes to household incomes. EMA is not a bribe, as has been claimed, but a pathway to further and higher education for young people in low-income families. EMA offers a lifeline to many against whom the odds are already stacked. But now, EMA recipients who are halfway through their courses say they do not know how they can carry on when their funding is withdrawn. Others worry about the motivation for younger brothers and sisters to keep attending school and doing their best.

Do we really want a country where young people have to worry about the significant sacrifices that their parents will have to make to allow them to undertake further education? Do we really want young people to have to forgo their lunches a couple of times a week, or walk miles to college because they cannot afford the bus fare? Do we really want them to spend every spare minute they have in part-time work?

Since its creation, EMA has sent a strong signal to teenagers that a positive future is available if they work hard and play by the rules. We can contrast that positive and inclusive message with the hugely discouraging signals we are now sending to our young people: the abolition of EMA alongside the cutting of Aimhigher, the trebling of tuition fees and the ending of the future jobs fund. It is obvious that we are storing up problems for the future, and the Government's decision to slash the support for young people to stay on in education will be viewed by future generations as a betrayal-a costly mistake-as well as another broken promise.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am sorry, but I promised not to give way.

The Government, and even the Prime Minister earlier today, try to justify the abolition of EMA by relying on a single research study. But as ever with this Government, when it comes to their use of statistics it pays to read the small print. The research that they point to was carried out by the highly reputable National Foundation for Educational Research, but that study was not an evaluation of EMA; it was a much broader project, looking at barriers to learning for all 16 to 19-year-olds. The research sampled only year 11 students-students not in the sixth form, with no experience of the additional costs associated with further education-so the study cannot legitimately bear the conclusion that the Government want to draw from it. The research is an excuse for their decision to abolish EMA, not a reasoned explanation.

As my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, other independent studies found that EMA does increase participation in post-16 learning, particularly among young people from families on low incomes. Members do not have to take my word for it. As my hon. Friend Mr Sheerman said, the Institute for Fiscal Studies-that well-known left-wing organisation!-looked at the Government's case and found it wanting, stating that it was based on selective assumptions. It concluded that EMA is an effective use of public money. I do not believe that cutting EMA is inevitable in the light of the financial situation. I am not a deficit denier; I simply believe that abolishing EMA is not economically sound. Bankers' bonuses flourish, yet ordinary young people pay the price. There is no policy justification for the cut. Let there be no mistake: the abolition of EMA is a political choice.

Let me tell those who still think that the allowance is a bribe about Tom Chigbo, a London boy, and the first black president of Cambridge student union. He lives in my constituency. He tells me that he would not have got to Cambridge without EMA: he used it for travel and food and to attend additional lectures and seminars in London, which made his personal statement stand out and gave him something to talk about at interview. Members who will vote in the Government Lobby should remember Tom and the others up and down the country whose future they are blighting and whose potential they are capping.

Photo of David Morris David Morris Conservative, Morecambe and Lunesdale 3:41 pm, 19th January 2011

Today we are debating a scheme introduced by the previous Government that has done some good for poorer students but is also wasteful and inefficient. We need to work out how to maintain and support poorer students while cutting overall costs. Sadly, this is a typical tale of the previous Government's waste and the current Government having to mop up the mess.

Much of the discussion has been about access, but I firmly believe that raising the school-leaving age to 18 by 2015 will address the issue. I want to concentrate mainly on looking at how best we can give money to students in genuine need. The system currently costs £565 million a year, at a time when, we all accept, the Government are short of money. We cannot pay for everything, so we have to find savings. Of those receiving the allowance, 10% have parents earning more than £25,000 a year, and 47% of those in full-time education are claiming it. Are we saying that all those people need it?

The 18 October 2010 edition of The Observer reported on a Local Government Association report published that month suggesting that 90% of those claiming did not need that benefit. That means that only £56 million gets into the pockets of the poorest in our society, whereas we want to increase discretionary payments to £78 million by 2015.

Photo of David Morris David Morris Conservative, Morecambe and Lunesdale

No, I am short of time.

Under our proposals, poorer students in my constituency of Morecambe and Lunesdale will be better off, while we will save the taxpayer money. I thank the Secretary of State, who sadly is not here, for the £250,000 he recently put towards Morecambe college.

EMA was a typical Labour scatter-gun approach: some people benefit, but money is given to many who do not need it. Of course students oppose our proposals, but they aim to support the poor and not give money to everyone who wants it. We must put dogma to one side, as Simon Hughes said, and sort this mess out where it counts. I believe that together we could do that constructively.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Before calling the next speaker, I must inform Members that-would Members please resume their seats?-52 of them still wish to speak. To be fair, and to try to call them all, I will reduce the time limit to six minutes. I hope that they will bear it in mind when speaking that many Members wish to contribute.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Labour, Manchester, Gorton

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This happens again and again. We are given a restricted time limit, and in the course of the debate it is reduced. One reason why is that the two Front-Benchers' speeches took 50 minutes and 46 minutes. If Front Benchers, taking interventions again and again, are going to reduce the opportunities of Back Benchers to make speeches of reasonable length, we ought to look at the whole system, because it is unacceptable to reduce the length of speeches in the course of a debate.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Sir Gerald, I understand your frustration and anger at the reduction in the time limit. As you will know, it is beyond the power of the Chair to curtail the opening speeches or to prevent Members making interventions in the first place when they have their name down to speak in that very debate, but I am sure that other Members will want to take up your point with the Procedure Committee. It is not a matter for me, however. I am trying, with this debate, to be as fair as I possibly can, and even with six minutes not every Member who has asked to speak will be called before the winding-up speeches. I am afraid that I can do nothing more at this stage, but I will certainly draw the issue to the Speaker's attention.

Photo of Rob Flello Rob Flello Shadow Minister (Justice) 3:46 pm, 19th January 2011

I shall endeavour to take less than six minutes, and I shall not take any interventions. I urge colleagues who do want to make a point, however, to raise it during the winding-up speeches. I very much agree with my right hon. Friend Sir Gerald Kaufman about how-by ten-minute rule Bills and other things of that nature, too-these debates are curtailed.

I have just turned to page 30 of my list of broken Tory promises to look at where we are up to so far, and sadly the book still has many pages to go. The footnotes refer to, "We're all in this together", yet the burden continues to fall on children, young people and those on the lowest incomes. The burden that falls on the bankers is a bonus of £2 million-plus. That's justice, that's fair-I don't think. I am very interested to hear what Government Front Benchers have to say about where the burden falls. I am sure that they will duck that question, given that they have become so good at ducking.

What example are our young people being set by the Education Secretary and the Prime Minister? What fine role models they are. The sixth-form student's claim that the dog ate his homework seems positively saintly in comparison with what we keep hearing, so let us look at why the Tory-led Government are scrapping EMA.

The decision is based on dodgy guesswork. There is an assumption of 90% dead-weight, but let me just pause on "dead-weight". Are we seriously describing 90% of our young people as dead-weight? That is atrocious and absolutely abhorrent. Using that phrase, as we seemingly must, I suggest that the figure might have some credibility if the report were based on more than a handful of respondents to a survey that excluded college students and heard from predominantly white respondents. The figures also vary according to how much EMA the respondents receive, so it is hardly surprising to find that those who receive the lowest amount, those who do not receive it at all and those who are not sixth-form students might have gone to college anyway. It is not surprising that we have such a speculation.

I shall look at Stoke-on-Trent specifically. Our city, which has been referred to already, was one of the first pilot areas, and the results have been dramatic, with an impressive increase in the staying-on rate from 56% to 85%. Students have a choice of various excellent options, including the sixth-form college, many high school sixth forms and the excellent further education college, but that choice will be taken away with the removal of EMA, because students will have to attend whichever college or school is closest to their home, assuming that they can afford to go to one at all. That is because Stoke-on-Trent, unlike other cities in this country, is in the unique position of being not concentric but longitudinal, which means that getting from north to south or east to west is not simply a case of jumping on a single bus. Despite the improved bus service in Stoke-in-Trent that has developed over the past decade, more than one bus journey is still required. At the moment, students can use their EMA to travel around the city to go to the sixth form or college that provides the courses that best suit their requirements, but that choice will be taken away from them.

EMA is very important to students in Stoke-on-Trent, with 55% of students at the sixth-form college alone receiving it at the higher level. In the light of all the challenges that our city has faced, education is rightly held up as being the best way for it to grow and to move forward.

Some of the students to whom I have spoken will be looking for part-time jobs to enable them to study, but where are these mythical jobs? The December 2010 employment figures for Stoke-on-Trent, released today, show rising unemployment in the city, and the job cuts flowing from this Government's reckless handling of the economy spell even tougher times ahead. Even if students manage to get part-time jobs, that can have an adverse effect on their studies, with homework and assignments not done because of work commitments. What of the student who says, "You know what, I can't afford the student fees under this Tory Government, and there'll be no jobs, so I'll just sign on instead." We are seeing yet another wasted generation under a Tory Government, as in the 1980s. They just cannot help themselves, can they? In fact, never mind the 1980s-I sometimes think they are trying to take us back to the 1880s. What of the students who are part way through their courses? How cruel to pull the rug from under the feet of such vulnerable young people.

Let us look at the economic case. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that the costs of EMA are completely offset by rising participation and other benefits. One of the costs of scrapping EMA is that jobseeker's allowance suddenly looks a lot more attractive. This cruel and unfair decision to steal away EMA is based on dodgy data and a flawed economic case.

Sadly, I am having to skip to the end of my speech. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] I apologise-I can hear the groans of disappointment. The catalogue of broken promises goes on and on. The weight of the burden of debt repayment continues to fall on the shoulders of the youngest and poorest members of our society, and Government Members should be ashamed of themselves.


EMA, was pocket money for the majority. It was introduced to cover the fact that although jobs were available, benefits were better. If people were supposedly still in education, then they would not appear on the jobless list. It is cheaper to pay , up to, £30 per week than to pay jobseekers allowance, or other benefits. It also appears as if "Education, Education, Education," is working.
If, in Stoke-on-Trent, or anywhere else children have to "bus to school what is wrong with a "school hours' 'bus pass?

Submitted by Mike Johnson Read 2 more annotations

Photo of Dan Rogerson Dan Rogerson Liberal Democrat, North Cornwall 3:52 pm, 19th January 2011

I, too, will attempt to keep my remarks brief to allow as many hon. Members to speak as possible.

Mr Sheerman, the former Chair of the Select Committee, talked about the tough choices that face the Government. I welcome that, because although he has come to a different conclusion-he suggested bigger class sizes-at least it shows that he is thinking about these ideas and putting forward alternatives. Perhaps he has a firmer grasp on reality than his Front Benchers, who seem to be ignoring the pressures and pretending that we are living in an ideal world.

I certainly do not want to see changes that would lead to what Labour Members are intimating, which is that all the young people who could receive EMA will suddenly find themselves unable to go into post-16 education, but I do not believe that that will happen. Many young people are fighting hard to stay in education and to take the opportunities that are available to them, and there needs to be support for them in the form of the advanced fund that the Government propose. Support also needs to be given by working with local authorities to get them to face up to their statutory responsibilities to provide access.

Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for mentioning the advanced fund. A constituent of mine who has two disabled children at City college Plymouth is unsure whether she will fall within the remit of that fund. Does he share her concern, and does he agree that it would have been helpful to see exactly what its criteria are before having this debate?

Photo of Dan Rogerson Dan Rogerson Liberal Democrat, North Cornwall

The debate was called by Opposition Front Benchers. Perhaps if they had waited until we had that information, we could have had a more informed debate, but that was their decision.

EMA has undoubtedly made a difference to some people. The important thing is that whatever replaces it reaches those young people and keeps them in education, and empowers people who are in a similar situation in future. It is also clear that there are issues with EMA and examples of it not working, some of which were referred to by my hon. Friend Annette Brooke. It is right for the Government to consider doing something slightly different, and I hope that that is better at reaching people and makes a difference to those who have not received the support that they need.

We are in an incredibly tough financial situation. It would be far easier for the Government, in terms of popularity, to ignore that, as the Opposition seek to do, and to carry on borrowing to fund spending that there is no money to meet, but we have chosen not to do that and to face up to some of these things. It is right for the Government to open up this issue and explore it, and for my right hon. Friend Simon Hughes to work on it and discuss ways forward.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Liberal Democrat, Bristol West

One issue that needs to be looked at, which we pressed the Labour Government to address on many occasions, is the anomaly that those who are eligible for free school meals receive them if they are in school, but those who go to sixth-form or FE college at 16 do not. I was potentially in that situation when I was at school. The Labour party refused repeatedly to address that anomaly in the previous Parliament, so we should take some of its anxiety with a pinch of salt.

Photo of Dan Rogerson Dan Rogerson Liberal Democrat, North Cornwall

I welcome my hon. Friend's contribution. Some crucial issues have been raised, including those on food and the cost of living as people continue their studies. I will come back to those in the questions that I ask the Minister.

Transport is a big issue in rural constituencies such as mine. Many students stay on in the excellent school sixth forms and others explore different opportunities, such as travelling to the fantastic Cornwall college, which is dispersed across the peninsula of Cornwall. Its excellent chief executive officer is concerned about what may happen because of the proposed changes to EMA. I welcome his contribution in talking to the Education Committee about those concerns. The fact is that changes and cuts in spending are needed, and the Government have decided to focus the money on the kind of early intervention that the Secretary of State spoke about.

I want to put some questions to the Minister on his deliberations about what will replace EMA. First, will he assure that House that he will work with other Departments, as well as considering the resources at his disposal, on issues such as transport; access to higher education, which is the responsibility of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills; and how local authorities can do more to help young people, which should be discussed with the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Local Government Association? The issue of free school meals is also important, and has been raised by several hon. Members. I would welcome his comments on that.

Will the Minister ensure that in the discussions that he and colleagues have with local authorities, the availability of transport is considered? We are not talking about a token provision of resources that will allow some people to access transport. In some rural areas, the existing network of buses will just not get people there in time. That needs to be addressed.

Barbara Keeley and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole raised the issue of young carers and young people in care who need extra support. It would help if strong guidelines were set up for these funds to ensure that such groups are protected and given every support that they need to access education. Those people need it the most. Action for Children raised that problem and suggested those guidelines in its briefing.

If there is to be a discretionary element, with college and school principals being able to consider how resources should be used locally to achieve access, we should ensure that there are clear guidelines about equality of access. For example, if two students apply to a college, one of whom looks likely on the basis of past performance to achieve grades that mean it will be good for the college to have them on board, and one of whom will need extra support to achieve such grades, the college should consider their home situation, where they live and so on rather than just their academic attainment. We need such safeguards in place.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Labour, Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough 4:00 pm, 19th January 2011

Your constituency, Madam Deputy Speaker, mine and Nottingham North were identified 10 years ago as having the lowest staying-on rates and the lowest levels of access to higher education in the country. The evidence of the Higher Education Funding Council for England demonstrated that the barriers to staying on, including income disadvantage and cultural barriers, needed to be addressed, and that we needed a transformation of aspiration in schools. That transformation has taken place in my constituency, as it has across the country. There has been a 15 percentage point increase there, and a 20 percentage point rise overall, in young people staying on at 16, and there has been a transformation in the most deprived parts of the constituency.

When Sir Robert Ogden, a business man and philanthropist, first introduced bursaries in the mid-1990s in the south Yorkshire coalfield areas, he was, as my hon. Friend Mr Sheerman described, addressing the cultural barriers to young people staying on in education. He was addressing the culture in the community and the family as well as the attitudes of schools and young people. On that basis I was proud to introduce the education maintenance allowance pilots and subsequently the whole scheme, with the support of the then Chancellor. Of course improvements could be made to it, but it has literally transformed the life chances of children.

Children at the moment are currently the disadvantaged and unlucky generation. Child trust funds have been abolished; Sure Start ring-fencing has been lifted and cuts made to the scheme; Aimhigher has gone; youth and career services have been decimated; entitlement funds, which very few people have heard of, are being done away with; the future jobs fund has been abolished at a time of 20% youth unemployment, which is a catastrophe for young people and their families across the country; university fees are being trebled; and now the EMA is going too, including for young people who are already receiving it. That is a terrible blow for them and their families.

Yes, we do have a structural deficit, but by the time of the June emergency Budget it happened to be £10 billion less than had been projected in the Budget the previous March. There has been an increase in Government income above and beyond the result of the measures that the Government have taken, not least from north sea oil and the fuel escalator. We have substantially more money than expected coming in, but there are major cuts, each of them being justified by the same deficit reduction strategy. That means that any cut to any budget at any time can be justified simply by referring to the deficit.

Let us consider what we might have done instead. We could have included post-16 child benefit in assessable, taxable income. That would have been much fairer than cutting the EMA, but would still have been universal. We certainly cannot rely on the expansion of the discretionary learner scheme, because one sixth form in an affluent area receives as much for eight pupils as Longley Park college in my constituency does for 937. In other words, it is completely skewed.

For Gemma Darlow-she has given permission for me to use her name-whose parents were faced with eviction because her mum lost her job, for Yasin Yusuf, who is now at Sheffield Hallam university having come from Somalia, for Jade Fletcher and for Bianca-Jade Titchmarsh, the transformation in their lives, which they have told me about, is testament enough to why it is necessary to maintain the EMA in some form, with a massive expansion in the £75 million currently planned. Some £4.2 million is needed for Sheffield college and Longley Park sixth-form college students alone, never mind the sixth forms in the most affluent areas. That is why the National Foundation for Educational Research material should not be misused; it took more account of those going through to school sixth forms than of those going to sixth-form college and FE college-a sector which, as was rightly said earlier, is the Cinderella of the education system.

We desperately need to get the message across that there can be a solution, because the abolition of EMA is bad for young people and families, bad for social mobility, and bad for the local and national economy. It is unfair and unfocused, and it will lead to the exact reverse of what everybody in this House preaches, which is improvement in staying on, attainment and the future of our country.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe 4:05 pm, 19th January 2011

I begin by paying tribute to Mr Callum Morton, the president of the students union at Amersham and Wycombe college, where about a third of the students receive EMA. He has made his case with great force and maturity, and I am sure that Amersham and Wycombe students will agree that he has served them well.

I should like to address the case advanced by the Opposition. The shadow Secretary of State said that Government Members had no real idea what EMA recipients' lives are like, but how would any of us know? Members on both sides of the House may naturally radiate youthful beauty, but not too many are aged between 16 and 18. What about income? If hon. Members look at the much quoted Institute for Fiscal Studies website and enter their salary into a tool called "Where do you fit in?" they will find that they are in the top 3% of the income distribution of this country. My salary now is just my parliamentary salary, and I will take no lectures on having a silver spoon and particular privileges from those who are on the same income. How are any of us to understand, as the shadow Secretary of State asked, what it is really like to be in receipt of EMA?

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe

No, thank you.

In the end, each of us must read our correspondence and try to walk in the shoes of our constituents. I will therefore take no lectures from those who pretend that they have some special connection to a particular group.

I shall not bore the House with my own background, but I would certainly have qualified for EMA when I was a sixth-former. How did I cope? The answer is that I coped with a mixture of commercial sponsorship and weekend work. I listened to Robert Flello. We must wonder where the jobs will come from, but there is case for saying that people should look to themselves.

Further to the comments made about being out of touch, I must tell Opposition Members that a breadwinner on the minimum wage would work about six hours to earn that £30. None of us should take for granted the importance of what amounts to the best part of a day's pay. Are we out of touch? Certainly not.

Opposition Members like to believe that some infinite pool of funds can be dipped into at will, which is certainly not the case. The measure cannot be considered in isolation. We must bear in mind that whatever we spend must be taxed or borrowed, or indeed debased. It is absolutely wrong to attempt to bribe 16 to 18-year-olds with their own money at interest, as Opposition Members have sought to do.

One hon. Gentleman suggested that we were going back to the 1880s, but I am afraid that that is facile. A paper from the Centre for Policy Studies, "A shower, not a hurricane", showed that from the top level of spending, all we shall be doing in five years is going back to the real levels of 2009. That is the tragedy of Labour's profligacy. Labour left us in such a situation that just mitigating the worst of its spending excesses is causing thoroughgoing misery across the country, and yet we are only going back to 2009.

I will not talk about the waste in the programme as I am running out of time, but I am happy to be able to inform the House that I have had frequent discussions with the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning about social mobility and aspiration and the role of further education in helping people to enjoy social mobility, and I have discovered that, like me, the Minister came from an ordinary background, and that, like me, he has a ferocious passion to help people from ordinary backgrounds get on, go to university and make the most of their lives. It seems to me that Opposition Members are determined to oppose every change in isolation, without regard to the context of this country's situation. They are putting the worst possible construction on every Government policy, and that is simply not fair to a dedicated and passionate Minister.

What has upset me most about the debate is that the shadow Secretary of State has sought to sow fear and despair and to write off young people. It is not for the shadow Secretary of State to tell young people that they should not aspire. He has suggested that the Government's policy is robbing them of their future, but I say no. Rather, I echo his words to every single 16 to 18-year-old and everyone who might be about to go into further education: "Believe in yourself, because you do matter, and yes, do dare to dream, whoever you are."

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Labour, Manchester, Gorton 4:11 pm, 19th January 2011

I represent one of the most deprived constituencies in the country. Today's unemployment figures show that my Gorton constituency has an unemployment rate of 9%. Very few jobs will be available for those who are going to be thrown on to the streets by the Government's decision today, particularly when we take into account the huge job cuts that have been forced on Manchester city council by the grossly disproportionate Government cuts in local government funding for Manchester and other needy areas.

I have come to the Chamber to speak in this debate because the principal of Xaverian college in my constituency, just around the corner from where I live, wrote to me in a tone of huge anxiety and agitation about what the Government are doing. I also received a letter from the assistant principal of Loreto college in Manchester, a constituent of mine, who wrote that

"the EMA has been the most significant Government instrument to encourage marginalised and vulnerable sixteen year olds to remain in education."

I do not know whether these people vote Labour or Conservative-I cannot imagine that they are stupid enough to vote Liberal Democrat-but whichever way they vote, they contacted me because of educational issues.

In order to understand what is going to happen to the 300,000 young people whose EMA will be cancelled part way through their course, we can return to the letter from the assistant principal of Loreto. He wrote:

"the loss to our economy will be measurable, and further I believe that it is in no one's interest to have disaffected young people on the streets."

The Government have decided to do this. They have chosen to do it; it has not been forced on them. They could have dealt with the bankers, with bankers' bonuses and with a host of other issues, but instead they chose to do this, for socially discriminatory reasons. Some 66% of those on full EMA are from single-parent families, and 21% of those on EMA are living with both parents.

This proposal is also racially discriminatory. Some 84% of Bangladeshis receiving EMA and 70% of those of Pakistani heritage who do so receive the full EMA. They use it for all kinds of utterly essential reasons. We must also note that the participation rate in higher education in disadvantaged areas is only 19%.

Thanks to my right hon. Friend Mr Blunkett, young people who are on EMA miss fewer courses, are more likely to stay in education, are socially responsible and have good achievements at their colleges. EMA has made all of those things possible, and this Government are going to take it away from them for socially discriminatory reasons based on the kind of Government they are.

Let us be clear that we are looking at a Government who cut money and cut benefits right across the spectrum of those who can least stand it. Members of this Government have never needed these benefits. They abolished the health in pregnancy grant, which Ministers have never needed. They abolished child trust funds, but Ministers have inherited wealth. They reduced the scope of Sure Start, but Ministers have never needed Sure Start. They are scrapping 500,000 school meals. How many Ministers in this Government have had to get free school meals for their kids? They are interfering with housing benefit, but they live in affluent owner-occupation, in houses that, often, they have inherited. They are taking away social housing rights from our constituents-a huge proportion of my constituents live in social housing-but Ministers have never had to worry about the kind of house they will live in and their right to go on living there.

The Government could have decided on other polices. This callous and heartless Government are the most right wing since the 1930s. They are targeting the weakest when they could have gone for the strongest. The Government could have gone for Sir Philip Green, with his tax-dodging in Monte Carlo, and Lord Ashcroft-but no, those people get away scot-free. It is the poor, the deprived, those in single-parent households and the ethnic minorities that this Government go for. That tells us what the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are really like. Oldham made a judgment about it last week, and the rest of the country will do the same as soon as it gets the opportunity.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Conservative, Brigg and Goole 4:17 pm, 19th January 2011

The one thing that I have grown to dislike since I came to this place is the entrenchment that always appears in debates on this subject, and the previous speaker gave an example of that. Nobody comes into politics to target the weak or the poor deliberately; we may have disagreements about how we assist those who need support and in what form it is given, but nobody comes into this place with those aims and those desires. The one thing that I gave really grown to dislike about this Chamber since my election is the constant view that everybody on one side is elitist and determined to attack the poor, and everybody on the other side is virtuous and has only the best interests of their constituents at heart. I like to think that most people come here with the best of intentions for their constituents, even if we disagree about the way in which we get there. That is how I approach this debate.

I am not interested in the politics of this debate in the slightest. I know that there will be people on both sides who will try to hit each other across the head with the politics, but that is not of any interest to me. All I want from this debate are some answers on what we will replace EMA with and what support will be in place for the young people who most need it. I have read both the motion, much of which is perfectly reasonable, and the amendment, which I have no problem with because it talks about supporting young people who are most in need of this help. It is a shame that we have had to get into such a divisive debate.

My view on EMA has changed over the years. The trials started three years after I left sixth-form college, and I recall thinking when EMA was introduced that I had funded my way through sixth-form college by getting a job at McDonald's. That was my approach to begin with, and I believe that many Members still think like that. However, I then got into the teaching profession and started to see the impact of some of the support. Over time, I started to realise that doing as I had done is not a sustainable way for many people to fund their further education from 16 to 18, and that it is not a possibility for many people-it certainly is not since the changes in employment legislation. Although those changes have advantaged part-time workers, they have in some ways made it harder for teenagers to get part-time jobs.

EMA has therefore been positive in many ways. There have been a lot of problems with it, but it has been positive and has certainly raised participation. I personally never agreed with the raising of the compulsory participation age to 18.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

My hon. Friend is making some good points. Surely the key component to any post-16 education should be a focus on accessibility and choice, which he has already mentioned, but is not the best way to improve accessibility and choice through targeted funding, which is what we are talking about? If we get better targeted funding, we can get better accessibility.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Conservative, Brigg and Goole

My hon. Friend makes a sensible point, with which I would not disagree, but it is also about what size of pot is available to provide that targeted supply. I have no problem with targeted support-so long as the pot is big enough.

I was mentioning some of the advantages of EMA. It has certainly raised participation and it has also raised attendance. I do not believe the figure of 90%. "Dead-weight" is an unfortunate word to use. We are saying not in any way that young people are the dead-weight, but that there might be some dead-weight in the system.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Labour, Bolton South East

I am grateful. The hon. Gentleman said that he did not accept that there has been a 90% take-up rate. In my constituency, 934 young people at Bolton sixth-form college receive EMA-75% of the college intake, which is the third largest in the country-while 1,188 people at Bolton community college are taking up EMA. For those young people and those colleges even to function, the continuation of EMA is vital.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Conservative, Brigg and Goole

I was questioning not the take-up rate but the study apparently showing that 90% of young people would have continued with their studies without it. From my own limited experience in the education field, I certainly do not believe that to be true. We should not get too hung up on that.

In my intervention on the Secretary of State, I mentioned that I represent some very deprived communities in Goole, which certainly need support, and some largely rural areas that also require it. It is a shame, as I said, that our local council has made it more difficult for young people in the north Lincolnshire part of my constituency by raising the cost of their travel passes by 500% in one year and again in subsequent years. As I said to the Secretary of State, I hope that whatever replaces EMA will take into account those costs.

I also try to take account of the views of local colleges on this issue. There is Goole college-a small college in my constituency-but most of the young people in my patch have to travel into Scunthorpe or go to colleges in Hull, Selby or York. All those colleges have written to me, asking for support to continue in some form and requesting more information on what will replace EMA. They advanced a powerful case for how EMA support has enhanced not only attendance and participation, but the commitment of young people to their studies.

I confess that I am not so obsessed about whether the replacement of EMA stays in the same form, as there have been some negatives, which I saw as a practitioner. I once did a period of supply teaching in a private school. That was not really me, although the kids were wonderful. One kid there was receiving EMA through certain mechanisms, but I did not think that that was right by any stretch of the imagination. A young lad came to my surgery not so long ago who complained about not getting EMA despite the fact that his friends were-

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Conservative, Brigg and Goole

I am not giving way any more, as others want to speak.

The lad came to see me because he was not getting EMA, yet his friends who were getting it were also receiving a great deal of support from their parents. It is not a perfect system. Similarly, a lady came to see me who, despite having five jobs as a cleaner, does not receive EMA for her children. She could not understand why other people living in the same houses in the same streets who enjoy the same quality of life and drive the same kind of cars and go on the same kind of holidays are receiving it for their children. There certainly need to be some changes.

As I said at the outset, my concern is not about maintaining a national model, but about ensuring that support is in place that truly supports our young people. I would like to hear more information from Ministers about how big the pot is going to be. There is an argument not so much for a strict national model-I am certainly not in favour of that, as it puts everybody in a straitjacket-but at least for a sign that certain principles will automatically be taken into account as colleges and their administrative institutions make their decisions. That also means that the pot has to be big enough. It is no good removing the EMA and not replacing it with a pot big enough to support the young people who so desperately need it. I urge Ministers, when they sum up and respond to the debate, to give us more advice on that.

Similarly, I say to Opposition Members that, like Simon Hughes, I hope we can work together, because we should all have the same aim of supporting the young people who most need it. I wish we could take the politics out of this issue and get some agreement. We are in a difficult situation financially-everyone knows that tough decisions have to be taken-and the Government are doing some very good things in that regard. I would like us to lose the politics a little and work together to find a system. I would vote for any system that would guarantee young people, such as those it has been my privilege to teach, the support they desperately need to stay in further education.

Photo of John Robertson John Robertson Labour, Glasgow North West 4:25 pm, 19th January 2011

It is a pleasure to follow Andrew Percy-what a great name for a Conservative constituency that is. If ever there was a greater name than Goole, I do not know it.

I was brought up by my mother, my sister and my grandmother-my father died when I was three-so going into further education and following on into university was not an option for me. I knew that as soon as I finished school, I would be going to work. Fortunately, back in 1969, in the Harold Wilson days, we had near-enough full employment and getting a job was not a problem. The company I was employed by, where I worked for 31 years, sent me into further education. I would like to thank Langside college and Stow college for the education they gave me, which helped me to become the person I am today, eventually ending up in this place.

I never attended university but I do not consider that to be a loss to me, although I have aspirations for my children and my grandson, who I hope will have that kind of education. I certainly want to make sure that people get the same opportunity to get that education, whether they fall on the rich side or the poor side of society. I disagree with the previous speaker about targeting the weak and using politics, because I do not have a problem with targeting people or politics. I would like to use my politics to make sure that we do target, but that we target the poor. We should target the people who need to be targeted and make sure that they get that help. We should make sure that we supply the money that gets them into education, including the further education that we have fought so hard for over the years. When I left school, only 7% of people went to university; the figure is now approaching 50%, but not for long-not with that crowd in charge. It will not take long for the figure to go back down, but I hope it will never get below double figures.

I have had opportunities. People might think it strange for a Glasgow MP to speak on this subject, but I got involved in EMAs before the general election. I had an Adjournment debate then, and I have had one since. When my hon. Friend Mr Wright, who is in his place, responded to the first debate, he guaranteed that if Labour won the election not only would it look after those people but EMA would be maintained for the length of the next Parliament. In the following Adjournment debate, the Minister of State, Department for Education, Mr Gibb, who is also in his place, writing feverishly, dispelled that notion right away. All the promises that were made before the general election by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education have been broken. The breaking of those promises affects the people I believe we are here to represent-those who cannot vote, who are looking to people like us to promote them and make sure that they get the education and proper start in life that some of us did not get.

What do we have now? In Scotland, we have a system that pays only the £30 rate and we have now found out that because the £10 and £20 rates have been done away with, about 8,000 students will not be students. They will be lost to the further education system in Scotland, thanks to a Scottish National party Government who did away with the allowance. They only kept the £30 rate because an election is coming up and the Labour party is so far ahead in the polls. We said we would keep the allowance, so the SNP had to match it-I do not care how or why they do it, just as long as they do it.

The Conservatives thought they would be coming into power alone. They did not. As for the other party, some Liberal Democrats would sell their soul to get into power; others sold their soul once they got into power. Those are the kind of people we have to deal with. Labour Members have to stand up and fight for the rights of the people out on the streets. Do the Government honestly believe that those young people out in the streets are there for fun? Do they honestly believe that those young people want to be herded and corralled just because they are demonstrating? Those young people think they have rights, and I believe we all-on both sides of the House-fought to give them those rights. Apart from the idiots and the malcontents, the proper students out there demonstrating should be listened to; they are our future and we should give them the chance to move on.

I am nearing the end of the time and I did not even use the speech I prepared-I do not even know why I wrote it. The Government took the flawed view that 90% of young people did not need the money. That is a lie. We know it is a lie. The Government should take a proper look and make a proper assessment of the people who now have EMA and what will happen to them if they no longer have it, and then tell us that the number should be reduced by 90%.

Photo of Paul Maynard Paul Maynard Conservative, Blackpool North and Cleveleys 4:31 pm, 19th January 2011

It ought to be a pleasure to discuss in the Chamber ways in which we can overcome barriers to access to further and higher education. It ought to be a pleasure to discuss how I can tackle the deprivation in my constituency, but sadly, having sat here for most of the afternoon, I can conclude only that debate in the House has ceased to be a pleasure. The discourtesy and personal rudeness from Opposition Members demonstrates why Parliament and this Chamber have lost credibility in the eyes of people outside.

It is extremely important that we discuss how to overcome barriers to accessing further and higher education, whether we believe that scrapping education maintenance allowance is the right way to do that, or whether there are alternatives that we can look at. EMA was introduced in 1998 in the comprehensive spending review as "an incentive" to encourage more people to stay in education. It was an experiment-a new departure for this country-and one I watched with interest.

After a few years, the then Government decided it was time to try something else-to introduce compulsory education from 16 to 18. Young people were to be obliged to stay in education until the age of 18, so why would we want to continue with an incentive to do something that would become compulsory? Indeed, we are supporting the aspiration of the previous Government to expand compulsory education. We have increased the budget for 16-to-19 education by 1.15%. We are funding an extra 62,000 places in the 16-to-19 sector. I am disappointed that the Labour party does not feel able to support that and would rather retain EMA-an instrument that I believe, the more I discuss it with people in my constituency, is a blunt one.

I object strongly to EMA for a number of reasons, which I hinted at in my intervention on the shadow Secretary of State. The allowance is capped at £30 a week. It is related solely to household income, yet I speak to many people in my constituency who are eligible for EMA but whose needs far exceed £30 a week. If we listened to the Opposition, we would think that EMA was the answer to every social problem.

Photo of Chuka Umunna Chuka Umunna Labour, Streatham

If £30 is not enough for people in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, why is the solution simply to take it all away? I am not sure that I follow his line of argument.

Photo of Paul Maynard Paul Maynard Conservative, Blackpool North and Cleveleys

The hon. Gentleman's intervention demonstrates why he should have been in the Chamber earlier to listen to the debate- [ Interruption. ] He was not here when I made my intervention. The hon. Gentleman asks a question, however, so I am happy to explain. Rather than having an education maintenance allowance that is capped at £30 a week, it would be far better to have a discretionary learner support fund sited in the college that the pupil attends, where the principal and teachers best understand the needs of that pupil and can therefore address their particular barriers. I do not accept that household income has any meaningful correlation with the barriers to accessing further education that someone faces.

Mr Umunna pulls a face at me, so let me explain why. Blackpool and Fylde college is on Ashfield road in my constituency. Right at its front door is a large council estate where some of the most deprived residents in my constituency live. Do they have the same needs as someone in a slightly higher income bracket living two or three miles further up the road? They do not. Household income is not the indicator that must be examined when determining the barriers that must be overcome.

Barbara Keeley who, like me, is a passionate defender of young carers, was right to point out that there are groups of young people who face complex hurdles if they are to access further education. I do not accept that the education maintenance allowance is the magic wand that Labour Members seem to believe it is. I join other Government Members who have asked for further information about what form the discretionary learner support fund will take and how it will enable those with complex needs to access further education, because it is vital that they do so.

Labour Members cannot keep simply backing structures rather than people. It is horrifying that, in a modern democracy, we have a Labour party that still likes to think that it can keep people under its thumb, say, "You'll get £30 a week and no more; we're going to keep you where you are," and then expect people to be grateful. I want a further and higher education system in which all people can participate without being restricted by a barrier of £30 a week and no more. The discretionary learner support fund will enable an individual student's needs to be properly assessed and met, because we will focus on what the need really is, not on the mythical universal provision for which the Labour party hanker, albeit not because Labour Members wish to support their constituents any more. I have never before seen a political party further from the people whom it seeks to represent or that has so forgotten the people from whom it allegedly came.

Photo of Paul Maynard Paul Maynard Conservative, Blackpool North and Cleveleys

I am sorry that the hon. Lady says that, but I can say only what I observe in the Chamber. I am saddened that democracy has reached such a level.

I am running out of time, but I leave hon. Members with this thought: in this day and age, we need to ensure that every person who wishes to go into further education is able to do so, and this Government will enable that.

Photo of Lisa Nandy Lisa Nandy Labour, Wigan 4:38 pm, 19th January 2011

I want to address the question of the impact of EMA head-on. Three colleges in my constituency-St John Rigby college, Wigan and Leigh college and Winstanley college-have approached me to oppose the scrapping of EMA, and there is clear evidence that EMA has had a considerable impact by attracting young people into education and persuading them to stay on. Such evidence comes from not just Wigan, but throughout the country. The view is shared by the Association of Colleges, and it is borne out by research from the Learning and Skills Council and the CfBT Education Trust. That evidence shows that EMA not only attracts young people into education, but when they are there, spurs them on to succeed and achieve. I am therefore disappointed-but not surprised-that the Secretary of State has chosen to base the decision on one unrepresentative and deeply flawed study. It leads me to wonder whether the decision was made a long time before any evidence was considered.

I want to echo some of the concerns have been raised about the language that we bandy about, such as "dead-weight." The term is deeply offensive to the thousands of young people out there who are so concerned about their future. I urge hon. Members, if they are not prepared to support them, at least to show them some respect when they talk about them and their future.

Ministers have missed the point about EMA. It did not just encourage people into education and get them to stay there, but said to students that they should be able to learn without suffering extreme hardship. The vast majority of students who claim EMA do so for travel and food. Are we seriously saying in 2011 that the extent of our ambition for a generation of young people is telling them that if they walk long distances and go hungry they can have the same opportunities as some of their more privileged peers? It is a poor ambition and I am ashamed that we even have to debate it.

It was a sign of confidence in our young people that the previous Government said, "We will give you that money, and we will trust you and leave how you spend it up to you." The Government talk a lot about getting rid of centralised prescription. Why will they not show the same confidence in young people as us when we were in government?

At the heart of the debate is the question whether EMA is necessary. I tell Ministers that it has become an essential part of household income. If they are serious about getting people to stay on in education until they are 18 by raising the participation age, which I support, they are making a big mistake in removing the mechanism whereby young people can do that.

I urge Ministers again to consider the impact on looked-after children, homeless young people and young carers. I know that they are concerned about that, and I urge them to meet a young person, Shinea, who lives in a homeless hostel run by the charity Centrepoint, for which I had the privilege of working many years ago. Shinea is entirely on her own. She exists on benefits and EMA, and she is trying hard and doing her best. I ask Ministers to meet her before they make a decision that will wreck her chances for good.

The EMA was never just an allowance. It was a contract between the state and young people, which said, "If you work hard and try hard, we will back you and support you, regardless of your background because we think you're worth it."

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

Sixty-seven per cent. of young people aged 16 to 18 who attend New college in my constituency receive EMA, and 560 will lose the funding halfway through their course. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is disgraceful that they heard nothing from the Secretary of State today about whether they will receive any support in future and how much it will be?

Photo of Lisa Nandy Lisa Nandy Labour, Wigan

Apart from agreeing with my hon. Friend, I am also grateful to her for bringing me back to my point, which I had lost in my anger about the Government's decision. Shinea, the young person from Centrepoint, whom I urge Ministers to meet, is midway through her course, as are many young people in my constituency. I tell Ministers that the issue is pressing and needs to be resolved now. At Wigan and Leigh college, 75% of young people in their first year who get EMA say that they will have to drop out next year. I urge Ministers to make a decision and give clarity not only to those young people, but to the many who must decide now whether to go into further education and do not know whether they can afford it. Those young people said to me very clearly that they were told that if they worked hard and tried hard, they would get the EMA. They have kept their side of the bargain; they cannot understand why their Government will not keep their side.

I went to Winstanley college and talked to some young people who are very concerned about the issue, and about tuition fees and the abolition of the Aimhigher initiative-concerned not for themselves, but for the young people who come after them. They told me they felt that their Government were not only not trying to help them, but were actively putting barriers in their way. The last time I heard young people talk like that was when I was growing up in the '80s and '90s, when the Conservative Government left an entire generation of young people without hope. It was devastating, and the Government are about to create exactly the same thing all over again. The progress made in the past 13 years is unravelling before our eyes. I urge hon. Members, before they walk through the Lobby, to think about their part in that.

Finally, if colleagues will not be persuaded by the moral case, I ask them to be persuaded by the clear economic case. The EMA pumps millions into local economies, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies states clearly that the EMA is an investment in young people that will be recouped in the long term. It will pay for itself. It is precisely in such difficult economic times, with youth unemployment predicted to reach 1 million in the next few years, that we should be investing in our young people. We should be sending them the strong message that we value them, and that they matter to us.

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Conservative, Nuneaton 4:46 pm, 19th January 2011

Today we are discussing the important subject of the EMA, an extremely well-intentioned product of the previous Government that, at its most effective, helped young people to continue their education. At its worst, though, it is just another in a series of policies adopted by the previous Government with a lot of dead-weight. I am sorry if that offends Lisa Nandy, but we have to acknowledge that, in the case of many policies of the previous Government, a lot of money was spent and very little achieved, after a certain point. The EMA is one of those cases. It is one of the factors that led the previous Government to rack up such a large deficit for the country-a deficit that the coalition Government now have to sort out.

I do not want to dwell on the debt argument, but it currently costs this country £564 million a year to provide the EMA for our young people. As I say, the scheme is well-intentioned, but when a policy lacks targeting and loses its focus, as the EMA seems to have done in certain ways, all we are doing is building up a credit card of debt for our young people. We are actually encumbering the generation that we are giving the EMA with a massive debt-and we are encumbering their children with huge debts, which they will be paying off, through higher taxes, for years to come. They will suffer reductions in service as a result of the debt interest that this country is paying.

Any sensible Government would want a targeted scheme to allow young people to access further education. That is what I hope the current Government are trying to achieve. Rather than concentrate on the inputs, and tailoring the programme of support for young people on the basis of how much money we put in, we should first set a target for what we want to achieve and what outcomes we want, and then look at what money we need to support that programme. To that end, we need to look at the impediments to some of our younger people gaining access to further education. Gaining that access is a problem, in some ways, for many young people; 12% have clearly said that if they did not have some sort of financial support, they would not be able to continue their studies, which is certainly something that we need to address and overcome.

I have two fantastic post-16 colleges in my constituency, King Edward VI college and North Warwickshire and Hinckley college. I have met a number of students at North Warwickshire and Hinckley college, and had a detailed discussion with them. Their biggest concern, and the biggest impediment that they saw to young people continuing their studies, was the issue of travel to and from college. That is something that we have to address, and not just for people from rural areas; it is a problem for people from urban areas as well.

We also have to address the fact that, as has been mentioned from the Opposition Benches, during the current academic year many students have been used to receiving EMA and benefiting from it, especially for their travel. The Government must make sure that young people who have gone to college on that basis this year do not drop out next year. We need to clear up quickly what the system will be next year, to make sure that our young people make informed choices about their studies once they finish school this year.

Many local authorities have reduced or stopped the discretionary travel supplement that used to be provided. One or two schemes are still available, but across the country many have disappeared. We need to look into that and see how, as a Government, we can help young people with their travel.

Earlier, the shadow Secretary of State was rather derogatory to our young people, saying that it was not appropriate for them to do part-time work. That is not a concept that we have covered in the Chamber today. Part-time work is extremely important not just to earn money to provide things over and above those that young people need for their education, but to help young people develop soft skills to bridge the gap between education and employment. I speak to many people in commerce who say that younger people need the best soft skills they can get to integrate into the workplace. It is extremely important that that is encouraged in our further education system.

To conclude, as I do not have much time, I wholeheartedly support the Government amendment, especially as it relates to travel, but I have concerns about how the new scheme will look and the amount of money to be put into it. I hope that tonight the Minister will dispel a few of those hares that have been running-

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 4:52 pm, 19th January 2011

The decision to abolish EMA is an act of educational and social vandalism. It has caused huge distress and anger among young people, who do not see, as I do not see and the Opposition do not see, why they should carry a disproportionate burden of the deficit reduction strategy.

We have heard from some speakers about early intervention, particularly in respect of young people. We all believe in the importance of making further progress on early intervention in the early years to pay off in 16 years' time. To abolish EMA is to do away with an early intervention that will pay off in two years, because EMA is a means of preventing young people from leaving school and failing to obtain the qualifications that will enable them to get jobs and go on into higher education. That will cost money. We know it will cost money, and we know from the IFS that there is research to confirm that measures that leave more young people unemployed and without qualifications will cost us in the short term-this year, next year and the year after. There is no economic case for the abolition of the education maintenance allowance.

Has EMA worked? We hear from Ministers so often, "Let's devolve the responsibility to heads. Let's hear what is being said at a local level." Listen to my heads and to the principals of my further education colleges. They are saying, "Don't do this." Jo Shuter, the principal of Quintin Kynaston school, is an award-winning head teacher who has transformed a school that was extremely challenging a few years ago. She said to me that at a school where 84% of young people are on the education maintenance allowance in the sixth form, abolishing it will be extraordinarily damaging and will wreak havoc on her sixth form. She is not alone in saying that.

The City of Westminster college, which I mentioned earlier, quoted the figure of 250 students this year, every year, who are obtaining qualifications, who were not staying on in school and obtaining qualifications without EMA. Those 250 pupils alone justify the expenditure on EMA. But EMA is not just about staying on into the sixth form, as we heard from many other speakers; it is about giving head teachers a tool to manage attendance and progress at school, and it is much valued for that. It is also about reducing the need for part-time employment. I agree with Mr Jones that part-time work can be a valuable thing. I did it; many of us did it. I also know that in the school that my child attends, which took over from a failing secondary school where just 18% of pupils were obtaining 5 A to C GCSEs, that figure has now increased to 63%. The school did that with Saturday schools and sessions in the school holidays. It is a similar picture at Paddington academy and Westminster academy-some of the most deprived schools in the country.

If we encourage pupils to lose their focus on their studies-another point emphasised by the principal of Quintin Kynaston-they will not work. It is all very well in the high-achieving schools, all very well for the pupils who do not need to be worrying about transforming their educational results, but it is not satisfactory in those schools that are on a journey, and which we know most need the improvements. We have heard from other speakers about how this impacts most severely on large families, on black and minority ethnic families, and on lone-parent families. The removal of EMA is not fair and it is not proportionate in its impact.

I want to spend my last couple of minutes on a particular concern. The reduction of funding for a more targeted programme poses a real question about what we seek to achieve. Are we looking for that money to maintain the staying on at school rates in those groups of people who currently do not, or are we looking to provide additional financial assistance for those pupils who are most challenged? Two into one will not go. There are schools in my constituency where 80%-plus of pupils are on EMA. At City of Westminster college, 75% are on EMA.

Last week, the principal of Westminster academy, which has been so transformed in recent years, told me that 60% of students who have been through the school-almost two thirds-have had multi-agency involvement from the mental health trust and the social services because they are children in need and at risk. That figure is extraordinary. How are we targeting resources to that school, and how will we leave that responsibility without imposing a cost and a burden on the head teachers and principals who will be deciding between all those competing claims-the students who are under financial pressure and that overwhelming number of school students who have challenging circumstances, such as mental health problems, children who are themselves homeless, children in families who are homeless, and children from families where the parents are in prison or have drug or alcohol or mental health problems? An invidious pressure is being put on those schools. It will increase costs and increase the burden, and without doubt it will result in fewer children obtaining educational qualifications, fewer children staying on and great hardship for the families who most need help.

Photo of David Ward David Ward Liberal Democrat, Bradford East 4:58 pm, 19th January 2011

I thank the Labour party for initiating the debate. It is certainly a subject that warrants a debate. Between the wild statements that have at times been made by Members on both sides of the House, some useful points have come out, and they needed to.

I thank my right hon. Friend Simon Hughes for the work he has been doing. I may be privileged to know some of that more than others, but a lot more work still needs to be done, and I hope that he will come to Bradford and talk to us about the implications of the withdrawal of the education maintenance allowance. There is a lot more work to do, but my right hon. Friend has done enough for me for now. However, my continued support for his work is dependent on the success with which he deals with concerns that I and many hon. Members have about the proposals. The Labour motion is tempting, but it fails to recognise that although EMA has played a valuable role in supporting young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, it is very costly.

Photo of David Ward David Ward Liberal Democrat, Bradford East

No, I will keep going. With or without a national economic crisis, the operation of EMA is far from perfect. Although they are not in the amendment to the motion, I welcome the comments that have been made on this side of the House about looking at whatever replaces EMA. The Labour motion mentions a rethink of the decision. Had it included a review of EMA, I probably would have supported it. We must look at the scheme and its weaknesses. I thank all those who have campaigned against the withdrawal of EMA, who have undoubtedly made a difference. I did not need convincing that a well thought through and adequately funded replacement was necessary.

Photo of David Ward David Ward Liberal Democrat, Bradford East

No, I will keep going. I hope that we all start from the same standpoint: that we have made a social contract with young people and their parents to provide free education for those who want it up to the age of 18. When young people must decide at 16 what to do with the next couple of years of their life, the continuing benefit from that social contract is not available equally to everyone. I think we can also agree that as far as possible we want that decision to be completely unfettered by financial limitations. In plain English, I am sure we all agree that the respective costs, whether for apprenticeships, school, college or for going into employment, should not be allowed to distort and unduly influence the decision-making process.

For those families that are sufficiently well off to be able to keep their child at school or college for a further couple of years, it is a straightforward options analysis: what is best for their son or daughter, what do they want to do with the rest of their lives and what are the local employment opportunities. For youngsters from low-income families, however, the options appraisal is often constrained because they cannot afford to stay in education without EMA.

We have been told that 88% of young people from low-income families would stay on in education without EMA and that it is a dead-weight calculation. On that principle, if the Secretary of State was willing to do his job for two thirds of the salary, would that be a dead-weight? If people are still going to provide some food for their children when they go to school, does that mean that free schools meals are a dead-weight cost? There are so many ways one can look at that concept. I think the proposal shows, more than anything else, a failure to understand that it is not about EMA being so important in getting young people into a situation in which they can do what they want, but the experience of the people who would say, "Yes, we would do it even if it was not available."

Young people from low-income families might face a more serious decision. Affluent families will say, "We'll put our kids through another two years of education, which might mean we go to Tenerife for 10 days rather than 14, or replace the car after four years instead of three." However, for many families that decision is about food and clothing, or whether to send the eldest or youngest child to college because they cannot afford to send both.

Is that over-egging the pudding? In Bradford, 9,000 people receive EMA, 90% of whom receive the top rate, which means that they come from families that earn less than £21,000. We have already decided that anyone who earns less than that should not pay a penny off the student loan as a graduate, and that is not for households, but for individuals. So why are we not really looking at the consequences of the decision we are making on EMA? We need a thorough review. I welcome the work being done, but it must go much further if we are truly to support the new scheme, not only in terms of the content but with regard to the funds available.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Leyton and Wanstead 5:04 pm, 19th January 2011

There have been times this afternoon when, apart from losing the will to live while listening to speeches from Government Members, I thought I must have slipped through a glitch in the space-time continuum and landed on another planet. We have been told that, because £30 is too small an amount, we need to abolish EMA; and someone from a sedentary position on the Liberal Benches told us that because the Labour Government refused to extend school dinners, we should abolish EMA. I have heard many Liberal MPs speak. They in particular have an important decision to make, because when they talk about the 90% dead-weight they should worry not about offending us but about offending those people outside who are included in that 90%.

Last week, I was at a meeting with about 120 students from throughout Britain and Simon Hughes indicated clearly that if the Opposition motion was moderately worded and-as I think he phrased it-sufficiently friendly, he would consider going into the Lobby to vote with us. It will be interesting to see whether he does, because if he does not he will have misled those students last week and others at other meetings over the past few weeks. He has a consistent record of doing so, and I shall be interested to hear what he says when he returns to the Chamber.

I was under the impression that today's debate was about EMA, but according to the Secretary of State it is really about the economy, so let us get one or two facts straight. The real spark for the financial crisis was when BNP Paribas posted its figures on the north American market in autumn 2007. At that point, the British deficit was below 3% of GDP, which I mention because it is the figure in one of the convergence criteria written into the Maastricht treaty by Conservative Ministers, who at the time said that it was quite tight-but achievable. We achieved it year after year, as we did the 60% debt figure that is also in the criteria, but, after the events involving BNP Paribas, followed by Lehman Brothers and Northern Rock, the deficit had to mount because we had to intervene continually. That was the root of the financial crisis

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

I am not going to give way, because I am short of time.

In my borough, I note that 63% of students at Leyton sixth-form college in my constituency receive EMA, and well over 1,000-1,100-receive the top rate of £30 a week. In the constituency of my hon. Friend Dr Creasy, who was in the Chamber earlier, 47% of students at Waltham Forest college receive EMA, and more than 800 are on the top rate. Those students and their college principals have told us not to get rid of EMA.

Principals from other boroughs have said the same thing. Eddie Playfair, who has been on television and radio repeatedly over the past few weeks, lives in my constituency but is the head of Newham sixth-form college in the constituency of my hon. Friend Lyn Brown. He has one of the highest numbers of students on EMA, and he has consistently said, "Don't get rid of it." My hon. Friend Ms Buck said the same in her remarks, yet the Government say, "We know best; we're going to get rid of it."

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

No, I will not, because I need to crack on.

The "enhanced discretionary learner support fund"-if ever I heard an Orwellian phrase, that is it-is so far unclear. We have not been told how it will work, but we do know that funding will drop from half a billion-£575 million-a year to £75 million a year, and it is absolute fantasy to suggest that with such funding we will be able to cover all the students who need assistance. I have attended meeting after meeting with students, principals and lecturers, and they all say the same thing: "This will deter people, particularly from poorer backgrounds, from continuing in education." Yet the Government, and Liberal and Tory MPs, have engaged in a process of mendacity and misinformation, saying, "We'll work together and do our best to come up with some scheme that will actually work." The way to send a signal to the Secretary of State, however, is to join us in the Lobby tonight and vote for our motion.

At a time when bankers' bonuses are being doled out to the tune of £7 billion, it is an obscenity to see a Government refusing to intervene with the banks yet at the same time taking money away from some of the poorest students in this country. However, there is one thing that we should be grateful for, and that is that the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister are managing to do what many of us have wanted to do for a long time by politicising a generation of students. I can promise the House that those students who are being politicised by the abolition of EMA and by the tuition fees debacle will not be voting Liberal Democrat and will not be voting Conservative.

Photo of Nadhim Zahawi Nadhim Zahawi Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon 5:10 pm, 19th January 2011

I echo the words of my hon. Friend Mr Ward and thank the Opposition for this debate on EMA. Historically, they have been vexed about how to pay for the scheme.

If we are to have a credible debate today- [ Interruption. ] I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. My tie to support the campaign against bowel cancer was making that noise-it is a musical tie that the campaign was giving out.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Perhaps next time the hon. Gentleman will be more selective in the ties that he wears in the Chamber, and then we will not need to have the musical accompaniment.

Photo of Nadhim Zahawi Nadhim Zahawi Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

Your words of wisdom are taken on board, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I apologise to you.

If we are to have a credible debate, we must look at this issue in the round, and that means that we must look at the economic legacy we inherited from the previous Government. Our structural deficit is one of the largest in the world, and it is simply unsustainable. We are having to borrow £500 million a day. Every time we go to sleep and wake up in the morning, we rack up another £500 million. The debt interest-the money that we have to pay in interest to foreign banks and foreign countries to build their own hospitals and schools with-is £120 million a day, every single day.

I come from a rural constituency with some areas that have no post-16 provision, so I am all too aware of the additional costs that students will have to bear. Shipston high school in my constituency has lobbied me very hard on this subject, as has Martin Penny, the head of Stratford-upon-Avon college-a fantastic institution in my constituency with 5,000 students and 450 staff. I addressed the students during the week of the tuition fees debate, and after we had cut through the misinformation they understood why we were having to make these decisions.

Photo of Charlotte Leslie Charlotte Leslie Conservative, Bristol North West

I apologise for missing the beginning of this very important debate.

I thank my hon. Friend for setting out the economic realities. Does he agree that when there is a dire economic reality, the correct moral thing to do is not to bury our heads in the sand and carry on spending unsustainably, which will end up damaging the very people we want to protect because in the long term it will do the country no good, but to be really rigorous and focused in ensuring that the resources that we do have are absolutely focused on the most vulnerable?

Photo of Nadhim Zahawi Nadhim Zahawi Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

That is exactly right. In fact, Mr Brown, when he was Prime Minister, hoped to pay for EMA by reducing the debt on the young people of this country.

Transport is an important issue that was raised with me by Martin Penny from Stratford-upon-Avon college and has been aired by Members on both sides of the House. As my hon. Friend Mr Jones said, it is an issue not only for rural constituencies but for urban areas too. I am pleased that the Secretary of State has made some encouraging remarks about opening up the discretionary fund to allow such colleges as Stratford-upon-Avon college-which are best placed to judge because they are closest to students and their families-to target some of that money on those who most need it.

In the spending review, the Government committed to refocus the support, because all the data show that the £560 million spent on EMA every year was not well targeted. I am pleased that the Secretary of State confirmed in his opening remarks that the Government will target the money towards those with special educational needs. I was a governor of a special educational needs school that was shut down by the previous Government and I know how important it would be to those families if the money was targeted in that way.

I ran a research company for 11 years, and I am passionate about evidence-based strategy. The National Foundation for Educational Research report commissioned by the previous Government, which we have heard about today, found that almost 90% of young people who receive EMA would have completed their education or training course if they had not received it. In an interview, the shadow Secretary of State admitted that some of the money went towards students buying drinks and partying. He therefore probably agrees with me that the money is not well targeted. I see him leaning forward, and am happy for him to intervene.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

I will intervene, because I did not say that, and I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman corrected the record. I said that young people should be able to play a full part in the life of the college. If that means trips to musical events, the theatre or political events in the evening, they should be supported to play a full part in them. I would be grateful if he was a bit more careful with his language in future.

Photo of Nadhim Zahawi Nadhim Zahawi Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

I thank the shadow Secretary of State, but let me quote him:

"Yes, they may spend some of it on food and even the occasional time out with friends... But part of being in a college means taking part in the whole life of a college, and why should we say to young people from the least well-off backgrounds, well, 'you can't have those things'."

That settles that one. We also know that almost 50% of students are in receipt of EMA. That fact demonstrates that it is not well targeted.

In my old profession, when the research has been done and there is evidence for a strategy, if one does not like the findings, one should not throw them away and go into denial about them. Several Opposition Members have trashed the research because it does not suit their argument. As well as saying that he hoped to pay for the EMA through a reduction in debt, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath said that he would pay for it by scrapping post-16 child benefit. I wonder whether that will become Opposition policy.

The Government have demonstrated their commitment, as we heard clearly today, to invest in the young people of our country. They are investing £7 billion in a fairness premium designed to support young people of all ages. The introduction of the all-age careers service will improve the information, advice and guidance that the National Foundation for Educational Research said needed to be improved. The Government are continuing to invest in providing apprenticeships, and have committed to improving the apprenticeship package so that level 3-the A-level equivalent-becomes the level to achieve.

In government, tough choices have to be made. We on the Government Benches have made those tough choices. We have chosen to safeguard spending on the national health service and education. I urge the Opposition, if they want to have a constructive debate, also to safeguard the national health service and education.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley 5:19 pm, 19th January 2011

Unfortunately, I do not think I will be able to compete with Nadhim Zahawi as regards our ties, but I rather hope that I will surpass the arguments that he made.

Before I get into the meat of my argument, I wish to express a debt of gratitude to Frank Gill, the principal of Knowsley community college, of which I am a governor; to the director of children's services in Knowsley, Damian Allen; and to Jette Burford, the principal of Hugh Baird college in Bootle, which some students from my constituency attend.

The points that I wish to make have been shaped by a number of conversations and briefings that I have had, but also by a very interesting meeting that I had last year with some students at All Saints centre for learning in Kirkby, in my constituency. They talked about their hopes and aspirations and said that EMA had been a help to them and would continue to be. They also expressed their concern about the reduction in spending on Aimhigher, which had inspired some of them to go to university when they had not previously thought it possible.

The Secretary of State seems to have three arguments about EMA and his replacement for it, the pupil premium. The first is that EMA does not have any real impact on participation and on young people staying on in education. Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon cited a piece of research that does not quite indicate what he thinks it does. It was based on a flawed sample, as several of my hon. Friends have said.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

I will not. The hon. Gentleman has had his opportunity.

Photo of Nadhim Zahawi Nadhim Zahawi Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

The right hon. Gentleman claims that the sample was flawed. Can he explain why he believes that? It was a representative sample of at least 2,000 interviews, taken in a scientific way.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

I do not know how long the hon. Gentleman has been in the Chamber, but several of my hon. Friends have gone through the flaws in the report's methodology in great detail.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

I am not going to repeat them. I do not want to make a speech about that particular issue, but I raised it because the hon. Gentleman used flawed research to support his argument.

On participation, I know that 80% of those attending Knowsley community college who are in the relevant age range receive EMA, and the figure is 84% for Hugh Baird college. Neither the hon. Gentleman nor the Secretary of State can gainsay that. Since 1997, the number of young people from Knowsley who have gone on to higher education has gone up by 187%. EMA was not in place for all that period, of course, but those figures indicate to me that it was part of the package of things that has enabled people to stay on into further and higher education.

The Secretary of State's second argument is that there are better ways to reward young people and improve attainment. When he first made his announcement about EMA, I was prepared to accept that that might be the case. I have waited patiently since October for him to explain how it might be, but he has failed to do so, including today. I sat and listened carefully to his speech, but as several hon. Members have said, he chose to make a speech that was more about economic policy than about EMA. Other ways of supporting young people might work better, but unfortunately we have not been told what his case is and nobody has yet demonstrated it.

My final point is that some on the Government Benches seem to believe the argument about the 90% dead-weight, but there is something wrong about saying to young people in less favourable circumstances, "You don't need any support." Actually, it is a real struggle for families on low incomes. It is a struggle for young people not only to get to college-there has been a lot of discussion of transport costs-but to live anything like a decent life without some support. I find it deeply offensive when people use phrases such as "dead-weight" when we are talking about people who are struggling to realise their potential and to gain academic qualifications and, in many cases, to go on into higher education when that would have been inconceivable a generation ago.

Paul Maynard said that he regretted the tone of this debate, but I regret how the needs of those young people seem to have been jettisoned without any real thought or debate whatever. The Secretary of State had to prove that the changes would work, but he did not do so, and he should now withdraw his proposals.

Several hon. Members:

rose -

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. A huge number of Members still wish to participate in this debate, and the Front Benchers have given an indication of relatively short wind-ups of 10 minutes each at the end. I am therefore reducing the time limit again-to five minutes from the next speaker I call-in the hope that I will get more speakers in. I hope that all hon. Members will take note of that.

Photo of Tessa Munt Tessa Munt Liberal Democrat, Wells 5:26 pm, 19th January 2011

I wish to declare an interest in that one of my children was in receipt of EMA to do A-levels at college, and I was very grateful for that help. I should also like to thank the Opposition for the opportunity to debate this matter.

I shall concentrate on the situation for the 655 students at Strode college in Street, the 1,813 students at Bridgwater college-41% and 50% of whom respectively are in receipt of EMA-and the 2,615 children living in poverty in the Wells constituency. I am grateful to Tom Strode-Walton, James Staniforth, the principal of Strode college, and Fiona McMillan, the principal of Bridgwater college, for the information that they have provided to me for this debate.

If students from disadvantaged backgrounds do not have the right help to access education for AS and A2-levels, there is no chance of them accessing university education until later in life. Strode college estimates that its students have claimed £500,000 in EMA this year. Bridgwater college surveyed its students and estimates that they have claimed in the region of £1.5 million.

The learner support fund at Strode college is currently £17,000, and at Bridgwater in this financial year it is £42,000. The Government propose to triple the current learner support fund for each college to address the loss of EMA to students from September 2011 onwards. That would mean that next year Strode college could expect £51,000, and that Bridgwater college could expect £126,000. It is difficult to understand how those colleges will make that funding stretch to meet students' needs so that they can continue to fund their education.

The Minister should look to remove the main barriers to FE and HE. Many of the arguments that I would wish to make today have been rehearsed already, but in a rural area such as mine, one main barrier is transport to and from college. A county bus ticket in Somerset costs £600 a year. That is likely to increase as Somerset county council stops concessions for students-it will withdraw its subsidy in April-and as the various fuel price increases are included. Public transport in many rural areas is non-existent, and it is difficult for students to work because they cannot get home on public transport later in the evenings or at weekends, when there is a reduced service. A taxi fare from my village, which is four miles from the main town, is about £15 one way.

The mother of the twins Rhiannon, who wishes to be a vet, and Ayesha, who wants to be a psychologist, wrote to me last night. They live in a very rural part of my patch, and their mother is recovering from an illness. Consequently, they will be caught in a situation in which they have to pay £1,400 or £1,500 each year to get through college.

The other main expenses for which EMA is used have been mentioned: books, kit and clothing. Studying hairdressing at Bridgwater requires £200-worth of equipment. The equipment needed for plumbing, bricklaying, car mechanics and all the other trades is also extremely expensive. Chefs need knives; art and photography students need a constant supply of materials; and those on sports courses need clothing, footwear and equipment, none of which are cheap. Many other courses require textbooks and supporting literature, and all students need to cover those costs.

In my part of rural Somerset, there are several schools without any sixth forms: Whitstone school in Shepton Mallet, St Dunstan's community school in Glastonbury, and Crispin school in Street. Students aged 17 and 18 will be required to stay on in full-time education or training from 2013 and 2015 respectively, and the choice of which school or college to attend must lie freely with the student. It is important that students are not required to attend their nearest A-level provider, as that could lead to their choices being limited. Year 11 students at Whitstone school, for example, might want to study a specific subject that means they will want to go to Frome college, Radstock college or Yeovil college, travelling 18 to 42 miles a day. It is important that future students have the ability to plan, budget and know exactly where they will be. For that reason, the Minister must address the issue of transport. I received advice from the Department for Transport this morning, saying that the local authority must provide home-to-school transport but that it has no legal requirement to help the over-16s, and that only 21% of local authorities use their discretionary powers to offer concessions, over and above the statutory requirements.

I ask the Secretary of State for Education to consider all the issues affecting my constituents in rural Somerset. EMA is not perfect; it needs to be reviewed. I am not wedded to it therefore, but I am sure that if we address the transport issues-

Photo of Jenny Chapman Jenny Chapman Labour, Darlington 5:32 pm, 19th January 2011

I am very grateful for this opportunity to speak in the debate and to represent the concerns of my Darlington constituents.

More than 100 people in my constituency will lose their jobs as a result of the Government's decision to scrap EMA, and about 1,300 students will lose out. Providing EMA of £30 a week to the children of families whose combined earnings are less than £21,000 is the simplest, fairest and most effective way of keeping young people in education and training.

We have two outstanding colleges and one excellent school sixth form in my constituency. College principals have spoken to me of their concerns about the impact of the removal of EMA on their students and their institutions. The college I attended in the early '90s served at that time a far smaller cohort of young people than it does today. Most came from the well-off areas close to the college. Results were adequate but not great, and admissions to Oxford and Cambridge-which the Secretary of State cares so much about-were rare. Today, the college's biggest challenge is to accommodate the ever-increasing number of young people from across the region who wish to study there. Queen Elizabeth sixth form college in Darlington is consistently among the best performing sixth-form colleges in the country, and one of the secrets of its success is that it can recruit from a wide geographical area.

I was a governor at QE before the introduction of EMA, and recruitment from secondary schools in the less affluent areas was often either non-existent or in single-digit numbers. That has changed and the situation is continuing to improve thanks to EMA. Because many current QE students travel more than a mile and a half to get to college, they rely on public transport to get them there, which has a cost. Those young people are not able to go home for their lunch, so they need money to buy food. They also need money to benefit from participating in the rich array of important extracurricular activities that are on offer but which need to be paid for. Many students on EMA work to supplement their allowance, but in Darlington students are explicitly encouraged to limit the hours they work, which I think is good. Although having part-time jobs brings many benefits to young people, they must not distract them from the aim of getting a qualification.

It is particularly cruel to remove EMA from students who will be only part of the way through their courses when they lose their allowance. With EMA, students could be certain of the support they would receive, and they could make their choices accordingly. There is a predictability to the scheme that allows families to plan ahead. It shifts horizons and encourages the setting of longer-term goals. The idea that my old college could now be using its budget to provide buses to transport students to it from further afield is a credit to the college, but it is inefficient and it disempowers individual students. With EMA, young people had choice; they were responsible for managing their own bank accounts and for making their own financial decisions. If young people spend all their money on beer and cannot afford to get to college the next day, they lose out on future payments-this is a conditional allowance. It is a tough lesson, but one that young people understand and sign up to.

Few things in life are more expensive than a NEET. The number of NEETs in Darlington has reduced and the level of participation in further education there has increased from 82% to 91%. As a former lead member for children's services, I think that EMA is very good value for money.

The Government do not understand social mobility. In fact, they have had to get my predecessor and friend, Alan Milburn, to explain it to them. I just hope that they listen, because social mobility is about making choices and living with the results of those choices. Scrapping EMA does the opposite of saying, "We are all in this together." It says to our young people, "You are on your own."

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford 5:36 pm, 19th January 2011

I have very much enjoyed listening to many of the speeches in this excellent debate, which has been well worth having. I listened particularly closely to Mr Blunkett, who is not in his place, and to my hon. Friend Andrew Percy, who made some powerful points.

I understand the reasons for the changes-the deficit of £23 billion in November brings things sharply into focus-but I am concerned, as many Members are, about the consequences. I shall briefly make two points that need stressing, although they have been alluded to by a number of hon. and right hon. Members. The first relates to fairness. Those who entered sixth form in September 2010 will cease to receive EMA in September 2011, and the Secretary of State needs to examine that closely, because it is not fair.