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Education Maintenance Allowance

Part of Opposition Day — [9th allotted day] – in the House of Commons at 1:24 pm on 19th January 2011.

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

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?