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Education Maintenance Allowance

Part of Opposition Day — [9th allotted day] – in the House of Commons at 3:46 pm on 19th January 2011.

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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.

Annotations

Mike Johnson
Posted on 20 Jan 2011 5:14 pm (Report this annotation)

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?

Timothy
Posted on 21 Jan 2011 12:08 am (Report this annotation)

To answer Mike Johnson's "what is wrong with a school bus pass" question, because of the near 60% cutback in Stoke-on-Trent City Council's budget by this evil Conservative-led Government, they're being abolished; and even now they only cover a proportion of the bus fare, not the entire journey. Mr Johnson seems to like taking pot-shots at Mr Flello, but he would have more credibility if he actually took the trouble to check his facts before letting his fingers walk across his keyboard.

Nicky Davis
Posted on 24 Jan 2011 6:01 pm (Report this annotation)

To have both EMA and child benefit beyond age 16 does not make sense, it is double counting. Child benefit stops at 16 but if the young person carries on in education it carries on to 18/19. So why have EMA on top? (Mike Johnson has explained that.) £30 a week is way more than is needed for study and travel by the way (in Stoke-on-Trent anyway).

It would actually be better to have EMA (at a more realistic level) and not have child benefit beyond 16. Because EMA targets those in most need. I don't say this for personal reasons, our family does not qualify for any EMA but we get child benefit. Under my proposed scheme we would lose child benefit and not get EMA either. But I still think it would be a better scheme.

With education/training set to become compulsory to 18 (which is not a policy I agree with), government faces an increasing child benefit bill which I would have thought is way bigger than a bill for EMA would have been. So I think they've made a mistake.