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Education Maintenance Allowance

Part of Opposition Day — [9th allotted day] – in the House of Commons at 4:00 pm on 19th January 2011.

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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.