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Education Maintenance Allowance

Part of Opposition Day — [9th allotted day] – in the House of Commons at 4:11 pm on 19th January 2011.

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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.