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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.