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Education Maintenance Allowance

Part of Opposition Day — [9th allotted day] – in the House of Commons at 4:46 pm on 19th January 2011.

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Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Conservative, Nuneaton 4:46 pm, 19th January 2011

Today we are discussing the important subject of the EMA, an extremely well-intentioned product of the previous Government that, at its most effective, helped young people to continue their education. At its worst, though, it is just another in a series of policies adopted by the previous Government with a lot of dead-weight. I am sorry if that offends Lisa Nandy, but we have to acknowledge that, in the case of many policies of the previous Government, a lot of money was spent and very little achieved, after a certain point. The EMA is one of those cases. It is one of the factors that led the previous Government to rack up such a large deficit for the country-a deficit that the coalition Government now have to sort out.

I do not want to dwell on the debt argument, but it currently costs this country £564 million a year to provide the EMA for our young people. As I say, the scheme is well-intentioned, but when a policy lacks targeting and loses its focus, as the EMA seems to have done in certain ways, all we are doing is building up a credit card of debt for our young people. We are actually encumbering the generation that we are giving the EMA with a massive debt-and we are encumbering their children with huge debts, which they will be paying off, through higher taxes, for years to come. They will suffer reductions in service as a result of the debt interest that this country is paying.

Any sensible Government would want a targeted scheme to allow young people to access further education. That is what I hope the current Government are trying to achieve. Rather than concentrate on the inputs, and tailoring the programme of support for young people on the basis of how much money we put in, we should first set a target for what we want to achieve and what outcomes we want, and then look at what money we need to support that programme. To that end, we need to look at the impediments to some of our younger people gaining access to further education. Gaining that access is a problem, in some ways, for many young people; 12% have clearly said that if they did not have some sort of financial support, they would not be able to continue their studies, which is certainly something that we need to address and overcome.

I have two fantastic post-16 colleges in my constituency, King Edward VI college and North Warwickshire and Hinckley college. I have met a number of students at North Warwickshire and Hinckley college, and had a detailed discussion with them. Their biggest concern, and the biggest impediment that they saw to young people continuing their studies, was the issue of travel to and from college. That is something that we have to address, and not just for people from rural areas; it is a problem for people from urban areas as well.

We also have to address the fact that, as has been mentioned from the Opposition Benches, during the current academic year many students have been used to receiving EMA and benefiting from it, especially for their travel. The Government must make sure that young people who have gone to college on that basis this year do not drop out next year. We need to clear up quickly what the system will be next year, to make sure that our young people make informed choices about their studies once they finish school this year.

Many local authorities have reduced or stopped the discretionary travel supplement that used to be provided. One or two schemes are still available, but across the country many have disappeared. We need to look into that and see how, as a Government, we can help young people with their travel.

Earlier, the shadow Secretary of State was rather derogatory to our young people, saying that it was not appropriate for them to do part-time work. That is not a concept that we have covered in the Chamber today. Part-time work is extremely important not just to earn money to provide things over and above those that young people need for their education, but to help young people develop soft skills to bridge the gap between education and employment. I speak to many people in commerce who say that younger people need the best soft skills they can get to integrate into the workplace. It is extremely important that that is encouraged in our further education system.

To conclude, as I do not have much time, I wholeheartedly support the Government amendment, especially as it relates to travel, but I have concerns about how the new scheme will look and the amount of money to be put into it. I hope that tonight the Minister will dispel a few of those hares that have been running-