Education Maintenance Allowance — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:45 pm on 7th March 2011.

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Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport) 2:45 pm, 7th March 2011

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many young people they estimate will be affected by the cancellation of the education maintenance allowance.

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, the EMA is currently paid to 45 per cent of 16 to 18 year-olds in full-time education at a cost of £560 million a year. Research commissioned by the previous Government showed that about one in 10 of those receiving EMA would not have continued in learning without it. We are currently considering the replacement arrangements with the aim of targeting support more closely on those facing the greatest financial barriers to participation.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that some colleges have estimated that up to 50 per cent of young people will have to leave post-16 education when the EMA payments stop, thereby joining the growing ranks of those not in education, employment or training? Has the department considered the economic and social impact of this? Would it not have made more sense to finalise the details of the new discretionary scheme before announcing the end of the EMA, to minimise the upset and uncertainty that many young people who do not know whether they will qualify under the new scheme are feeling?

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

On the noble Baroness's second point about sequencing, I accept the force of her argument. As she will know, the Government were confronted with a situation where they had to take urgent decisions rapidly because of the scale of the deficit, and we took those decisions first. I take her point, but we acted in the way that we did because we needed to start cutting the deficit quickly. On her first point, I am aware of the views of many principals of sixth-form colleges and young people, who have expressed concerns to me about the loss of the EMA. The noble Baroness referred to 50 per cent; I come back to the research commissioned by the previous Government which looked at the impact and stated, consistently across two or three pieces of work, that about one in 10 said that they would not have carried on. We will target the arrangements we work out on those who need help most, because I accept that we need to ensure that the children who face the greatest barriers get help to carry on in education and training.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his undertaking to concentrate on those young people who need the support most. Does he agree that young people in care, who have had the poorest of starts, need support to access education? Will he make certain that they do not lose out because of this change?

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I agree with the noble Earl about the importance of children in care. It is a consideration that the Government will have to bear very much in mind as they work out exactly how to deliver targeted help. I accept in full the force of his comments.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

Does the Minister accept that for young people in rural areas the cost of transport to and from a sixth form or college can be very high? Is that one of the priority areas that the Government are considering while studying what to put in place of the EMA?

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I accept completely my noble friend's point about the element of transport costs, particularly in rural areas where it makes up a proportionately larger amount of the costs a young person might have. It remains the case that local authorities have a statutory duty to make arrangements-either through provision or funding-for transport for those groups. As she will know, currently the discretionary fund operated by colleges does not allow payment for transport. While one does not want to get to a scheme whereby all the discretionary fund goes on transport, or to relieve local authorities of that statutory duty, nevertheless we are looking at the point she makes about the importance of transport, particularly in rural areas.

Photo of Lord Tomlinson Lord Tomlinson Labour

Is the Minister aware that there is no golden rule that said you had to make these cuts in educational maintenance allowance-that it is a matter of judgment? Is he further aware that it is our view, which we suspect will be shared by the majority of the people in this country on 7 May, that in exercising that judgment the Government got it right-oh! I mean that the Government got it wrong-and that this side of the House is correct?

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, I will pass on the endorsement by the noble Lord. I fully accept that it is about judgment. Overall in the settlement got by the Department for Education, particularly on the schools side, we managed to maintain cash flat per pupil and to fund a pupil premium. One would always like to have more but I accept the point about judgment. The Government made the judgment across the piece that the priority was to cut the deficit and get those interest payments down. In due course, we will be happy to be judged on that judgment.

Photo of The Bishop of Leicester The Bishop of Leicester Convenor of the Lords Spiritual

My Lords, does the Minister accept that among the categories that may require special attention under the review are black and minority-ethnic communities who often place a high value on education but come from poorer homes and are more dependent on this kind of help than many others?

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, the Government want to look at a number of groups carefully in the replacement scheme. One group is children in care. There are issues to do with rurality and transport, as my noble friend has raised. I also accept that there are particular issues of the kind that the right reverend Prelate has raised. In all this, we want to make sure that the most effective help is delivered locally to those children who need it most.

Photo of Baroness Hughes of Stretford Baroness Hughes of Stretford Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, are we now seeing an unfortunate pattern from the Secretary of State for Education-a rush to cut without any apparent concern for the consequences and no attempt to consult beforehand? Does the Minister not regret that, on EMAs, Booktrust, school sport, music tuition and of course the Building Schools for the Future programme, the Secretary of State has failed to undertake the normal processes of consultation that really should be part and parcel of good government? Is that not why he is getting so many of these things wrong?

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, I think I said in my first answer that, as with other departments, my department has been driven by the underlying need to grapple with the inherited financial situation. In those circumstances, where one is ratcheting up the debts, I do not accept that it is wrong to press ahead in dealing with those issues.