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Axing of EMA 'rushed and ill thought through', says select committee

19 July 2011

The education select committee has today criticised the way the government handled the shutting down of the education maintenance allowance (EMA). The EMA was a weekly payment to teenagers from the poorest backgrounds to help them stay on in education or training.

The committee's chairman, Graham Stuart MP, described the EMA changeover as 'rushed and ill thought through' and said young people making life defining decisions at 16 deserved better. The committee's report says the vast majority of submissions to its inquiry were opposed to the axing of the EMA.

UCU said it welcomed the committee's recognition that the government should have done more to acknowledge the EMA's impact on participation, attainment and retention before axing it. The union added that Michael Gove's 'insulting assertion' that the EMA was a deadweight cost has been proven to be the mistaken assessment UCU said it was at the time.
Thomas Spielhofer, the former research manager at the National Foundation for Educational Research, whose report the government frequently cited to call the EMA a deadweight cost, recently told MPs that ministers had misinterpreted key findings. More information on that story can be found here: Ministers accused of cherry-picking research in order to scrap the EMA
The select committee said that the bursary scheme that will replace the EMA will inevitably lead to inconsistencies and would not necessarily be fairer than a slimmed-down targeted entitlement, such as the EMA.
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'We are pleased the select committee has acknowledged the complete mess the government has made of the EMA. Ever since the government started cherry-picking research to drive through the end of the EMA it has been clear to us that thousands of the country's poorest teenagers would suffer. It was insulting to hear Michael Gove dismiss the EMA as a deadweight cost - something that has now been proven incorrect.
'The government needs to listen to the select committee, who actually took the time to properly analyse the EMA's impact on retention and attainment. Ministers should also pay attention to the author of the report the government used to justify axing the EMA, who said recently that his findings had been misrepresented.
'Ignorance is always more expensive than education and unless the government looks again at the help for our poorest teenagers then the state will be hit with a higher benefit payments bill.'
Last year over 600,000 students received the EMA, with 80% (those whose household income is less than £20,800) receiving the full £30 weekly allowance. From September, following a cut of £390m, only 12,000 new students, who are either disabled, in care or from families on income support will be guaranteed funding. Others will be forced to apply to a discretionary fund managed by individual colleges.
In its Going for Growth report published in April, the OECD said that improving the educational achievement of young people, by reintroducing the EMA, could boost youth employment in Britain, propel economic growth and help it cut a record budget deficit. More information on that story can be found here: UCU backs OECD calls for reinstatement of EMA
A UCU survey of EMA recipients, published in January, revealed that 70% would drop out of college if the financial aid was removed, and the union said that despite promises of 'targeted support' many could still be faced with that choice. More information on that story can be found here: 70% of students would drop out of college if EMA is scrapped, reveals new poll

Last updated: 11 December 2015