Educational Maintenance Allowance: more details of replacement emerge

It’s been rather a self-inflicted wound by the Coalition Government to leave such a long gap between announcing that it would abolish the Education Maintenance Allowance and publishing details of what will be introduced in its stead. I’m happy to wait until we know what the replacement will be like before judging whether the EMA abolition is a good move or not, but it’s not exactly a surprise that many people have made up their minds knowing only part of the story given that huge gap.

That said, the substance of the issue is an important one and the noises coming out of government over the weekend were promising:

The Government is to spend £180m to help children from poor families stay in education until the age of 18, ministers will announce next week.

The fund will soften the blow from the Coalition’s controversial decision to abolish Educational Maintenance Allowances (EMAs), which are worth up to £30 a week for 16 to 18-year-olds, depending on their family’s income.

The figure is more generous than expected and follows a last-minute intervention by Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister. Only £75m was earmarked for the replacement scheme in last autumn’s spending review. That was raised to £111m after pressure from the Liberal Democrats.

In negotiations alongside talks on the Budget, Mr Clegg squeezed a further £70m out of the Treasury. The deal was approved by David Cameron, the Chancellor George Osborne and the Education Secretary Michael Gove.

The majority of the new budget will be distributed to colleges to award, at their discretion, to students from less privileged backgrounds. A smaller proportion will be earmarked for automatic payments to students with special needs such as the disabled. Mr Clegg also won a pledge that the amount of money being spent would be reviewed, which could boost the fund in 2012-13. (The Independent)

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47 Comments

  • Nonconformistradical 28th Mar '11 - 11:16am

    “Expect another field day for Burnham as the hapless Gove makes yet another (partial) u-turn.”

    I find this obsession with u-turns pathetic. If a government changes its mind about something – that doesn’t mean it is necessarily a big deal or something to be criticised.

    In this case, doing something about EMA – which under LABOUR seems to have been doled out to all and sundry, irrespective of the individual student’s needs (so if they didn’t need it they could spend it on booze or whatever) was essential – there is no earthly reason for the taxpayer to have to subsidise some students’ profligate lifestyles. The objective of EMA was to ensure needy students could afford transport to college etc.

    The issue is getting a fair result. If this change is happening as a result of LibDem pressure on Gove then it demonstrates the benefit of coalition government. A flawed decision was made originally. As a result of further discussion and pressure a better outcome is being achieved. Great.

  • nonconformistradical – Funny, but when I make a similar point about winter fuel payments, free bus passes, free prescriptions, free TV licenses etc for pensioners, I get flayed alive.

  • The intention to replace EMA with a fairer and more effective alternative has always been stated, so not a U-turn at all. The fact that Clegg has managed to significantly increase the budget for the replacement I suppose you could interpret as a U-turn by Gove/Osborne if you were a Tory dismayed at the amount of influence that Lib Dems have in the government…

  • So, will the students and parents have to go cap in hand begging to the school/college? What proof will the parents have to provide? How will the school/college know who is ‘less privilged’, being on a low income both my children received EMA. I would not have wanted to give any of my details to the school or for them to have known my personal circumstances. I do not like ‘at their discretion’, sounds more like ‘going before the board’. Schools knew who received EMA but not how much and did not hold personal details. EMA was paid by Student Finance who then paid their student loans so all details were in the same place. More and more under this government the poor are being stigmatised. What is meant by ‘less priviliged’ anyway? Do we have a certain appearance perhaps or do we all live on sink estates? Many poor people are educated but circumstances have arisen that are not under our control. There will be many more children who will need help as their parents lose their jobs.

  • The government is to spend 180million. By scrapping EMA it saved 500 million. There is a huge difference. How can you call this a win?

  • “The majority of the new budget will be distributed to colleges to award, at their discretion, to students from less privileged backgrounds.”

    Let the college board decide between the deserving and undeserving poor.

  • I know for a fact that many local students here used the EMA solely for recreation. I am in Surrey and many students here have been bought cars by their parents and STILL got the EMA. If by making sure that those who need it get it and those who don’t need don’t get it we save 300+ million then that is a good thing.

    Also I think we should embrace means testing so that more resource ends up where it is most needed instead of spreading the resource more thinly. Right now we must target our resource and that must include means testing. In this way the amount we can give to those in need can be greater than now AND we can reduce what we spend.

    Also it is time to ditch the sacred cow we call ‘Universal benefits’ we can no longer afford them. Why on earth are we giving Alan Sugar a winter fuel allowance? We on earth are we giving the Beckham’s child allowance?

  • “In this case, doing something about EMA – which under LABOUR seems to have been doled out to all and sundry …”

    “The ‘win’ is saving £320 million by retargeting support at children who actually need it, rather than everyone getting a nice bit of extra pocket money.”

    “Also it is time to ditch the sacred cow we call ‘Universal benefits’ we can no longer afford them.”

    Surely people know that EMA was means tested, not universal?

  • @RedOrange

    I am aware that it was means tested, however I know of several families where the kids got it and I know that those families were in now way short of money. I would question the method of means testing for the EMA either that or we seriously need to look at the thresholds used.

  • William

    The means testing was based on household income, which seems reasonable enough.

    Given that the full amount went only to those with household income of less than £21,000, I find it very difficult to believe that 70% can be cut without it having a significant impact on families with low incomes.

  • Removing EMA was not a Lib Dem policy. It emerged from right wing think tanks and was one of the early rushed through measures – more bravado than sensible decision making. The weight of independent evidence suggests EMA worked. Sure it needed some tightening but as the plummeting FE enrolments for this Sept are showing it had a positive impact.

    I am puzzled why Lib Dems feel obliged to defend this Tory policy. It is exactly the sort of things LD ministers should have moderated not aided and abetted.

  • @The Beckhams will presumably be in the group losing there child allowance after 2013 as they have an income over £50,000.

    I am not sure it is as simple as saying all means testing or all universal it will deepend what are the desired outcomes of a given policy. There are issues of up take and the cost of beaucracy with some means tested benefits like pensions credit.

    I think the changes to EMA are justified and sensible though. Looking at provision of school transport and the some authorities have made there would probably be more detrimental. Young people have a good travel card that option doesn’t exist for many other young people in the rest of the country.

  • I can only comment on what i know to be true in reality.

    1. I know of numerous students who boeasted about how the government gave them ‘Beer’ and ‘Drug’ money every week.
    2. I know of a family who have 2 children one of whom received the EMA, they manage to change their car every 2 years (and it is theirs not a company car) and they managed a family holiday in europe for 2 weeks every summer AND a weeks skiing as a family every winter.

    I am sorry but if as you say the cut off was 21K then something was going very wrong with the income assesment.

    We cannot afford to be lazy in policing benifits and we cannot afford to give monies where they are not needed.

    I am a Liberal i believe the state must protect the poorest and weakest in society but we cannot top up the incomes of those who can manage perfectly well without these benifits.

    I also know a lad who did not get the EMA and whilst his friends were on the jolly with the money the tax payer had doled out, he was not able to do so as his parents would not fund him for this which caused friction in his social circle and tension between him and his parents. So as far as my experience is concerned the whole EMA benifit was flawed at many levels.

  • Is there also a case for giving everyone under the age of 18 the same travel benits as pensioners? would that not be simpler?

  • Apologies

    ‘benefits’ I am a little vexed today it seems lol
    My typing has gone haywire.

  • “The government is also proposing to abolish the current education maintenance allowance (EMA), a payment worth between £10 to £30 a week for 16 to18-year-olds from low income families who agree to stay in education.” This was the last Labour government, and what’s more they planned to fine students £50 if they didn’t turn up! http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2007/mar/22/schools.uk

  • @Simon

    You are correct i had forgotten the change to Child Benefit but you got my drift.

  • 180m … still quite a way short of the 550m being spent on the EMA. Still I guess it’s more than we could have expected from a straight Tory government, and if targetted right could still make a big difference in keeping people in education. Not ideal though.

  • @Adam Bell
    The ‘win’ is saving £320 million by retargeting support at children who actually need it, rather than everyone getting a nice bit of extra pocket money. And I’d say that it’s a pretty basic principle that if someone is giving you money, they get to decide how it’s given.

    Pity we do not decide on MP’s expenses then!? Poor things do not like the scrutiny. There will be many children who will not get support. I would not have gone begging to the school, my children would not have been able to carry on and go on to university without it. EMA ensured that all who needed it got it without stigma. If there were flaws in the income assessment then this should have been addressed. we always get so much propaganda and nobody focuses on those who RELIED on EMA. You can spin as much as you like.

    @Simon McGrath
    Yes taxes are being reduced aren’t they, the 50p for the rich accoprding to Mr Cable.

  • “perhaps the ‘win’ by saving 300m is that the government can now borrow less or reduce taxes rater than hand out money to people who don’t need it?”

    Again, I can only ask where is the evidence that 70% of the EMA money was going to people who “don’t need it”? Especially considering that the full amount went only to those with household incomes under £21,000.

    In the past I would have expected a higher level of debate from Lib Dems on a subject like this. Much of the comment from party loyalists these days seems to verge on red-top tabloid rhetoric about scroungers and tax cuts.

  • @ Dilke
    Just saying that Labour would have done it is now the very weak excuse for all the Liberal Democrats do. I did not put my faith in them, I knew what they were up to. Please do not keep saying this, just because people disagree does not make them Labour supporters. I despise them for what they set in motion on many things including weflare. Considering that Lib Dems are always Labour bashing why is it that you take on the worst of their policies?

  • @Anne & RedOrange

    I totally agree, coming onto this site gives one the impression that the LibDems are a bunch of right wing market fundamentalists using the Torie’s arguments on tax, benefits etc.

    The truth is, this is nothing like the party who are still generally Social Liberals/Social Democrats, you only have to follow the conference weekend. It was wonderful to see the party in action showing who’s in charge – it’s not Nick Clegg, not David Laws, not Vince Cable…. thank god!

  • @Frank

    I am no right winger!

    I just refuse to accept that people who don’t need benefits should get them. Currently our welfare system is woeful in that it does not trully target the trully needy in our counrty and is seriously wasteful. We must be better at pushing the welfare resources we have to the right people, I just dont believe that currently we do.

  • Richard Heathcote 28th Mar '11 - 3:25pm

    my son was entitled to the £30 maximum payment and it was his only source of income while he was at college, it was not enough for him to get the bus and buy his lunch every day, i constantly had to give him additional money. Also if he had an appointment at the dentist or similar he lost the money for the entire week. I dont really see many in my area using EMA for anything but basic survival whilst they are studying i think this is a myth to discredit the importance of EMA and it certainly doesnt ring true from my experiance talking to my son and his friends who all go to college. If people who can afford holidays car changes etc have children receiving £30 a week then its basically fiddling the system as they must have an income of more than £21000 a year, although this is not something i have seen. If that has happened it is not a fault of the EMA payment, it is a fault of the means testing system they use to verify who is entitled to these payments the alternative though if my son loses his £30 a week he will quit college as he simply will not be able to afford to go it would actually be easier for him to sign on and stay in bed he will get more money and he can attend all the interviews he wants for a job to retain his entitlement to JSA there is no work in the immediate area for him no matter how much he tries.

  • “Well the only taxes that have been reduced so far are for the 1.1m people taken out of income tax.
    You presumably think it is better to give money to teenagers who dont need it rather than let hard working people keep more of their own money?”

    Of course, everyone who pays basic-rate income tax has benefited from the raising of allowances. But I’m not sure what the relevance of that is anyway.

    The question is why you should keep telling us that the money being cut from EMA was being given to people who “dont need it.” Do you really have some reason to think that’s true?

  • @Richard Heathcote
    The situation you describe is much as it is where I live. It was something that worked fairly well and I suspect if truth was told Ministers rather than rushing to cut it now realise it should have been retained and reformed. It was an ideological decision to cut and seemingly done with little understanding or use of evidence. Work by the IFS and others has demonstrated its economic purpose and the small savings accruing from cutting.

  • Anne – “Pity we do not decide on MP’s expenses then!? Poor things do not like the scrutiny. There will be many children who will not get support. I would not have gone begging to the school, my children would not have been able to carry on and go on to university without it.”

    So – you’re saying that it’s perfectly OK to be given something no questions asked, but not to have to ask for it.

    You are honestly saying you would have let your children forego money that they were entitled to, and to screw up their future and opportunities, to assuage your personal pride?

  • “I am aware that it was means tested, however I know of several families where the kids got it and I know that those families were in now way short of money. I would question the method of means testing for the EMA either that or we seriously need to look at the thresholds used.”

    i don’t know if this is the case, but one obvious way would be where parents were divorced and the children lived with the poorer ex-spouse. They may be being finded by the Ex- or new partner, but that income wouldn’t be assessed for means-teasting.

  • @ Tabman

    That’s why it was means tested so parents did not have to have the stigma of going on bended knee to ask, and many parents would not ask because the stigma of that placed on their child would be disgusting, it is not personal pride, it is protecting your child from the abuse that would follow.

  • Simon McGrath

    But why did you say about that the money being cut from EMA was being paid to people who “dont need it” ?

    And why do you say “all that has changed” is that the money will go through the college, when the main change is that funding is being cut by 70%?

  • Goodness, this generated some heat!

    If this is any gauge of the mood, my personal hobby horse – the joke that is the winter fuel payment – might yet be in the line of fire!

    Why is it so objectionable to give a relativelyh generous EMA, but give fuel payments to the dead?

  • @Simon McGrath

    “Well the only taxes that have been reduced so far are for the 1.1m people taken out of income tax.”

    Really? To miss one corporation tax cut is unfortunate; to miss two begins to look like carelessness.

  • @ Tabman
    Yes I probably would have swallowed my pride as I have given up much of that already and this government is systematically taking the last vestiges away. I had no objection to Student Finance having my financial details and never have, you also have to send proof, bank statements included so that your assertion of no questions asked is rather showing your ignorance.
    I am sick and tired of the demonising of the young. First GCSEs are useless, A Levels are useless, degrees are useless and those on EMA do not need it but spend it on fags and booze. Maybe some did but it is the same old right wing attack as on those on welfare, call them all scroungers. That word might not have been typed on the keyboards here but it is pretty well between the lines. The young are pretty much realising that government is useless. At least you have politicised them but perhaps not in the way you want.
    @ Simon McGrath
    The 2.5 million and rising unemployed will see no benefit on tax and are however having to pay increased VAT.

  • I remain incredibly skeptical and perhaps a little cynical (the shoehorning into the story of Clegg riding to the rescue into the story seems a little suspicious to me). The delay in announcing the replacement has been disastrous. I should voice my vested interest. Working in a FE college, I want recruitment to stay up because if it doesn’t my job is under threat but I would have thought that my vested interest happens to coincide with what is probably better for the country, as many young people as possible for whom it is appropriate, staying in some form of education so that they are better equipped for an increasingly competitive workplace. At this point, recruitment and applications for next year (where I work) make for depressing reading. They are down 60% on what they were this time last year when they had been gradually trending upwards year on year. Now perhaps as details of this replacement come out the numbers may rise back to expected levels but it would have be rather a dramatic rise in short space of time. At the moment many courses look like they won’t recruit enough to run forcing students wanting those courses to go into something they don’t want to do or just to not bother at all.

    As for the well touted “poor targeting” of EMA, I have long been interested in reading the studies conducted that have shown it to be so. Everyone is able to churn out anecdotes of instances where it was appallingly targeted, I could come up with a hefty number myself. But there’s never really enough to outweigh the number of people that get it. I’ve yet to read any study which conclusively proves it is completely unneeded for 70%+ of recipients. I’m tired of hearing stories, often relayed in rhetoric reminiscent of dole scrounger rants, and then having them presented as justification for a nationwide cut. I was under the impression we were a bit more considered than that.

    I hope when further details are announced, we learn some more. I hope there is some oversight as to how colleges and schools hand out the money. For instance I wouldn’t trust the powers that be in my college to do it in anything like the best way.

    Finally, I may be reading this wrong as it has been a long day but:
    A smaller proportion will be earmarked for automatic payments to students with special needs such as the disabled.
    This strikes me as incredibly…bad. I’m all for removing ring fencing when it is senseless but this isn’t one of them.

  • Richard Heathcote 28th Mar '11 - 10:00pm

    my argument was simply if my sons ema was cut when it was used for the sole purpose to get him college and back and to have something to eat for his lunch, If he got nothing he will quit college sign on and get more money and stay in bed as there is no work for him. The college doesnt have any plan for what they will do in september when the new term starts and there is really no oppertunities for kids out there now.

    i just think this drivel about kids using it for beer and pocket money is rubbish.

  • Richard, you seem like an intelligent person who understands the concept of deferred gratification. Could you not share this with your son?

  • Amazed how many people did not agree with our policy on EMA before May. More evidence of a strong rightward drift of the party.

  • Here’s more ‘anecdotal evidence’ but still, I thought I’d share….

    I used to get 20 quid a week to basically spend down the pub. I know plenty of people who paid for driving lessons and holidays by saving up their weekly cash and bonuses. There were two girls (not related) in my school who used to get the full amount each week despite being very, very well off because their property-owning parents were classed as self-employed so their earnings weren’t taken into account.

    Suppose I was lucky and got a free bus pass (like EVERYBODY else in my area). For those who live under councils that won’t subsidise travel to and from school/college, then ye I get the complaint.

    Hopefully this replacement scheme will be much fairer and more sensible than its predecessor – and we can start to focus on the real issue; that we’re trying to get as many people in further education/university as possible simply because there isn’t really anything else for them to do instead.

  • @Simon McGrath
    “@Anne and Alex perhaps the ‘win’ by saving 300m is that the government can now borrow less or reduce taxes rater than hand out money to people who don’t need it?”

    I sincerely hope not. If there’s one thing the deficit shows us it’s that we have, and want, public services which are costing us more than we can raise. What we clearly need is higher taxes to maintain our public services in the state we seem to want them.

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