Scrapping EMA really hurts me and my friends, says Simone Webb

Of all the cuts announced in the comprehensive spending review, the one which hit me most emotionally was the abolition of educational maintenance allowance. I have seen many arguments levied against it, from supporters of all political parties, but I have felt its impact strongly: not just in my own life, but in the lives of so many friends and acquaintances who rely on the money they get every week.

One of the arguments I hear most often against EMA is that young people should just get jobs, and make their own way in the world. To begin with, this shows a lack of understanding of just how bad the economic situation is at the moment – jobs are scarce, and likely to become scarcer under this government.

Second, it is hard to imagine that holding a job down while studying hard to achieve good grades in A Levels, or whichever course is being done, cannot affect either the job or the grades. This would not be so blatantly unfair if all students had to take jobs in order to keep afloat, but the practical situation will be that children from higher income families will not have to work during college or higher education, while children from lower income families will. In effect, students from higher income families will have however many more hours a week to study, and will achieve better grades.

Third, it is possible to have a job and still need EMA. One of my closest friends at college has a job, gets the maximum EMA payment, and still has difficulty affording text-books and vital supplies. For me, my bus journey alone into college costs three quarters of my weekly payment. The idea that young people should simply get jobs is classical liberalism at its worst: survival of the fittest, where those who can’t get jobs don’t survive.

We are also told that many young people are simply not suited to academic education, so more money should be spent on apprenticeships and vocational courses than “bribing” students to stay in education. That sounds perfectly reasonable, but it becomes very problematic when connected with EMA. Many of the young people who are “not suited to academic education” seem to be the same young people who receive EMA: students from higher income families are far less likely to take vocational courses or apprenticeships. I find it hard to envision Florence Endellion Cameron going on a hair and beauty course in sixteen years time.

The implication (intentional or not) of the idea that EMA is to be abolished in favour of apprenticeships and vocational courses is that young people from lower income families are not suited to academic education. One doesn’t have to be a militant socialist to see what’s wrong with that.

Finally, should young people be “bribed” to stay in education? I don’t see EMA as a bribe. I see it as a way of supporting young people and their parents for whom the cost of textbooks, food, supplies and travel might otherwise be too daunting. This year, the graphic calculator I had to buy for A2 mathematics cost £46. Many in my maths class are struggling to afford it. By abolishing EMA, the Tory-Lib Dem government is taking away this vital means of support – something which will hit children from single parents families the hardest. This will not affect anybody in the cabinet, or their children. Eighteen of them are millionaires. But it will affect people I know. And it will affect thousands and thousands of others. And it’s devastating.

Simone Webb is a Labour activist who blogs here.

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9 Responses to “Scrapping EMA really hurts me and my friends, says Simone Webb”

  1. Little Angussie says:

    You lefties have some sense of entitlement! Always on about this benefit or that benefit.

    THE COUNTRY HAS NO MONEY TO SPARE TO PAY people who cannot find a job to waste time at school! GET A JOB get of your arse and do something for yourself – your milch cow Brown is gone thankfully.

    Get used to real life like the rest of us!

  2. Great article, Simone. interesting to read for once about what the reality is like in the day to day lives of those affected by withdrawal of such allowances. To listen to the Tories you’d think that cuts are about nothing more than facts, figures and cold statistics. The effect on the lives of actual human beings is never factored into their equations or the abject misery their policies cause.

  3. Simone Webb says:

    Little Angussie – I’d be more ready to reply to your arguments in that comment if you’d taken the time to address any of mine.

    Peter – thank you very much!

  4. deb ravenscroft says:

    As a lecturer in FE the problem with EMA lies in its use. Many students do not use their EMA to purchase vital educational supplies and throw their hands up in horror when asked to buy anything.

    Your calculator may have cost you £46 but that is less than two weeks payment. Textbooks are available through the college departments and libraries for free use. The other issue is with students simply attending college to obtain EMA despite being poorly or disinterested.

    The problems cannot be attributed to every student of course many do need some support -I wonder how I managed when I was in college? But it is so open to abuse & fraud.

    Read the story of the young man who lives with his low paid mother and so is entitled to EMA but has a wealthy father living apart from the familiy home whose income is not taken into account.

    It is simply not true to suggest that academics are not for the low income families – infact the universities are biased against those from privilige and private education. Some support should be available but £30 a week is excessive, unaffordable and unnecessary.

    Incidentally, I lived in poverty as a teenager, studied hard at college, walked to college and any work placements, held down a waitressing job in the evening and on a saturday, qualified at 18 and got a full time job. I don’t think you should just get a job, but I also don’t think you need £30 a week to study at college.

  5. Simone Webb says:

    Deb – firstly, the calculator cost me more than two weeks’ payment: not everyone gets £30 a week!

    Secondly – I definitely agree that EMA has problems in the way it’s been administered, and I wouldn’t in the least object to the coalition re-evaluating it, and trying to make it more efficient and less open to fraud. However, it is very difficult to work out a way to do this: a card which could only be used at certain outlets for books and supplies might be one way. Even this would be problematic, though – some people need EMA for food as well as educational supplies.

    Thirdly – yes, textbooks can be obtained through libraries. This is definitely not ideal, though: quite a few libraries take a dim view of books being highlighted and annotated, which a lot of people find important for their learning and revision. It can be hard to connect with a text-book without feeling that it’s yours.

    Fourthly – if universities are indeed biased against those with privilege and private education, it will at most even out the still considerable inbalance. I could write a whole new essay on the way state-school pupils are disadvantaged hugely in education and, particularly, university applications. In fact, I probably will at some point.

  6. Sliepnir2006 says:

    I quote “You lefties have some sense of entitlement! Always on about this benefit or that benefit.

    THE COUNTRY HAS NO MONEY TO SPARE TO PAY people who cannot find a job to waste time at school! GET A JOB get of your arse and do something for yourself – your milch cow Brown is gone thankfully.

    Get used to real life like the rest of us!”

    Well you “right wing” nutcases under Thatcher, systemically destroyed the mining industry, shut down our manufacturing companies, destroyed our shipyards and ship building industries, so to be honest there is pretty little in the way of jobs left, unless you count supermarkets and minimum wage as a job.

    But to be fair since Margaret Thatcher and her crazies were finally battered out of office, both the Conservative and Labour administrations have been a damnable nightmare, simply filled with corruption fraud and theft. Parliament the place for the squalid to keep themselves in luxury while the rest of the country suffers.

    The scrapping of the EMA is yet another knee jerk reaction by these inept buffoons we the public keep electing into office. If, over the last 30 years governments had worked on keeping the private sector industries alive we may not have been in this damnable mess now.

    Instead we now have a massive public sector deficit and virtually no industry for anyone to go into, when jobs are lost from the public sector. Sensible policies indeed! Huh, these moronic imbeciles you have elected would have made a mess of sweeping up stable manure.

    One wonders though, just who really is to blame, the incompetent buffoons which the electorate place into office to run the country, or the electorate themselves for voting these snivelling parasites into what has become the Parliamentary Cesspit, for theft lies and corruption.

  7. Becky says:

    What I don’t understand is why parents from low income backgrounds, who have managed to support their children for the past 16 years and payed out for expenses such as school uniform and trips which can cost over a £100 a year, on the child entering sixth form, can suddenly not afford to support them any longer, despte recieving exactly the same amount of child benefit and financial support?

    I was not entitled to EMA at college and my mother used child benefit to pay for my bus fares, the same as she had throughout my school years. Most of the departments handed out textbooks or they were available from the library, others could be bought for a fraction or the price off amazon.

    Then there is the fact that EMA is guranteed for the duration of further education. Therefore, a student whos father was unemployed during the year before the student entered sixth form would still be entitled to £30 a week for three years, even if their father landed a job with an annual salary of £100,000 the very next day.

    It is a completely unsustainable and ineffcient system, it is ridiculous to be handing out £30 a week to students with no gurantee that it is being put to the use for which it is intended, when other people are in much more dire need of the money. Futhermore, with the introduction of compulsory education or training until the age of 18, a monetary incitement to continue in further education simply won’t be neccessary.

  8. Collette Deakins says:

    Sorry young lady but I have a son who works every saturday for the minimum wage in a supermarket , so he has some money of his own while studying for A Levels. He has a friend who recieves £30 weekly for EMA. The friend, due to go to university this september, has never worked and has no intention of doing so! Why would he? I ask you this- Who of the two is gaining experience of the working world? Who of the two will experience the pride you can feel in earning your own money through hard work? I believe there is a danger that many young people who recieve this benefit are stopped from needing a part time job which would enable them to develop and grow as young people. BTW it is ridiculous to say there are no low paid part time jobs! Open the paper and look! There are no good well paid jobs , i accept that , but you only need £30 a week don’t you?

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