Abolishing EMA is an easy choice

This week sees the start of a six-week summer holiday for the majority of state school children. It also marks the end of another £530 million annual Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) payout. Around now, those 16-19 year olds who have remained in education beyond GCSEs will receive their second £100 bonus payment of 2010, assuming they have met the easily achievable criteria set by their education establishments with regard to attendance and attainment.

The EMA was established in 2004 as a means of keeping teenagers in education beyond the age of sixteen. The scheme pays deprived students up to £30 per week, depending on family income and as aforementioned, additional bonuses on top. In our book, How to Cut Public Spending (and still win an election), we called for the EMA to be scrapped.

Back in 2008, then Shadow Education Secretary, Michael Gove, seemed to be in agreement with us, citing figures which suggested a mere 400 pupils stayed on directly as a result of EMA payments. However, one month before the General Election, he seemed to have changed his tune. In an interview with The Guardian, he said: “Ed Balls keeps saying that we are committed to scrapping the EMA. I have never said this. We won't.” If the Government stands by Gove’s statement when the spending review comes around in the autumn, it will be a big mistake. More money from the public purse, more money wasted. If however, they do proceed to scrap the scheme, it may cause more embarrassment for Gove but it will be entirely sensible.

[caption id="attachment_22542" align="aligncenter" width="501" caption="Education and employment statistics, 16-18 year olds in England, 1994-2008"][/caption]

The fact of the matter is that the EMA is not working. As the chart above shows, participation rates have not altered since its inception; increasing from 75.7 per cent in 2004 to 79.7 per cent in 2008, but this is only in line with historical trends. Having just finished A-Levels myself, I have become aware of young people conning the system with ease, such as by proclaiming only one parent’s income within a separated family or, more innocently, making use of their parent’s asset rich - low cash income situation. Getting £30 per week for going to school or Sixth Form College is, of course, easier than getting a Saturday job in many people’s eyes!

There are some difficult choices ahead for the Government. Abolishing the EMA is an easy choice. The theory is good and it would be wrong to say that it is not of huge assistance to those young people who cannot fund their education beyond the age of sixteen. Nevertheless, the figures speak for themselves and a new, more cost effective way of helping underprivileged students must be found.

By Jago Pearson

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