Why the Educational Maintenance Allowance matters
Mike Hedges MS
I was very pleased to take the opportunity to co-sign the motion to support an increase in EMA payment and the increase in eligibility.
I want to highlight, firstly the importance of EMA and secondly the importance of increasing it in line with inflation.
Of course, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats opposed it when it was introduced by the Labour Westminster Government.
The Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, Phil Willis, said: ‘There are significantly more important things to do with £20m than give young people a Christmas bonus.’
Conservative spokesperson Chris Grayling said: ‘This is another blatant example of the government trying to fiddle the figures. Bribing young people to sign up for courses they may not complete, might make ministers’ targets look achievable — but they do absolutely nothing to help solve this country’s…skills shortage.’
I think that tells you what the Conservatives at Westminster and the Liberal Democrats at Westminster think of our young people, and think of people who are less well off. I won’t use the word ‘poverty’ because that’s a relative term, but people who are less well off.
The Westminster Government and the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition took very little time, it only took them until 20 October 2010, to end the education maintenance allowance scheme in England, because they don’t believe in it.
They do not believe in helping young people.
This is why we need a more representative Parliaments, so that we have people with different life experiences, who understand from their life experience the benefit of EMA-type support.
I congratulate the Welsh Government for keeping the EMA when it had been cancelled in England. It would have been so easy to cancel it.
There you had a simple saving. It would generate very little noise because the people who get these sorts of payments are not the people who write letters to the press or organise petitions.
They’re not the people who go out complaining; they’re the people who suffer and have problems.
I would like to go through some details from my experience as a college lecturer. Without EMA, many students would not have been able to undertake their studies; many more driven by their family’s economic circumstances would, at some stage, have had to drop out.
Many of my former students ended up in well-paid ICT jobs, helping both them and the economy.
EMA was the difference between unemployment followed by low-skilled and low-paid employment and becoming skilled and well paid. EMA was and is life-changing for many people.
It also benefits our economy, increasing the number of skilled workers. This is investing in young people, investing in our economy and, it is one of the best forms of investment in economic development.
Bribing companies to bring their branch factories here has failed for as long as I can remember just think about Bosch and LG.
Was it initially abused? Yes, by students turning up and doing nothing. This was resolved by continuing payments after satisfactory progress had been made.
My experience as a college lecturer, was that any student who attended regularly who had a good reason for not being there who was making good progress was not going to be stopped getting their EMA.
I’m speaking on behalf of my fellow University and College Union members, we would not have done that.
According to the Bevan Foundation, increasing the EMA by 10 per cent would add £3 a week for everyone receiving it. £3 a week is not much.
There is an acknowledgment that learners in further education face just as significant a financial pressure as higher education students, who recently had a 9.4 per cent increase, which, is very much needed and very much supported.
To many Senedd members , £3 is less than a cup of coffee. To EMA students, it can be two or three meals.
That’s two or three meals out of 14 meals a week. This idea that people have three or four meals a day does not run for people who are poor.
Crucially, it would establish an important principle of annual uplift, matching the UK Government’s uprating of most social security benefits.
The Bevan Foundation estimate the cost of an inflation-linked increase will be around £1.7 million. Raising the eligibility to include another 1,000 students would cost £1.1 million.
This is obviously affordable from the Welsh Government budget.
The Finance Committee discussed this and were in favour of such an uplift unanimously, including the Conservative Member.
If anyone doubts its affordability, just check every month how much additional money is released by the Welsh Government to good and deserving recipients: £1 million here, £5 million there, £300,000, you get them every few weeks.
My argument is that giving money to EMA students is giving it to good and deserving recipients.
Finally, thank you to the Labour Government, which kept the EMA; now is the time to start annual uplifts.
Mike Hedges is the Senedd member for Swansea East
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