We're fighting to save the Education Maintenance Allowance, a payment scheme for 16- to 19-year-olds from low-income backgrounds who have chosen to stay in education.


According to this morning’s Daily Mirror, Labour’s new Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Tristram Hunt MP, has strongly hinted that if Labour are elected in the 2015 General Election he “wants” to Save EMA, and reverse the Coalition Government’s decision to abolish the scheme.

In the interview in today’s paper, the Daily Mirror’s Political Editor Jason Beattie, suggests that this is what Mr Hunt “wants”; read the section below for yourselves or click here:

Mr Hunt also wants to bring back the Education Maintenance ­Allowance to help teenagers from the poorest backgrounds stay in education.

This could be paid for by stripping the wealthiest pensioners of the winter fuel allowance.

Mr Hunt says: “A bit of rebalancing towards young people wouldn’t go amiss.”

Although this is not the first time that the Labour party has hinted that it will bring back the education maintenance allowance, our campaign which is supported by Labour Leader Ed Miliband MP, who has himself hinted at it back in December 2011. And of course, Labour’s London Mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone made it one of his key pledges in March 2012 due to the lobbying of Save EMA.

However, this is the strongest hint yet that the Labour party are seriously planning on reintroducing EMA if elected. The fact that they are trailing this story in a Labour supporting paper like the Daily Mirror, and that it has been reported by the political editor, suggests that this is as close as the Labour party has come to a full out commitment like Ken Livingstone did.

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Government’s own child poverty adviser agrees with SAVE EMA

The Government’s own child poverty and social mobility tsar has today come out and said that they should not of abolished the education maintenanceallowance (EMA). Speaking to the  Guardian newspaper Alan Milburn said that he thought it was “a very bad mistake”.

The rest of the Guardian article is even more interesting:

Milburn will report that EMA was “generally regarded by universities as an initiative that encouraged progression, attainment and good study habits because of the way it was awarded.

“Equally, teachers have expressed concern that EMA acted as a clear incentive for young people to stay on in education, and fear that its removal may have a damaging impact. Independent evaluations also found that it significantly increased staying-on rates and attainment.”

He also points out that when the Institute for Fiscal Studies looked into EMA, it found that it had significantly increased participation rates in post-16 education among young adults. It increased the proportion of eligible 16-year-olds staying in education from 65% to 69%, and of eligible 17-year-olds from 54% to 61%.

Milburn criticises the government’s alternative to the EMA, saying the bursary scheme is flawed since students have to apply for the bursary after enrolment. “As a consequence students do not know, when applying for a place in post-16 education, whether they will receive a bursary – and if so, what its value will be.”

The replacement, called the 16-19 bursary scheme, is worth £1,200 a year and goes only to the 12,000 poorest or most vulnerable students.

Milburn says: “Research into those in receipt of the new bursary fund has found that, while it is too soon to quantify the long-term impact on student numbers, many young people are not receiving the financial backup they need to support their everyday living expenses.”

His report concludes: “In summary, there is legitimate cause for concern that these changes may have a negative impact on widening participation.”

In the meantime, Milburn suggests that the government should increase the funding level and refine the targeting. He also proposes universities should consider providing EMA-style financial incentives directly for young people to stay on and succeed at school.

This adds further pressure on the Government to reinstate EMA, when not only has a Tory-chaired Education Select Committee report come out against the decision, the author of the one document the Government used to discredit the EMA says it should not have been abolished, and the former economic advisor to the Government opposed abolishing it too!

There is barely any credible support for abolishing EMA, and a whole lot of support for it being reinstated.

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GUEST POST: Jonathan Portes – The consequences of ignoring the evidence

This is a guest post by the renowned economist Jonathan Portes

In justifying the decision to abolish the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA), the government argued repeatedly that the decision was justified by the evidence; in particular, that  EMA was ineffective in increasing educational participation among young people. For example, the Minister for Further Education, in November 2010, said:

“we have focused on the evaluation evidence and other research which indicates that EMA does not effectively target those young people who need financial support to enable them to participate in learning.  It will be replaced by a scheme that does.”

This was a gross misrepresentation of the evaluation evidence and research, as was pointed out at the time by many of those responsible for producing it. In a letter to the Guardian, co-signed with a number of other economists who have worked in this area, we wrote:

“extensive quantitative evaluations of the EMA have shown that it has significantly improved both staying-on rates and qualifications for students from poorer backgrounds. Econometric evidence from researchers at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, published in 2005, found that the EMA significantly increased participation rates in post-16 education among young adults, and concluded that its impact was “substantial”; subsequent IFS research, published in 2008, showed, moreover, that the EMA significantly improved their educational outcomes.

The government has chosen to ignore this rigorous and independent evidence, and has instead argued that the abolition of EMA is justified by high levels of “deadweight” – ie that many young people in receipt of the EMA would remain in education even without it. But even if this is true, it is not a sound economic argument for abolishing EMA – it could equally be argued that the government should not vaccinate children against meningitis or polio, since the vast majority of children wouldn’t contract these diseases anyway. Virtually all government programmes, even the most successful, have some deadweight cost.

The real question is whether the benefits, economic and social, of the EMA exceed its costs overall. On this, the IFS concluded that even looking at only the narrow economic benefits of EMA – the higher wages that its recipients would go on to enjoy in future – these are likely to exceed the costs in the long run. And this takes no account of the wider social and economic benefits.  Over the long term, growth depends above all on the skills and qualifications of the workforce… Abolishing the EMA – which enables many young people to gain the qualifications that they will need in the future – is not a recipe for long-term growth.”

Yesterday, the Department for Education released data on the educational participation of young people, which it describes as  ”the Department’s definitive measures of participation at ages 16-18…in the context of historical trends. .  The release rightly highlights the following key point:

“Participation in full-time education fell by 1.8 ppts at age 16 to 86.2%, the first fall since 2001.”

This is clearly extremely bad news.  The labour market prospects of young people without decent qualifications are extremely poor, both because of current economic weakness and longer term trends. The proportion of 16 year olds staying on should be rising – as it was up to 2010, in part because of EMA – not falling. It is too soon, and we do not have enough detail, to definitively conclude that this reverse is due to the abolition of EMA.  But the Department, and its Ministers, urgently need to tell us – with some proper evidence and analysis this time – what is going on and what they are going to do about it.

This is a guest post by the renowned economist Jonathan Portes who as a former economic adviser to the Cabinet Office and currently the head of the economic think tank The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR). Some of you may remember that he was also a signed our letter in the Guardian newspaper supporting SaveEMA!


Sam Freedman, a policy advisor at the Department for Education, responded to this post in a lengthy discussion with me on twitter. You can read the whole thing if you want, but his main substantive point was this:

“the percentage in education or training has gone up. That’s the key figure..why didn’t you mention [it] in your blog?”

Except that’s definitely not the key figure, as far as DFE itself is concerned.  It includes participation  in “other education and training”, which is mostly part-time and (contrary to his subsequent attempt at justifying his position) is explicitly not “employment-based.” This doesn’t seem like a great outcome for 16 year olds.  Indeed – and this is why I didn’t mention it – the officialDFE statistical release doesn’t mention this figure in the “Headlines” section.

What are the outcomes that DFE think matter? I reproduce in full the “Headlines” paragraph that talks about 16 year olds.

“16 year olds

• Participation in full-time education fell by 1.8 ppts at age 16 to 86.2%, the first fall since 2001, but there was a rise in part-time education (+1.6 ppts) and work-based learning (+0.1 ppts).

• The overall proportion in education and work-based learning increased by 0.1 ppts, although in rounded form the figure remained at 95.5%. However, due to changes in the underlying data, there was a change in the methodology to determine the size of the overlap between fulltime and part-time education and work-based learning in 2011. We estimate that without this change, the proportion of 16 year olds in education and work-based learning would have fallen by 0.1 ppts (see Technical Notes section E for further details)

• The proportion of 16 year olds NEET rose slightly, from 2.7% to 2.8%.”

In other words, on all three outcomes for 16 year olds that the DFE release highlighted, things got worse.  I think it’s reasonably clear who is being selective about the use of statistics.

Subsequently, when we had established this, Sam tried again to move the goalposts. First he questioned why I was focusing on 16 year olds, rather than 16-18 year olds. That’s obvious of course, as he well knows; the transitional arrangements for EMA abolition mean that you wouldn’t expect much impact on 18 year olds in this data.

Finally, after we’d established that the outcomes for 16 year olds were (according to DFE’s own interpretation) negative, he moved to the tradeoffs, saying:

“at most a statistically insignificant fall. And £340 million has been saved.”

Now, of course, I was careful in my original blog not to claim that direct causality had been established between EMA abolition and the deterioration in outcomes for 16 year olds.  And it is entirely legitimate to look at costs.  So if Sam’s original response had been along these lines:

“Yes, these figures are disappointing and worrying. But it’s not clear that the deterioration is the result of EMA abolition. And we have saved £340 million by abolition. More analysis is needed to work out what’s going wrong and how – while still saving money – we can reverse these worrying trends.”

Then I would have regarded that as both honest and defensible.  But his attempt to choose his own facts completely undermines his position. He seems determined to make my original point for me – that the government’s primary interest is in making the evidence fit the policy, rather than the other way around.  Very disappointing.

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Save EMA Get Ken To Commit to Reinstate EMA in London

Today Ken Livingstone, the Labour candidate for London mayor, has pledged to reinstate the education maintenance allowance in the capital if he is elected in May.

Mr Livingstone has been a long standing supporter of the Save EMA campaign, personally endorsing the campaign over a year ago (as seen below):

Students in sixth forms or further education colleges will receive the money if their household income is below £31,000 a year.

About 85,000 students in London were receiving the allowance when it was cut, and Boris Johnson has publicly called on the government to think again.

The London EMA would be based mainly on redirecting existing funds in colleges and the capital’s universities. This includes the bursary fund the government introduced to replace the EMA and money spent on outreach activities by London universities.

Livingstone’s campaign team say local authorities will also be asked to contribute, and it may be topped up from the Greater London Authority’s budget.

This is great news for tens of thousands of the poorest teenagers in London; it means that they can once again take education as far as their ability lets them and not their ability to pay.

This means Boris will now have to put his money where his mouth to show whether he is all mouth and no trousers when it comes to standing up for London’s poorest teenagers.

It took Boris 6 months to pick up the phone to say he opposed the abolition of the EMA to Michael Gove, who is a London MP. Since then he has said more words in Greek and Latin than he has on this issue. Its time he finds his voice on EMA.

Boris has defended a minority of the wealthiest bankers on a regular basis, and only once has spoken out on EMA, and then only briefly. Its time Boris shows he is the Mayor of London not the Mayor of bankers.

This will not only set down a marker for other mayoral contests across the country, but has shown it is not about money, but about priorities when it comes to down whether teenagers should have EMA payments.

This is a bold and smart announcement by Mr Livingstone today. Ken Livingstone has made it clear, if you want to Save EMA you vote Ken in May.

BBC London Vanessa Feltz show interview with James Mills of Save EMA (mp3)

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Today’s worrying figures are further proof that how catastrophic a mistake it was by the government to scrap the educational maintenance allowance (EMA). The increase in the Q4 figures for those not in employment,education or training (NEET) is in stark contrast to the steady decline that had been underway since the introduction of the EMA.

The below chart shows the impact the education maintenance allowance (EMA) had on those classed as ‘NEET’ after it was rolled out nationally in 2004 (the red dashes signifying its introduction).

The importance of Quarter 4 data is that it shows those teenagers who have not enrolled into further education after September of that year. Today’s data includes the total number of NEET young people in Oct-Dec 2011. And includes both new NEETs and people who have been NEET for some time.

What the below figure shows is that the steady upwards trend in 16-18 year old classed as NEET was checked by EMA and began a slow decline in the Q4 figures:

(Source: Data from the 2011 Labour Force Survey for Quarter 3 showing those not in education, employment or training.)

Although these NEET figures could also be influenced by a flagging economy, when combined with the October AOC survey that showed enrolment at 49% of colleges was down and last month’s unemployment figures showed an increase in 16-17 year old unemployment; today’s NEET figures are further indicative proof that scrapping EMA was the wrong decision.

The EMA was a tried and tested government scheme. It was recognised by a plethora of organisations, like the independent IFS, who argued that EMA help to get those classed as NEET into the work place. This is how the IFS described EMA:

“The EMA significantly increased participation rates in post-16 education among young adults who were eligible to receive it.

In particular, it increased the proportion of eligible 16-year-olds staying in education from 65 to 69 per cent, and increased the proportion of eligible 17-year-olds in education from 54 to 61 per cent.

The simple cost-benefit analysis mentioned above suggests that even taking into account the level of deadweight that was found, the costs of EMA are completely offset.”

Today’s sad news that the number of NEETs is up is further proof that scrapping the EMA was a massive mistake by this government. Previous Q4 figures have shown a steady decline in the number of NEETs and are indicative proof that EMA worked.

Youth unemployment and the number of NEETs is a ticking time bomb, but sadly this government is cutting the wrong wire. The EMA was a tried and tested scheme that worked. The government have replaced it with one that risks costing the tax payer more in the long run and does less for those who need it.

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