Thursday, January 27, 2011


It’s exasperating, if not particularly surprising, that the decision to scrap the EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance) descended into petty jostling for electoral advantage against all common sense.

Labour made an attempt (that they no doubt hope will appear as a principled and progressive stand) to save an initiative that has been much touted as helping young people from low household income families to stay on at school or college after 16.

And principled it might have been, if the circumstances were only so. Campaigners appear to be blithely unaware that the EMA has also been a pretty unsavoury conduit for shovelling tax payers’ money into the pockets of the spoiled offspring of the idle rich. By rights the Labour Party should have been baying for its root and branch reform.

Surely not? Isn't it a lovely progressive incentive to keep kids at school?

Well it would be if it was as it seemed. And it is great for families that genuinely need it. The rub lies in the way that money was awarded to the undeserving rich according to the champagne socialist way under which the scheme chose to determine ‘household income’.

To qualify for EMA it is only the income of the household in which the young person lives most of the time that counts. So if Mum and Dad have separated and the young person lives mostly with Mum, it is only Mum’s household income that counts (or vice versa obviously). So Dad could be a hedge fund manager sitting on squillions of ill-gotten gains, and yet his wealth is ignored for the purposes of the EMA. Not only that but when calculating Mum’s household income “maintenance received from a former partner” is specifically excluded.

So we have a situation whereby kids from the wealthiest and most privileged of backgrounds are in receipt of the full EMA even though their actual household income might be tens of thousands a month - so long as the householder doesn't work! The scheme saw affluent – even filthy rich - families living in mansions claiming the full £30 a week.

It’s plainly wrong. And surely anyone can see that reform was required.

But Labour won't say so, since that would be to admit that it was their cock up. The Conservatives aren’t pointing this out, because there aren’t many Tory votes in reminding the comfortable that they have been milking the system of money they didn’t actually need. The Lib Dems are silent, having been thrown a bone called 'enhanced discretionary learner support' which will never emerge since anything vaguely helpful would have already been marshalled in support of the coalition policy to scrap EMA at the time.

So as I say, exasperating but unsurprising. This is perhaps the right time and a good reason to be Apolitical.


  1. This is a very interesting topic : it raises the issue of means tested benefits. It's always been a bit of a moot point in our house since we never seem to get any.

    We aren't poor enough to qualify for it but neither are we rich enough not to be bothered about, say, thirty quid a week. So that leaves us in the position where we don't get it but it would make a significant difference if we did.

    However, there can be no doubt that many less well off families are helped a great deal by EMA and other means tested benefits. Unfortunately, there are always people who take the mick and it seems richer people do it with EMA. Where I live there are, I think, some people who get more in state benfits than they would in a job and it's usually these who incur the popular wrath.

    Anyway (here's one for the politicians) if means testing is so great an idea, why is child benefit universal?

    Here's my rhetorical question :- "How much effort are politicians and civil servants prepared to put in to make means testing as fair as possible?".

  2. It was in dire need of reform certainly.