How the Tories broke their promises on the EMA

In January 2010 Cameron said: “We don’t have any plans to get rid of them.”

The Liberal Democrats' decision to break their pledge to vote against higher tuition fees means that Nick Clegg's party is rightly derided for its dishonesty and mendacity. But if anything, the Conservatives' long list of broken promises is even worse.

It was David Cameron who said that he had "no plans" to raise VAT (before increasing this regressive tax to 20 per cent), who promised that he wouldn't "change child benefit" (before abolishing it for higher earners) and who called for an end to the "top-down reorganisations of the NHS" (before announcing the biggest reforms since the health service was founded).

Ahead of today's vote on the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance, it's worth remembering that this is another area in which the Tories have broken their election promises.

As the video below shows, at a Cameron Direct event in January 2010, the Conservative leader said: "We've looked at educational maintenance allowances and we haven't announced any plan to get rid of them." Challenged to firm up his pledge, he added: "I said we don't have any plans to get rid of them . . . it's one of those things the Labour Party keep putting out that we are but we're not."

Cameron wasn't the only prominent Conservative to come out in favour of the EMA. In an interview with the Guardian just before the election, Michael Gove said: "Ed Balls keeps saying that we are committed to scrapping EMA. I have never said this. We won't."

The abolition of the EMA, which paid up to £30 a week to 16-to-18-years-olds living in households whose income is less than £30,800 a year, is likely to lower working-class participation in education and decrease social mobility. Gove may argue that there is little proof that the EMA makes more pupils stay on, but the National Foundation for Educational Research estimates an extra 10 per cent do.

That may not sound like many, but at a time of high youth unemployment it prevents up to 60,000 more from joining the dole queue.

There is also some evidence to suggest that the EMA benefits the economy as a whole by increasing the productivity of those who would have stayed on anyway (EMA recipients are required to attend 100 per cent of their lectures).

In a recent piece for the NS, Gavin Kelly noted that while the removal of the 10p income-tax band had cost the average household £232, the abolition of the EMA will cost pupils as much as £1,200. Taken in conjunction with the large cuts to tax credits, this could be the closest the coalition comes to its own "10p moment".

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo:Getty
Show Hide image

Labour is a pioneer in fighting sexism. That doesn't mean there's no sexism in Labour

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

I’m in the Labour party to fight for equality. I cheered when Labour announced that one of its three Budget tests was ensuring the burden of cuts didn’t fall on women. I celebrated the party’s record of winning rights for women on International Women’s Day. And I marched with Labour women to end male violence against women and girls.

I’m proud of the work we’re doing for women across the country. But, as the Labour party fights for me to feel safer in society, I still feel unsafe in the Labour party.

These problems are not unique to the Labour party; misogyny is everywhere in politics. You just have to look on Twitter to see women MPs – and any woman who speaks out – receiving rape and death threats. Women at political events are subject to threatening behaviour and sexual harassment. Sexism and violence against women at its heart is about power and control. And, as we all know, nowhere is power more highly-prized and sought-after than in politics.

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

The House of Commons’ women and equalities committee recently stated that political parties should have robust procedures in place to prevent intimidation, bullying or sexual harassment. The committee looked at this thanks to the work of Gavin Shuker, who has helped in taking up this issue since we first started highlighting it. Labour should follow this advice, put its values into action and change its structures and culture if we are to make our party safe for women.

We need thorough and enforced codes of conduct: online, offline and at all levels of the party, from branches to the parliamentary Labour party. These should be made clear to everyone upon joining, include reminders at the start of meetings and be up in every campaign office in the country.

Too many members – particularly new and young members – say they don’t know how to report incidents or what will happen if they do. This information should be given to all members, made easily available on the website and circulated to all local parties.

Too many people – including MPs and local party leaders – still say they wouldn’t know what to do if a local member told them they had been sexually harassed. All staff members and people in positions of responsibility should be given training, so they can support members and feel comfortable responding to issues.

Having a third party organisation or individual to deal with complaints of this nature would be a huge help too. Their contact details should be easy to find on the website. This organisation should, crucially, be independent of influence from elsewhere in the party. This would allow them to perform their role without political pressures or bias. We need a system that gives members confidence that they will be treated fairly, not one where members are worried about reporting incidents because the man in question holds power, has certain political allies or is a friend or colleague of the person you are supposed to complain to.

Giving this third party the resources and access they need to identify issues within our party and recommend further changes to the NEC would help to begin a continuous process of improving both our structures and culture.

Labour should champion a more open culture, where people feel able to report incidents and don't have to worry about ruining their career or facing political repercussions if they do so. Problems should not be brushed under the carpet. It takes bravery to admit your faults. But, until these problems are faced head-on, they will not go away.

Being the party of equality does not mean Labour is immune to misogyny and sexual harassment, but it does mean it should lead the way on tackling it.

Now is the time for Labour to practice what it preaches and prove it is serious about women’s equality.

Bex Bailey was on Labour’s national executive committee from 2014 to 2016.