Jan Moir’s myths about EMA

EMA’s critics wilfully ignore the positive aspects of the soon-to-be scrapped scheme.

Last Friday Jan Moir of the Daily Mail tried to back up her article from the previous week, in which she described teenagers who receive EMA as "spoilt brats", by now saying that they have to "just get on with it". This was in response to our supporters contacting her and pointing out the many flaws in her article, such as why teenagers who receive EMA can't possibly be "spoilt brats" when 80 per cent of young people on EMA come from families where household income is below £21,000 a year.

In her initial article, Moir describes EMA as a "waste of time and public money", and claims – falsely – that it fails to get more young people from poorer backgrounds to stay in education after GCSEs. Numerous studies by respected independent bodies such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) demonstrate that not only does EMA increase levels of participation in post-16 education, but that any costs are completely offset. In addition, the Audit Commission support this and claim that it saves UK taxpayers about £4bn a year, by preventing young people becoming Neets (not in education, employment or training).

The Daily Mail columnist, notorious for her comments after Stephen Gately's death, then went on to claim that teenagers on EMA spend all their money on "beer, ciggies and Pret A Manger sandwiches". In fact, the only research into what young people on EMA spend their money on, by the IFS, found that, instead, they gave anything left over to their families to help with groceries. In spite of the overall research to prove the opposite, the myth that EMA affords poor teenagers some sort of debauched rock'n'roll lifestyle of drink and drugs, has risen to the top of the debate.

Moir's claim that Labour planned to axe the scheme is also disingenuous, as the Save EMA campaign successfully lobbied the last government to support EMA "up to and beyond" 2011 when the school leaving age is raised. But what was most telling was her complete vindication of Michael Gove, who she says for a long time thought it was a flop. Did she miss the last election where Gove said he would not scrap EMA? But her admiration for him is deeper than this, as she says that if EMA went towards supporting "a thirst for classics" then she wouldn't mind the scheme.

It also explains why Michael Gove says his model pupil is Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. Gove believes that Zuckerberg became a billionaire due to his mastery of ancient languages. Zuckerberg, however, did not take advantage of a skills gap in ancient Greek, but rather computer sciences.

More important to his success was his ability to get a further education. Zuckerberg was born into a middle-class family in leafy Ardesly Village in New York State, allowing him to walk to class every day, unlike many of the poorest teenagers in our country, who have to commute many miles to their college, and find the money to cover the fare rises.

Unfortunately, Jan Moir is not alone in the media in lacking knowledge of the ordinary people she purports to speak for. Paul Ross, speaking on his BBC London radio show, said to me:

This sounds brutal, and I've got four children in state education and I would love them to benefit from EMA, but actually cuts are happening across the board.

Ross disliked my question about how much he is gettting paid. Unless things are getting hard for BBC DJs, his salary would certainly put his kids above the threshold to claim EMA.

There have always been such faux-tribunes of the people, from Kelvin MacKenzie to Richard Littlejohn, who pretend to speak "common sense" like ordinary working people while picking up six-figure salaries. But what is actually scary is their monopoly of publicity, which allows them to sidestep the facts and prop up myths on issues such as EMA, which is vital to working-class teenagers. Sadly, the only people who are truly "spoilt", it seems to me, are Jan Moir and her ilk.

James Mills is a Labour Party researcher and activist.

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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.