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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I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.