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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With the BBC Food’s collection under threat, here's how to make the most of online recipes

Do a bit of digging, trust your instincts – and always read the comments.

I don’t think John Humphrys is much of a chef. Recently, as his Today co-presenter Mishal Husain was discussing the implications of the BBC’s decision to axe its Food website (since commuted to transportation to the Good Food platform, run by its commercial arm), sharp-eared listeners heard the Humph claim that fewer recipes on the web could only be a good thing. “It would make it easier!” he bellowed in the background. “We wouldn’t have to choose between so many!”

Husain also seemed puzzled as to why anyone would need more than one recipe for spaghetti bolognese – but, as any keen cook knows, you can never have too many different takes on a dish. Just as you wouldn’t want to get all your news from a single source, it would be a sad thing to eat the same bolognese for the rest of your life. Sometimes only a molto autentico version, as laid down by a fierce Italian donna, rich with tradition and chopped liver, will do – and sometimes, though you would never admit it in a national magazine, you crave the comfort of your mum’s spag bol with grated cheddar.

The world wouldn’t starve without BBC Food’s collection but, given that an online search for “spaghetti bolognese recipe” turns up about a million results, it would have been sad to have lost one of the internet’s more trustworthy sources of information. As someone who spends a large part of each week researching and testing recipes, I can assure you that genuinely reliable ones are rarer than decent chips after closing time. But although it is certainly the only place you’ll find the Most Haunted host Yvette Fielding’s kedgeree alongside Heston Blumenthal’s snail porridge, the BBC website is not the only one that is worth your time.

The good thing about newspaper, magazine and other commercial platforms is that most still have just enough budget to ensure that their recipes will have been made at least twice – once by the writer and once for the accompanying photographs – though sadly the days when everyone employed an independent recipe tester are long gone. Such sites also often have sufficient traffic to generate a useful volume of comments. I never make a recipe without scrolling down to see what other people have said about it. Get past the “Can’t wait to make this!” brigade; ignore the annoying people who swap baked beans for lentils and then complain, “This is nothing like dhal”; and there’s usually some sensible advice in there, too.

But what about when you leave the safety of the big boys and venture into the no man’s land of the personal blog? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff and find a recipe that actually works? You can often tell how much work a writer has put in by the level of detail they go into: if they have indicated how many people it serves, or where to find unusual ingredients, suggested possible tweaks and credited their original sources, they have probably made the dish more than once. The photography is another handy clue. You don’t have to be Annie Leibovitz to provide a good idea of what the finished dish ought to look like.

Do a bit of digging as part of your prep. If you like the look of the rest of the site, the author’s tastes will probably chime with your own. And always, always, wherever the recipe is from, read it all the way through, even before you order the shopping. There is nothing more annoying than getting halfway through and then realising that you need a hand blender to finish the dish, just as the first guest arrives.

Above all, trust your instincts. If the cooking time seems far too short, or the salt content ridiculously high, it probably is, so keep an eye on that oven, check that casserole, keep tasting that sauce. As someone who once published a magic mince pie recipe without any sugar, I’m living proof that, occasionally, even the very best of us make mistakes. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad