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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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear