Labour could reintroduce EMA, says Tristram Hunt

The shadow education secretary says the reinstatement of the Education Maintenance ­Allowance (EMA) could be funded by removing Winter Fuel Payments from the wealthiest pensioners.

Since becoming shadow education secretary three weeks ago, Tristram Hunt has successfully begun to regain control of the debate from Michael Gove, and Labour's new star pupil has made another notable intervention today. In an interview with the Daily Mirror, he suggests that the party could reintroduce the Education Maintenance ­Allowance (EMA), scrapped by the coalition in 2010, and pay for it through its previous pledge to remove Winter Fuel Payments from the wealthiest pensioners. He says: "A bit of rebalancing towards young people wouldn’t go amiss."

Hunt's words will cheer Labour activists who have long warned that the abolition of 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, will reduce working-class participation in education and decreas social mobility. The coalition rejected the payment as a deadweight cost since around 90% of pupils would have stayed on anyway. But an IFS study suggested that it benefited the economy by increasing the productivity of all pupils (for instance, EMA recipients were required to attend 100% of their lectures). 

In addition, a report by Barnardo's warned that the coalition's £180m replacement Bursary Fund (targeted at young people who are in care, leaving care or on income support) was leaving many disadvantaged pupils without support. It found that some were skipping meals in order to afford their bus fares to college. The charity's chief executive Anne Marie Carrie said: 

"The Bursary Fund is an unfair and totally inadequate replacement for the Education Maintenance Allowance.

"The government has a moral duty to urgently invest in adequate help for 16- to 19-year-olds from poorer backgrounds to stay the course and complete their education or training.

"The alternative is to risk losing a whole generation to the trap of long-term unemployment because they don't have any qualifications."

She suggested increasing payments to £30 a week and widening funding to all those who have received free school meals. Reforming the fund along those lines would be a reasonable aim for Labour. While Ed Miliband and Ed Balls would likely baulk at the full £500m cost of reintroducing EMA (the removal of Winter Fuel Payments from the wealthiest 5% of pensioners would raise just £100m), providing more support for those who need it would offer a powerful dividing line with the Tories. 

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt in his seat of Stoke Central in 2010. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Barack Obama throws a Reaganesque baton of hope to Hillary Clinton

The 44th President's speech backing Clinton was also his swan song. 

Barack Obama looked at ease as he stepped up to praise Hillary Clinton and endorse her as the Democratic Presidential nominee.

To an upbeat soundtrack by U2 and cheers of his 2008 campaign slogan, "yes we can", he took to the podium at the Democratic convention. 

Borrowing the sunny optimism once so skilfully deployed by Republicans, Obama struck back against Republican nominee Donald Trump's "deeply pessimistic vision" of the United States.

He declared: "The America I know is full of courage and optimism and ingenuity. The America I know is decent and generous."

Like his wife Michelle, Obama painted Clinton as a grafter who wasn't in it for the fame. 

He praised her campaign when they were rivals for the Democratic nomination in 2008, and said that when she served as a member of his team he had "a front-row seat" to her intelligence, judgement and discipline. 

He declared: "I can say with confidence there has never been a man or a woman, not me, not Bill, nobody more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America."

He then joked to Bill Clinton, the former President, who was standing applausing: "I hope you don't mind, Bill, but I was just telling the truth, man."

The two-terms President continually urged Democratic voters, many of whom originally backed Bernie Sanders, to get out and vote. "Democracy isn't a spectator sport," he said.

But while Obama was there to add some sparkle to the Clinton campaign, it was also an opportunity to shape his legacy. 

Commentators have often compared Obama to the popular Democratic President John F Kennedy, or the less popular but idealistic Jimmy Carter. 

Obama, though, has in the past praised the Republican President Ronald Reagan for changing the trajectory of US politics. 

In his speech, he borrowed from the "eternal optimist" to compare the Democrats with the Republicans. 

He said: "Ronald Reagan called America "a shining city on a hill." Donald Trump calls it "a divided crime scene" that only he can fix.

"It doesn't matter to him that illegal immigration and the crime rate are as low as they've been in decades, because he's not actually offering any real solutions to those issues. He's just offering slogans, and he's offering fear. He's betting that if he scares enough people, he might score just enough votes to win this election."

Obama praised a diverse country, where immigrant cultures combined: "That is America. That is America. Those bonds of affection, that common creed. We don't fear the future; we shape it, embrace it, as one people, stronger together than we are on our own."

The 44th President bowed out by referring to his 2008 campaign of hope, and telling voters "America, you have vindicated that hope". And he thanked them "for this incredible journey":

"I'm ready to pass the baton and do my part as a private citizen. So this year, in this election, I'm asking you to join me, to reject cynicism and reject fear and to summon what is best in us; to elect Hillary Clinton as the next president of the United States."

There is no doubt that Obama's warm audience was ready to pick up that baton and pass it on. Whether the wider country will be warmed up enough by his Reagan rhetoric remains to be seen. 

You can read the full speech here