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.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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