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19 January 2011

How the Tories broke their promises on the EMA

In January 2010 Cameron said: “We don’t have any plans to get rid of them.”

By George Eaton

The Liberal Democrats’ decision to break their pledge to vote against higher tuition fees means that Nick Clegg’s party is rightly derided for its dishonesty and mendacity. But if anything, the Conservatives’ long list of broken promises is even worse.

It was David Cameron who said that he had “no plans” to raise VAT (before increasing this regressive tax to 20 per cent), who promised that he wouldn’t “change child benefit” (before abolishing it for higher earners) and who called for an end to the “top-down reorganisations of the NHS” (before announcing the biggest reforms since the health service was founded).

Ahead of today’s vote on the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance, it’s worth remembering that this is another area in which the Tories have broken their election promises.

As the video below shows, at a Cameron Direct event in January 2010, the Conservative leader said: “We’ve looked at educational maintenance allowances and we haven’t announced any plan to get rid of them.” Challenged to firm up his pledge, he added: “I said we don’t have any plans to get rid of them . . . it’s one of those things the Labour Party keep putting out that we are but we’re not.”

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Cameron wasn’t the only prominent Conservative to come out in favour of the EMA. In an interview with the Guardian just before the election, Michael Gove said: “Ed Balls keeps saying that we are committed to scrapping EMA. I have never said this. We won’t.”

The abolition of the 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, is likely to lower working-class participation in education and decrease social mobility. Gove may argue that there is little proof that the EMA makes more pupils stay on, but the National Foundation for Educational Research estimates an extra 10 per cent do.

That may not sound like many, but at a time of high youth unemployment it prevents up to 60,000 more from joining the dole queue.

There is also some evidence to suggest that the EMA benefits the economy as a whole by increasing the productivity of those who would have stayed on anyway (EMA recipients are required to attend 100 per cent of their lectures).

In a recent piece for the NS, Gavin Kelly noted that while the removal of the 10p income-tax band had cost the average household £232, the abolition of the EMA will cost pupils as much as £1,200. Taken in conjunction with the large cuts to tax credits, this could be the closest the coalition comes to its own “10p moment”.