Monday 4 October 2010

Don't scrap social mobility benefits

There is some logic in Chancellor George Osborne's clawing back of child benefit from better off families through the tax system, whatever the practical difficulties involved. The idea of a universal credit is also a good idea, though more difficult in practice. But there is absolutely no sense in scrapping child benefit and education maintenance allowances for the over-16s as suggested in the weekend press.

Legislation will soon compel young people to remain in training or education beyond their 16th birthdays. Their choice of what to do - school, college, a training programme, apprenticeship or work with training - should be informed by their ability not their ability to pay. If families and students lose child benefit and EMAs (worth up to £200 a month combined) even the brightest students from poorer families could find themselves forced by financial considerations to take a paid training programme or job with training, rather than a school or college course, and give up hopes of university (where, despite the rhetoric around a graduate tax, it is graduates not students who pick up the living costs through loans). Moreover EMAs are one of the few successful conditional benefits we have. At the very least, they should stay for the poorest students.

How could Vince Cable, with his enthusiasm for easing graduate burdens, support an end to opportunity for poorer young people aged 16+? And how could Michael Gove, with his passion for social mobility, countenance the removal of the funds that enable these young people to continue their studies? Martin Narey is absolutely right on where these funds should be prioritised. He should be heeded on this issue.

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