To be eligible for education maintenance allowance in England, a learner must be aged between 16 and 19, meet certain residential criteria, have a bank account, and have a household income under £30,810, based on evidence from the last full financial year. We will continue, as now, not to require household income assessment for specific groups. However, from the end of June 2010, no new learners will be exempt from household income assessment solely on the basis of their course.
More than 3,000 young people in my constituency receive the education maintenance allowance. Without that financial support, many of them could not stay on for further education and skills training after 16. Will my hon. Friend assure me of his continuing commitment to maintaining the education maintenance allowance for low-income families in my constituency?
My hon. Friend is correct, and I pay tribute to all the hard work that she does with regard to this subject. For far too long—for decades—there has been a direct correlation between the level of educational participation and attainment, and household income. EMAs help to break that. That is a direct result of a policy intervention from the Government. The 3,000 learners in my hon. Friend’s constituency who are benefiting from that would, I think, like to be reassured that the Government will continue steadfastly supporting EMAs. We will certainly do that—no ifs, no buts. We will continue to support EMAs, unlike the Opposition, who have described them as a fiasco.
Will the Minister steadfastly defend EMAs for children in the independent sector in cases where, for example, grandparents are paying the fees of their grandchildren in independent schools?
I suggest to the hon. Gentleman, who is a decent and honourable man, that the whole purpose of education maintenance allowance is to make sure that we can help people on low and middle-incomes participate in education post-16. I suggest that if parents or grandparents are paying for their education, the household income is not necessarily a key criterion, and perhaps we should examine that criterion a little more closely.
I thank my hon. Friend and our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the constructive meeting to talk about EMAs with young people from Northampton. May I stress the fact that a number of young people who are at university in Northampton were able to go only because they received an EMA to stay on at secondary school and finish their A-levels?
The Secretary of State and I really enjoyed our meeting with students from my hon. Friend’s constituency. They convinced me—if I needed convincing —that EMAs are an absolutely essential part of what we offer to young people as they go forward and participate in education and training post-16. Let me be absolutely clear with the House and, in particular, with my hon. Friend, who really supports that policy agenda. No ifs, no buts: we will continue to maintain education maintenance allowance from 16 onwards. That way we think that we can break the cycle between household income and educational attainment; and that way we can have real social justice in this country.