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Discretionary Learner Support Fund

Volume 523: debated on Monday 7 February 2011

2. When he plans to inform colleges of the size of the discretionary learner support fund to replace the education maintenance allowance; and if he will make a statement. (38219)

We plan to allocate the new funding replacing the education maintenance allowance in line with the usual timetable for overall funding allocations for schools and colleges, which will be made in the spring.

The real concern is about transitional arrangements. Will the Minister explain what discussions he has had with colleges about the transitional arrangements, particularly for students who have already started their course and want to continue receiving funding support while they carry on with it?

The hon. Gentleman is right that transitional arrangements are important. We are in discussions with colleges and their representative bodies to ensure that there is not the kind of problem that he identifies. We are determined to allocate these resources in the way that addresses disadvantage most cost-effectively and ensures that the worse-off are not still worse off as a result of the changes.

The previous Labour Government left 3.9 million children living below the poverty line. Can the Minister give an assurance that when the children abandoned by Labour eventually arrive at further education colleges, they will all receive a discretionary learner support fund grant?

As I have said, we will ensure that those who are worse off are not disadvantaged by the system. Redistributing advantage and ensuring that there is a change in the prospects and opportunities for those who begin worse off is at the heart of all that this Government do. We are the champions of social justice—past, present and future.

In last month’s debate on the education maintenance allowance, the Secretary of State pledged that any replacement scheme for EMA would cover the costs of transport and equipment and would support young people with special educational needs or learning disabilities as well as those with caring responsibilities, teenage parents and those who were eligible for free school meals when at school. Given that research from the House of Commons Library indicates that such pledges would have a first-year cost of £480 million and ongoing costs of £420 million a year, will the Minister confirm, on behalf of the Secretary of State, that this is the budget for EMA’s successor and that he stands by the pledges he made to the House?

The hon. Gentleman is far too experienced as a Minister to expect me to make that kind of on-the-hoof promise. Equally, he knows that we are determined to amend this scheme to allow it to be targeted using the discretion to do the kind of things that he highlighted. After all, his own shadow Secretary of State has said:

“I have never set my face against changes or savings to the EMA scheme.”—[Official Report, 19 January 2011; Vol. 521, c. 863.]