More talk of apprentices – stony silence on EMA
One of the few positives in the Budget was the announcement that there is going to be additional funding to boost the number of apprenticeships. An extra £180M has been allocated “for up to 50,000 additional apprenticeship places over the next four years”. Forty thousand of these opportunities will be focused on young people not in employment, education or training (NEETs) with an expectation that many of them will access an apprenticeship by progressing from the expanded work experience programme. The remaining 10,000 new opportunities are for higher level apprenticeships in SMEs.
Welcome as it is, the further boost to apprenticeships will have relatively little impact on the escalating rate of youth unemployment. According to Anne Marie Carrie, Barnardo’s Chief Executive, “40,000 apprenticeships are a drop in the ocean [and] the government’s growth budget has left the most disadvantaged young people in the shade”. There will also undoubtedly be question marks about the willingness of employers to recruit NEETs as apprentices and whether the work experience programme will provide the necessary support and training that such young people will require to prepare them for an apprenticeship.
It was also rather puzzling that the Chancellor claimed in his speech that the coalition government is generating quarter of a million extra apprentices over the next four years. Only last month – during Apprenticeship Week – the Secretary of State for BIS said that “the Government wanted to work with business to deliver 100,000 more apprentices by 2014”. How the Chancellor has now arrived at a figure of 250,000 extra apprentices over the same period after just announcing an additional increase of 50,000 is anyone’s guess.
In recent weeks there had been indications that the Budget might be used to announce a replacement to the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) which currently provides financial support to 650,000 16-18-year-olds from low income families in order to encourage them to continue in education. The abolition of EMA, which currently provides a weekly payment of between £10 and £30, was announced last autumn and formalised in January. There has been a widespread campaign against this particular budget cut for obvious reasons – for example, 80% of recipients come from households with an annual household income of less than £20,800.
But research shows that there is also a clear economic case for retaining the EMA. A letter from a number of eminent economists appeared in the national press only a week ago calling on the Chancellor “to use the opportunity of the budget to reconsider the government’s plans and to continue a programme that not only benefits poorer students, but the economy as a whole”.
A backbench MP, who is also chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party, had intimated last week that there was a strong possibility that there would be an announcement in the Budget about a replacement for EMA. Alas, this proved not to be the case and existing students halfway through their course and new students about to become 16 continue to face the prospect of not having any financial support in the next academic year.