10 years on: the end of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) in England (and “Creative” approaches to the job market)

This post is a little early, as applications were no longer available from Jan 2011 but we are now basically at the 10 year point for the EMA closing in England.

It is still available elsewhere in the UK.

First the bad, I worked in Further Education (16 year olds +) when the EMA existed and it created problems. The college I worked at had a very “them and us” divide within the student body between students who wanted to be there to learn and students who were (at least seen by their peers) only there to claim the (small) allowance. The insinuation was that some of these “just turning up” people had other sources of income (for example drugs) or simply were attending for something to do, a small amount of cash and/or to keep their parents happy (to the point where there were accusations that tutors were intimidated to report attendance even when learners were late or absent).

@TheIFS report from 2010 reviewed the impact of the EMA and if closure was a good move: https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/5370

Even with my concerns over the previous experiment (see above) where might an EMA style system fit in the future? I would argue that an EMA would be more effective in the 18+ age range as a form of Universal Basic Income. As a guaranteed income, it could allow adults of all ages to continue their personal development and formal accreditation whilst potentially not having to take as huge a pay cut to try a new career route via apprenticeships, etc. In such a scenario we would ideally “top up” salaries to some previous level, meaning mortgages remain affordable whilst people take time to “reset” their income generation, or at least can sell a house with slightly less pressure that what redundancy or other enforced change of career normally brings. This “top up” would be similar to how some unemployment schemes work worldwide, i.e. you do not just baseline everyone to a minimal level of income, and encourage more mid-career reskilling and moves to sectors needing people.

Yes, this would be hugely expensive but given that state finances have gone out of the window in 2020 (even more than in 2008-2019) perhaps not in a bad way. This is of course timely given the current state of the job market and the need to think of “creative” solutions for the future:

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