Lyn Brown

Member of Parliament for West Ham

We Need to Support our Young - Jan 2011

The first few days back at the Office after the Christmas break involved an enormous amount of letter opening, checking emails and returning calls. The postman often tells me that I receive more letters than any other MP.  I have to say that is no surprise.


Reading your letters, I am in no doubt, that people are incredibly concerned about the changes this year will bring:  damaging cuts to public spending, higher unemployment, radical and risky changes to the NHS.

From my postbag, it is clear people are feeling nervous, and completely unsupported by a Government that often tell us we are, “all in this together.”

The biggest issue of recent weeks has been the decimation of the funds to support young people from hard-working families, through further education.

In October last year, George Osborne announced the Tory-led Government's intention to cut the Education Maintenance Allowance.  Since then, there has been a furious campaign to persuade the Government to change their minds.

College principals, teachers, parents and students have all been involved.

But all this pressure has been to no avail.

Until last week, there had been no debate about the issue in Parliament.  The Government have never made a statement, nor given any details of the alternative they propose, so it is hard to judge how effective it will be.  What we do know is that they are cutting 90% of the funding.

Schools and colleges will be in the impossible and unenviable position of trying to spread inadequate resources thinly, but “fairly”, among too many deserving, struggling students.

It took the Labour Members of the Commons to bring the Government to Parliament to defend themselves, by devoting an Opposition Day debate to the issue.

I was keen to participate in the debate.  Given the size of my postbag, and a recent visit to NewVic Sixth Form college, I was in no doubt about the concerns and views of Newham's residents.

They told me EMA has been essential.  Some young people give part of their grant to their parents for their keep; the rest was used for travel, books and other course-related materials and activities.

As money becomes tighter with wages suppressed, the VAT increase and rising inflation, this additional money will be sorely missed.

Although EMA was the initiative of the last Labour Government.  It was a resurrection of previous policy.

As a student at West Ham College in 1979, I too was given a grant to help pay towards travel and the cost my studies.  As I was no longer eligible for a free school bus pass, this extra help was very welcome.

Time and again this Government deny our children the help and support upon which previous generations depended.

In these difficult times, it is vital that the Government support young people wanting to work hard and achieve their potential, regardless of their socio-economic background.

I do not want to see sixteen-, seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds inhibited by the shameful reality that wealth guarantees a good education and career, not available to those without independent means.

Tragically, for today's youth and the future of our country, it appears this Tory-led Government do not share these values.

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