• David Cameron argues that 90 per cent of EMA is deadweight loss 18 November 2010
  • Left Foot Forward reports that the author of the report quoted by David Cameron rejects his conclusions 9 June 2011
  • Barriers to participation in education and training March 2010
  • The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills Research Paper 71 May 2012

One of the Coalition’s earliest and most bitter fights was over scrapping the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA), a means-tested grant given to sixth form students to enable them to pursue further education.

Defending the axing of EMA, David Cameron told the House of Commons’ Liaison Committee on 18 November 2010:

“There is a quite well-thought through research that shows that 90 per cent of the money [ distributed through the Educational Maintenance Allowance] is dead weight loss”

In this context, the ‘deadweight loss’ refers to the Prime Minister’s assertion that 90 per cent of EMA was spent on students who would have attended sixth-form college even if they had not benefitted from the grant.

The research that Cameron referred to was the paper Barriers to Participation and Training, by Thomas Spielhofer of the National Foundation for Education Research. Spielhofer asserts that the Tory leader drew spurious conclusions from the research, as reported by Left Foot Forward:

‘He made it clear that his research “was first and foremost not about EMA” and that they “only had one question that referred to EMA”.

‘On the issue of “deadweight”, when asked whether he was “happy with the concept that EMA has a deadweight cost of 88 per cent”, he said “no”.

‘He also replied that it was “completely correct” when asked if he was unhappy that the change in government policy had been based on his research.

‘Asked whether he agreed with the government that EMA has a deadweight of 88% he said “no” and made it clear that out of the 88% who said they would stay on with their courses, they “simply didn’t know” if they needed it and how taking EMA away would affect them.

‘In other words they may want or have the desire to do their course but that does not mean they can.

‘He further acknowledges that the survey was not weighted to represent the 80% of EMA recipients who are from household incomes below £21,000 a year:

‘We didn’t ask how much they were receiving so many could have just been receiving £10.’

Meanwhile, the government’s own research argues that the effectiveness of EMA cannot just be measured soley in terms of sixth-form enrollment:

“The impact on participation is not the only outcome of EMA that matters.

“EMA generated other benefits such as better attendance, more time devoted to study and a transfer of resources to low-income households with children.

“Therefore, despite a high estimate of deadweight loss, the beneficial effect of the spending on those whose behaviour was affected by EMA offset the costs of EMA.”


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