Michael Gove admits benefit changes will harm vulnerable pupils

Fiona Millar's picture
I have finally found something about which I can agree with Michael Gove. After several stories in the media suggesting that the Coalition policies will be bad for families, and particularly children (see the Observer here  and the Guardian here), it appears that Michael Gove concurs.

In a letter to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg dated September 5 (see here and here) about the plans for a new Universal Credit, he admits that his department has "raised concerns about the cumulative impact of benefit changes on the most vulnerable families and their children...and highlighted the potential effect on children's outcomes, including educational attainment"

He goes on to explain that some benefit claimants may '"struggle to manage their finances and pay their rents" and asks Clegg if the effects of proposed policies on vulnerable families with multiple risk factors, and young people leaving the care system, can be carefully evaluated."If these families or young people fall into rent arrears as a result of not paying their rents on time, they may face eviction, and in the case of households with children, the household would have to be re-housed at further cost to the LA."

The Secretary of State who recently made a speech about how his government plans to deal with the educational "underclass"  is also clearly worried that changes to housing benefit in particular may "further compound difficulties faced by vulnerable families and young people" , impacting on outcomes for children and young people.

The minister's comments are important for several reasons.  Gove is admitting what many commentators and voluntary sector organisations have been pointing out for months, that many government policies may actually be bad for the children the Coalition claims it most wants to help. He is also acknowledging something that the government has been thus far reluctant to admit,namely that children's academic performance is affected by poverty and circumstances beyond the school gate. Simply creating new school structures is not the whole answer to dealing with the effects of poverty and deprivation.

His final point is even more telling. The DWP recently announced £200million is to be invested in supporting families with multiple problems. The Secretary of State claims that local authorities  "with direct experience of developing provision for vulnerable families and young people"  should be "closely involved" in how the that money is spent. That would presumably be the same local authorities that are having central funds currently used for this purpose raked off to fund the conversion of already successful schools in largely affluent areas to academy status.

We pointed out here that evidence challenging government policies is mounting up. The Secretary of State may know more about that than he is letting on.


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Tommy Long's picture
Fri, 16/09/2011 - 13:24

You're as good at spinning as your husband! Gove doesn't admit that "many government policies" are bad for poor families, he says he has concerns about the Universal Credit, a policy that hasn't even been spelt out in full yet and which Labour also back!

Fiona Millar's picture
Fri, 16/09/2011 - 13:51

"My department has raised concerns about the cumulative impact of benefit changes on the most vulnerable families and their children and highlighted the potential effect on children's outcomes, including educational attainment"

The Minister's words, not mine.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 17/09/2011 - 10:19

Mr Gove is not the only Minister concerned about the effects of government policies on families. The Minister for Skills and Lifelong Learning, John Hayes, admitted that women from ethnic minorities would be “disproportionately” affected by changes in the funding of free college courses. The government announced that free courses, including English for speakers of other languages (Esol), would be restricted to people on “active” benefits (eg Job Seekers’ Allowance). This rules out students on other benefits and non-working spouses. 75% of students on “inactive” benefits, ranging from income support to housing benefit, are female. In London, 67%were also from ethnic minorities

The OECD has pointed out that the language spoken in the home is a factor in children’s educational achievement. Parents have a crucial role in the language development of their children. And Mr Cameron agrees that immigrants should learn English. However, government policy militates against this. Mr Hayes has recognised that restricting Esol and other courses to those actively seeking work would have “unintended consequences” which, he warned, could have a “consequent negative effect on community cohesion”.


The government has conceded to the Minister’s concerns: colleges now have limited discretion to offer free courses to students on other benefits. Unfortunately, there is no extra money available. The University and College Union (UCL) secretary has warned that without extra funding, “learners still face the possibility of missing out on education”.


Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 17/09/2011 - 10:56

And one of Mr Gove’s policies is hitting the most vulnerable. His replacement of the EMA with a £180 million bursary is supposed to be sufficient to give £800 to every college student eligible for free school meals. However, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) disputed this in March 2011:

“Firstly, it is clear that with the total pot reduced from £560m to £180m, many existing EMA recipients will get less money than at the moment. Secondly, if students must apply for the bursary after enrolment, then they will not know, when applying for a place in post-16 education, whether they will receive a bursary - and if so, how much. This could have an impact on their decision to stay on in the first place.”

The IFS estimated that students who were eligible for EMA would be about £370pa worse off under the bursary scheme.


And this week’s TES reported that many colleges are finding that the bursary is proving too expensive and they would not be able to match Mr Gove’s £800pa promise. Some colleges, like Stoke-on-Trent, have managed to increase the bursary, but the executive director of the 157 Group of large further education colleges said that colleges “face some really difficult choices and it’s inevitable that someone, somewhere, will lose out.” And Barnardo’s calls the bursary scheme “a very poor substitute for the EMA; it’s unfair and ineffective.”


ChampagneSocialistNetwork's picture
Sat, 17/09/2011 - 13:04

This is laughable. Labour hasn't given a s*** about the poor and vunerable since the 1950s. This is now the party of Champagne socialists who deep down despise the poor & working-class. I think Gordon Brown conveyed that excellently with that Gillian Duffy gaffe last year.
It's only when they need votes that they want to preach the social justice card or try to incite a class war. Benefits have only been used as a bribe by Labour to create to client state of voters or to keep the plebs in their place.
Btw this may be hard for you to digest but force feeding people benefits isn't what poor people wants or needs, only better opportunities & better education. Also for the politicial elite to stop pulling up the ladder or drawbridge, which they themselves climbed up .

ChampagneSocialistNetwork's picture
Sat, 17/09/2011 - 13:26

Janet, even many young people my age know that EMA was just a bribe from Labour.
To keep a lot of people off the dole & job market temporarily. I even saw people who had NO interest in education whatsoever merely stay on further education just for the extra weekly cash.
If you really wanted to encourage people interested in staying on furtherr education for pure reasons who would otherwise could not afford it, to ease the cost burden you should of introduced free transport for 18+ students,education vouchers, universal (alot more than 15%) discounts at major stores & suppliers etc . Now the Tories aren't doing this which I think is wrong since that would truly be beneficial to Students unlike EMA or this laughable new scheme. EMA was either too much money for students or too little depending on your subject. For alot of people I know it was merely weekly money to buy booze,fags, or x-box games. alot of people who should of been eligible for the amount but weren't due to silly bureaucratic reasons.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 18/09/2011 - 15:36

Janice Turner, writing in The Times (17 September), said government policy was making women angry. The issues she highlighted included: shortening summer holidays which would cause a worse problem of having a longer break in the winter; cuts in the public sector disproportionately affecting women; the highest female unemployment since 1988; cuts to Sure Start; reduction in the amount families can claim against childcare; maternal worries over their unemployed children; a patronising attitude towards women as demonstrated by Cameron's sexist put-down to a female MP; calling another female MP "frustrated" thereby "invoking every Mrs Slocombe menopausal sterotype", and Ken Clarke's observations on "proper rapes" and others he regarded as less serious.

One thing Ms Turner didn't mention was lengthening school days. It sounds like a good ploy - keeping schools open longer to help working parents. But it could have the opposite effect with employers ditching family-friendly policies because there would be no need to allow parents to leave earlier if schools remain open until 6pm. No need for flexible working, no need for shorter hours. And the four week summer holiday would place an intolerable, and expensive, strain on families wanting to go away on holiday (cue more holidays being taken in term time).

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