Student protests have been taking place across England against plans to scrap the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). More demonstrations are expected in London tomorrow ahead of a Commons vote.
The EMA is a weekly payment of between £10 and £30 given to the poorest 16 to 18-year-olds, living in households earning under £30,800 a year, to help them stay in education.
Campaigners are warning that scrapping the grant will affect thousands of youngsters who rely on the money to help fund their studies.
Protests are being held across the country today and tomorrow ahead of a Commons vote.
Cambridge University student Madeleine West said: “Many of us wouldn’t still be in college if it weren’t for the EMA.
“Scrapping the EMA will be a catastrophe not only for sixth-formers, but for equality in this country.” Justin Khan
“With the rise in tuition fees making university seem out of reach, it’s dispiriting that the Government doesn’t even care that we have the ability to stay in education to 18.
“We all deserve a chance to stay in school and go to university.”
Justin Khan, also at Cambridge, said: “Scrapping the EMA will be a catastrophe not only for sixth-formers, but for equality in this country.
“This goes hand in hand with the ideological public sector cuts where the Government has decided to make the public pay for a crisis caused by banks and corporations.
“The resistance from students over tuition fees and the EMA is only the beginning of the kind of resistance the Government can expect if it continues with its plans.”
Students in sixth forms and colleges across England are expected to hold demonstrations against the abolition of the EMA tomorrow and a lobby in the House of Commons is planned.
“EMA is a hugely expensive programme, costing over £560 million a year.” Department of Education
EMA teenagers from two London colleges will also take part in specially-arranged lessons at Parliament during the morning.
Union leaders said studies have shown that the EMA is a key factor in improving participation in further education.
Colleges in some of the most deprived areas will be hit hard if the EMA is scrapped. In some areas of Birmingham, Leicester and the North West as many as four-fifths of students receive the grant, they said.
A Department for Education spokesman said: “Already 96 per cent of 16-year-olds and 94 per cent of 17-year-olds participate in education, employment or training.
“We are committed to going further still, to full participation for all young people up to the age of 18 by 2015.
“EMA is a hugely expensive programme, costing over £560 million a year with costs of administration amounting to £36m.
“Pilot evidence and more recent research from the National Foundation for Educational Research found that almost 90 per cent of young people receiving the EMA believed that they would still have participated in the courses they were doing if they had not received it.
“Young people currently receiving the EMA will continue to receive if for the rest of the academic year. They will not receive it next academic year, however.
“Currently £26m per year is given to schools, colleges and training providers as a discretionary learner support fund to enable them to make small payments to those young people who are most likely to drop out of education without support.
“After the EMA is abolished this fund will be significantly increased.”
Sally Hunt, General Secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), said the Government’s decisions over the EMA have been a “complete shambles”.
“First they pledged they would not axe it, now they say they will.
“Wednesday’s vote is a chance for all MPs to put a stop to the mess the Government is making of the EMA.” UCU’s Sally Hunt
“They clearly have no understanding of how important the EMA is or the difference it makes to so many people’s chances of improving themselves.
“Once again they look horribly out of touch with the majority of people in the country – something highlighted by the revelation that the education secretary decided to axe the EMA despite never having visited a further education college.
“Wednesday’s vote is a chance for all MPs to put a stop to the mess the Government is making of the EMA and ensure they think again.
“I urge every MP to use their vote to really make a difference to the life chances of thousands of young people across the country.
“With the job market as it is, we cannot afford to consign a whole generation to the scrapheap of inactivity.”