13 Dec 2010

Student protests against plans to axe EMA

More student protests are taking place – this time against plans to axe the Education Maintenance Allowance. It comes as police release new photos and footage from last week’s demonstrations.

Students, staff and trade unions are holding a day of action in protest at government plans to axe a grant for the poorest teenagers.

Colleges and sixth forms across England have been holding lunchtime protests against the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA).

The EMA is a weekly grant of up to £30 given to 16-18-year olds from the most disadvantaged homes to help them stay in education.

Withdrawing the EMA will hit some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society. Sally Hunt, University and College Union

Protesters claim that receiving the Education Maintenance Allowance is often the decisive factor for poor teenagers in deciding whether to continue their studies.

The action comes just days after tens of thousands of demonstrators descended on Parliament to protest at the Government’s plans to treble university tuition fees.

Home Secretary Theresa May today told MPs she expected the number of people arrested to rise “significantly” as police continue their investigations.

Mrs May also confirmed that there was “some contact made” between protesters and the Duchess of Cornwall and added that an urgent review of the Royal Family’s protection on the night would report by the end of this week.

In a Commons statement she called for the organisers of the protests, which have so far resulted in 35 arrests, to “unequivocally condemn violence”.

Police investigation

Police have released more photos and footage from Thursday’s student protests which ended in violence.

Police have released pictures of people they want to speak to following sudent demonstrations against tuition fees.

Superintendent Julia Pendry, from the Metropolitan Police Service’s Public Order Branch, said:

“If you have been on one of the recent demonstrations, and been one of the people who have crossed the line from protestor to criminal, you need to understand that our team is looking for you.

“In the heat of the moment it can be all too easy to get swept away with the crowd and break the law. You need to know that you will be the person held accountable for your actions.”

Police have urged the organisers of this week’s protests to work with them to avoid any further trouble.

Two more people have been arrested following Thursday’s violence.

Labour leader Ed Miliband, speaking at his monthly press conference, condemned those people behind trouble.

“For the minority, who somehow thought they helped students, let me tell them they are wrong. It just undermined the cause of law abiding young people.

“I also wanted to say something to those people..who took to the streets not to smash up cars, but simply to demonstrate your revulsion over the trebling of tuition fees. I understand your anger about what is happening on tuition fees because you feel it is just one front in an unprecedented attack on the hopes and dreams of the next generation.”

Peaceful protest

Organisers of the EMA protests said the demonstrations were peaceful.

Founder of the Save EMA Campaign, James Mills, told Channel 4 News that today’s protests had been a success: “We’ve had a really positive campaign today – parents, teachers, students, staff and politicians have all taken part.

“There hasn’t been one reported incident – that says a lot about the nature of the campaign that it’s been so peaceful and well behaved.”

James Mills, who was one of the first recipients of EMA, said people were worried about the prospect of it being axed: “Some of the kids are distraught, very scared. They’re disillusioned with politics and being ignored by politicians.”

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU) said: “The EMA is a vital lifeline for many students in this country and can be the difference between people being able to study at college or being priced out.

We are streamlining grants to ensure better value for money Schools Minister, Nick Gibb

“Withdrawing the EMA will hit some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society, as well as the colleges that are there to serve them.”

Some of the most deprived areas will be hit if the EMA is scrapped, organisers said.

In some areas of Birmingham, Leicester and the North West, up to four fifths of students received the support.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: “We know that some young people need extra financial assistance to help them stay on in education.

“However, 90 per cent of the students currently in receipt of EMA would have stayed in education without it.

“Given the economic climate, the state of the public finances and the very difficult decisions we have had to make across government, it is only right that we should find a better, more effective way of targeting support to those young people who really need financial support to continue in education.

“That’s why we announced in the Spending Review that we are streamlining grants to ensure better value for money, ending the EMA and replacing it with targeted support for those who face genuine financial barriers to participation.”