Students and teachers unite to fight EMA cut

By Ian Dunt

Students and teachers demonstrated in cities an d schools across the country today to battle government plans to cut the EMA payment.

The Educational Maintenance Allowance, which is paid to 16-18 year olds from low-income households who stay on in education, is set to be scrapped as a money saving measure.

The cut is a particularly emotional one for campaigners. Education secretary Michael Gove had pledged to keep the payment before the election but David Cameron confirmed in October that it was set for the scrapheap.

“Tories pledged to keep EMA, but are now killing it without a vote, or even a debate, in parliament,” shadow education secretary Andy Burnham tweeted.

“Is this what they meant by new politics?”

The protests, which involved marches and sit-ins at lunchtime in over 100 schools, were also endorsed by Labour leader Ed Miliband at his monthly press conference.

Activists also gathered outside the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Bis) to protest the cut.

The Labour-introduced payment is deposited in teenager’s bank accounts for use on coursebooks and travel to the school or college. Failure to attend classes results in the payments being stopped.

Nearly 647,000 young people in England receive the payment. In some parts of the country, such as Birmingham, up to four fifths of 16-to-18-year-olds receive the payment.

Ethnic minorities will also be particularly affected.

Chancellor George Osborne said the payments had very high “dead weight costs”.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), responded: “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.

“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.”

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.”

Several studies suggest the allowance increases the number of young poeple in education and results in fewer missed classes.

The fund also seems to play an important role in encouraging young people from lower income families to go to university.