Bring back the Education Maintenance Allowance

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2019 Local Government Service Group Conference
21 February 2019

Conference notes that education is the key to improving life chances. Yet, to be able to take advantage of the many opportunities that education can bring, young people need to be able to afford basic resources to enable them to fully participate.

The Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) was a means-tested allowance of between £10 and £30 for 16-18 year-olds in full-time education per week that was scrapped in England by the coalition government in 2011. The bursary scheme that replaced it received considerably less funding than EMA. Additionally, the bursary system is more burdensome on students, since they need to provide evidence of need, and UNISON believes this requirement can stigmatise young people unnecessarily. A student in England who would have received the full £30 a week in 2010, and still would receive this if they resided in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, missed out on up to £1,080 last year.

Like so many Tory policies, scrapping EMA was an attack on the most disadvantaged is society, in this case those from lower income, and often more difficult, backgrounds. Conference welcomes the commitment by The Labour Party, as part of its National Education Service, to bring back EMA if elected to power.

Analysis by the Labour Party of Department for Education statistics showed that in 2017, nearly 18,000 disadvantaged young people failed to complete their main study programme. In 2018 there were 132,208 disadvantaged young people in education, but retention of those students was only 84.49%, well below the rate of 92.63% for non-disadvantaged young people.

EMA has a clear link to attendance which helps with retention of students. Colleges are seeing fewer low-income students and fewer students, particularly when coupled with the already dire effects of years of underfunding, lead to staff in colleges – UNISON members – losing their jobs.

EMA gave disadvantaged the certainty of knowing they would have regular financial support. Without this, many disadvantaged students will not feel able to continue their education. For the first time since 2011 the number of 16 year olds who are not in education, employment or training is rising. Research demonstrates that students who have poor experiences early in their working lives will feel the effects of this through-out their careers, through lower lifetime earnings and insecure employment.

Conference therefore calls upon the local government service group to work with the further education committee to:

1)Work with Labour Link to promote the NES and the restoration of EMA;

2) Campaign for the restoration of the English Education Maintenance Allowance for further education and 6th form students;

3) Work with equalities groups to raise awareness of the disproportionate impact of certain groups, namely young men, those from lower socio-economic households and lower with low to moderate prior attainment.