Time for Government to think again on EMA

We are fortunate in Hartlepool to have a wide and diverse range of education institutions.

For a town of our size, it is remarkable that we have such great quality colleges as Hartlepool College of Further Education, Hartlepool Sixth Form College and the sixth form at English Martyrs, as well as an excellent and high quality specialist art college in Cleveland College of Art and Design.

It can be difficult for 16 and 17 year olds and their families to be able to afford to stay on after school and move into college, whether it is doing A-levels or other qualifications.

After perhaps going to the local school, young people might have to start incurring considerable travel costs to get to the college of their choice.

Depending on the course that they choose to do, they might have to buy expensive text books or materials.

Young people might have had free school meals, but that comes to an end once they have moved on at 16, meaning that the individual and the household now has to find money for something to eat at dinner time.

All these factors might have an impact on young people wanting to stay on in education or training after compulsory education comes to an end at the age of 16.

For decades, there has been a close and unfortunate link between household income and participation in education after 16.

To put it simply, if you lived in a poorer household, you were less likely to go to college.

The Educational Maintenance Allowance, or EMA, was designed to help break that link, and to encourage young people to stay on in education.

Depending on the level of household income, the young learner is entitled to 10, 20 or 30 a week to help with the costs.

The EMA has been a huge success. Over 600,000 young people have been entitled to receive it. All the independent evaluation shows that it has played a key role in increasing participation in college, as well as raising standards and helping retention.

The great thing about EMA is that is has always been a "something for something" initiative.

The young person has to sign up to agree to standards regarding attendance, behaviour, punctuality and progress through the course.

If you just want to go for the 30 a week and don't try, you'll soon have your EMA stopped. This has definitely helped.

The EMA has now been stopped by the Government. This week, there has been a debate in the House of Commons on the subject of EMA, which I participated in.

On top of the trebling of tuition fees and the scrapping of assistance such as the Future Jobs Fund, which were designed to help young people find work, it does make me worry that we might see a "lost generation" of young people who never fulfil their potential.

Hartlepool is still having to pay for the social and economic consequences of a similar lost generation in the 1980s, when many sources of employment ended. I fear we might see something similar.

I hope that the Government will think again.