Scrapping of allowances condemned

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COUNCILLORS have expressed major concerns after an allowance for struggling students was abolished.

Hartlepool councillors said the decision to scrap the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) was a “retrograde step” at a recent meeting of Hartlepool Borough Council’s scrutiny co-ordinating committee.

Depending on their parents’ income, the allowance is a weekly payment of between £10 and £30 given to the poorest 16 to 18-year-olds to help them stay in education.

Students from families earning up to £21,817 receive the maximum £30 a week.

The EMA scheme in England closed to new applicants from January this year, but students who currently receive the allowance will continue to get it for the rest of the academic year.

The move is part of the Coalition Government’s public spending cuts, but town councillors believe the allowances are a vital lifeline for many children and families and that their withdrawal will have an adverse impact on Hartlepool as a whole.

Labour Councillor Marjorie James, chairman of the scrutiny co-ordinating committee, said: “There was a unanimous feeling among councillors that withdrawing EMAs is a retrograde step.

“Hundreds of children and families will currently be benefiting from EMAs and cancelling the programme could result in students dropping out of courses or not being able to afford to attend them in the future.

“This will then have a detrimental knock-on affect on family income because parents will no longer be able to claim Child Benefit up to the age of 19 and their Child Tax Credits will also reduce.

“All of this has the potential to significantly increase levels of homelessness among young people and the cost of this will have to be picked up by the council and fall on local taxpayers.

“It’s yet another example of the Government transferring costs from national to local level. A sound education is vital to everyone’s future and it is very disappointing that this post-16 support is being withdrawn. Many people have lobbied the Government about the withdrawal of EMAs and I really do think that the Government needs to think again.”

The allowances can be spent however the student chooses, including course equipment, books and transport.

Labour Councillor Chris Simmons, vice-chairman of the committee, has already written to the Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to voice his concern.

Coun Simmons said: “Everyone accepts that the new government has to make cuts but they are coming too quick and too deep.

“EMA provide a vital lifeline for many Hartlepool families and could make all the difference between whether a student is able to continue in further education or not after the age of 16.”

Education Secretary Michael Gove has previously said that research commissioned by the last government found that the EMA is poorly targeted, with some of those who need the support not receiving it while some others should not be receiving the amount that they do.