MPs back student protests as EMA grants face axe

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SOUTH Yorkshire MPs have condemned the decision to axe Education Maintenance Allowance as a “terrible blow” to young people.

The coalition Government won a House of Commons vote to scrap the payments of up to £30 a week, made to sixth-formers and further education students, saving £590m each year.

Official figures show how 18,701 people across South Yorkshire aged between 16 and 18 claimed EMA in 2009/10.

This included 6,879 young people in Sheffield, 4,422 in Doncaster, 3,864 in Rotherham and 3,536 in Barnsley.

Around 45 per cent of 16- to 18-year-olds nationally claim the weekly payments of between £10 and £30, which are eligible for those living in households earning under £30,800.

That figure is, however, is much higher in areas of South Yorkshire with lower than average incomes.

Former Education Secretary and Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough Labour MP David Blunkett said scrapping the allowance was a “terrible blow” for young people and families.

He said: “Children at the moment are currently the disadvantaged and unlucky generation.

“Abolition of EMA is bad for young people and families, bad for social mobility and bad for the local and national economy.”

Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield pointed out that 51 per cent of the 3,300 students at Sheffield College claim EMA, while Penistone and Stockbridge MP Angela Smith said the government’s decision was “astounding”.

The EMA has been criticised because some students have been using the money for entertainment or to save for university. But there was concern among the crowd demonstrating outside Sheffield Town Hall about how the move would hit families with modest earnings.

Others argued that the £570m being saved is small and other cuts should be made instead.

Mick Ibbotson, aged 44, of Longley, whose 15-year-old daughter Holly attends Parkwood School, Shirecliffe, and hopes to go to college in September, said: “The money will pay for her bus fare and meals for the week and would be useful.

“I think she would otherwise be willing to do a Saturday job but that would impact on her studies.”

Malachi Ferguson, 16, who goes to Notre Dame School, Ranmoor, said: “Cutting it will have a considerable impact for poorer families but won’t have a significant effect on people whose parents are earning more.”

Opposition Labour spokeswoman for children and young people’s services on Sheffield Council, Coun Jackie Drayton, accepted reform was “necessary”. She said: “EMA was not brought in to help young people save for university – and reforms could be made. However, 80 per cent of those claiming come from families earning less than £20,000 a year who do not use it in that way.”

Green councillor Jillian Creasy said: “Young people will suffer because of education and job cuts. Research published indicates that seven out of 10 teenagers from less well-off families will drop out of education if the EMA is scrapped.”