EMA replacement doesn’t make the grade

James Mills of the Save EMA campaign reports on the inadequacy of the replacement of the Education Maintenance Allowance.

By James Mills of the Save EMA campaign

This week Michael Gove announced the government’s plans to replace the £550 million education maintenance allowance (EMA) with a £180m bursary scheme. There was a small victory for Save EMA this week as the government listened to our ‘A Deal’s A Deal’ campaign. The campaign threatened a legal challenge unless the government provided support to those students, currently receiving EMA, who started courses on the premise that they would be receiving financial support throughout their two year course.

However, although we have won this battle, our war to fully save EMA continues. Especially as the government have reduced the funding for the replacement of EMA by around 70 per cent.

In addition the government are giving a meagre 77p a week increase to only 12,000 students while many of their classmates, who might be only very marginally better off, probably couldn’t qualify for the new scheme whereas they would have under EMA.

For example, if a student starts a course in September this year they wouldn’t get the replacement of EMA (Discretionary Learner Support Fund) whereas they would have got EMA if they came from say a family whose household income is below £31,000 a year. More importantly, if their family’s annual income is below £21,000 a year like 80 per cent of EMA recipients they would be bereft of financial support.

This is clearly not an adequate replacement for the previous scheme. In a review of Michael Gove’s announcement of the government’s replacement to EMA, the independent research organisation the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) today agrees with us and strongly critiques the replacement scheme.

Here are the key findings of the IFS:

On the government’s claim of giving children on free school meals (FSM) £800 more than under EMA the IFS claims these students could actually be “worse off”:

It must be the case that most such students would be worse off under the bursary scheme that they would have been under the EMA – on average, to the tune of £370 a year. Furthermore, allocating the bursary fund in this way implies that other EMA recipients not currently eligible for free school meals would in future receive nothing.”

The IFS also claim it could also have an affect on attainment levels:

“..if students must apply for the bursary after enrolment, then they will not know, when applying for a place in post-16 education, whether they will receive a bursary – and if so, how much. This could have an impact on their decision to stay on in the first place.”

But what is most shocking is that the IFS believe the new scheme could actually have more “dead-weight” than EMA:

“it could be given to high-achieving, low-income students – perhaps the type of students who would have stayed in full-time education anyway.”

It is clear now that not only did Michael Gove break his word to young people before the election when he promised to not scrap EMA, but also according to the IFS he may have misinformed the House of Commons this week by saying that the poorest students would be better off under his new scheme.

If the scheme the government want to replace it with is clearly more inadequate than EMA, why are we even considering wasting tax payer’s money changing it.

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