EMA: to pay or not to pay

My attention was drawn to the 15-year-old boy who was given a standing ovation at a teachers’ conference after his speech on the axing of the education maintenance allowance (EMA). It was obviously a well-scripted speech designed with the sole purpose in mind of having everyone on their feet, applauding, knowing in the back on their mind that this was pointless but it would do no harm to stretch those vital joints and increase blood circulation. Of course, such a loveable young man with confidence at the teachers union would receive applause, like a newborn baby is told he is adorable, beautiful, but despite this affection they’re not really that interested.

This young boy carried the torch to the teachers union conference of many angry and frustrated young people, those who are in sixth form and further education, particularly those from lower-income families who rely on this payment. EMA was a lifeline for so many young people, but the big question concerns whether it was a worthwhile sum of money. Having replaced the EMA payment system with one which will be distributed to ‘those who really need it’ from lower-income families, albeit a proportionately smaller budget set aside for students, surely this will make a big difference in schools and colleges across the country.

The usual list of items paid for using EMA include: 1) alcohol 2) cigarettes 3) jeans 4) t-shirts 5) bus fare 6) stationery (sorry, pen) 7) more alcohol 8) lipstick  9) mascara 10) mini skirt 11) student night taxi fare and drinks allowance 12) mobile phone contract and 13) lined paper.

Of course, that is a very stereotypical combination of purchases made by students, but I myself made some bizarre and worthless purchases over the two years I was in receipt of EMA. I knew I could have spent it wisely, but I didn’t; I had £30 a week, and that was great. Looking back on it, how did I ever survive, and more importantly how can anyone nowadays survive for much less under the new system?

I believe students should be given more incentives to study, such as grants and free travel allowances, where the small things make the big difference. There should be a system in place which means-test each student on an individual basis, not excluding those from high-income households who the government believe receive £1,000 per week from their rich parents.

On the other hand, it will also test students and direct their future: will students stay on and bite the bullet, leave education for a job, start a business (fantastic!), gain an apprenticeship, or take on a part-time job to fund their way to university?

Who knows, but if EMA is to be used properly and distributed to those who need it most, the government should put in place a series of measures and not leave young people behind in the recession…

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About Cuts, News and Views

The site’s author is a student at the Birmingham School of Media and a journalist for both Birmingham Budget Cuts and Sony Music Entertainment. He is a PR consultant as well as having worked for the BBC. The author also contributes on a freelance basis to The Times and The Guardian. Dean Hill is a member of The Chartered Institute of Public Relations.

Posted on April 26, 2011, in Opinion. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. In reply to your question: A-level students who no longer get EMA will survive in exactly the same way A-level students survived before EMA. By getting weekend jobs.

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