Payment axe 'blow'

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 590 million each year.

Figures obtained by The Star showed 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.

But EMA has been criticised because some students have been using the money for entertainment or to save for university – admitted by teenagers who attended a demonstration in Sheffield against the decision to axe the payments.

However, former Education Secretary and Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough Labour MP David Blunkett insisted 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".

And Rotherham MP Denis MacShane said: "EMA really is a lifeline for young people from poor backgrounds, keen and willing to invest in education, to keep on coming to College and to work for qualifications.

"I appreciate budgets are under pressure but I hope this frontline education help for those from the least advantaged communities in the country will be maintained. To betray these young students would be a political mistake of the highest order."

The Government won the vote to scrap the allowance by 59 .

Education Secretary Michael Gove has defended the scrapping of the means-tested EMA.

He said the grant had been "poorly targeted" and warned that "you cannot spend money you do not have".

Depending on their parents' income, students receive payments of either 10, 20 or 30 a week.

The government says it wants to replace the EMA scheme with "more targeted" support, aimed at young people who are most likely to drop out.

It says it hopes to triple a 26m "learner support fund", given to schools, colleges and other training providers, to help their poorest students with study-related costs.

Mr Gove told MPs: "Choices are dependent on the money – and where is the money coming from?"

He added: "If we really believe in generating social mobility in this country then the question we have to ask ourselves is how is every pound best invested?"

The demonstration held in support of EMA outside Sheffield Town Hall on Wednesday coincided with a peaceful march in central London attended by several hundred people as MPs prepared to vote in Parliament.

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