Protest over grants axe

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A SMALL but noisy crowd of teenagers gathered in Sheffield to demonstrate against the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance, as hundreds of passers-by signed petitions against the move by the Government.

The coalition is to end the payments of up to 30 a week, which are handed to sixth form and further education students whose families earn below 30,000 a year. Instead they will provide support for young people coming from the poorest backgrounds.

But there was concern among the crowd outside the Town Hall about how the move would hit families with modest earnings. Others argued that the 570 million 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."

Breaking off from chanting slogans against the coalition, Sheffield University English literature student Anna Stephenson, aged 19, of Broomhill, said: "People say cutting the EMA is justified because some students just spend it on going out and there are people who do abuse the system.

"I'm not against reform of Education Maintenance Allowance but I'm concerned about it being completely scrapped. It is helpful for students. My sister is in her first year at college and receives it but she won't be able to get the allowance next year and my younger brother won't be eligible."

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."

Dexter Hill, aged 16, a pupil at High Storrs School, was among people collecting signatures on petitions against scrapping EMA. He said: "The allowance means people don't have to do so much part-time work."

But he added: "Everyone I know uses it to save up for university." Another student said: "Some people do spend it on clothes."

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.

"Before the allowance was brought in, a lot of youngsters were put off further education."

Alongside teenagers outside the Town Hall were members of Labour, Green and Socialist Worker Parties, who took hundreds of signatures on petitions against scrapping EMA.

richard marsden

News Reporter

Demonstration: Sheffield Labour councillors show support for student allowances. Picture: Stuart Hastings