Tuesday, 25 January 2011

GUEST POST: The EMA debate

Guest Post from Kate Taylor, University of York graduate with BSc (Hons) in Psychology, currently working as an Associate Risk Consultant at Ernst & Young, London. Attended Prudhoe Community High School, in my constituency from 2002-2007.

For my final two years whilst studying at Prudhoe Community High School I received £30 per week Education Maintenance Allowance. I proceeded to secure a place at a top ten university and now work for one of the UK's big four accountancy firms. Did I need the money? Yes. Does everybody? That's what we need to find out.

My E.M.A paid for my petrol to get to school. However, E.M.A alone couldn't have supported that. For an average 17 year old, driving a 'typical' car, insurance is £1200, then there's the cost of the car itself. E.M.A at its maximum pays £1200 a year. I, therefore, had to buy the £250, L-reg Metro with money that I had earned from my part time jobs that I'd had since the day I turned 16, and paid for the insurance with Birthday and Christmas money. The bus is argued as an alternative option, but as we in the Northumbrian countryside are more that aware, it's not always feasible. Then there are the additional costs of lunches and books.

However, not everybody is as needy of the allowance as me. There were students who live next door to the school receiving the same £30 that I utilized to support travel costs, and worse, students whose self-employed parents were playing the system to give them £30 that they simply used for nights out. Many courses provide the course materials that students need, so the £30 for travel and books argument is simply invalid. So do we maintain or even worsen the current deficit that the Labour government has left us with by continuing to give out £30 a week to so many students, or do we save £500 million a year and leave certain students unable to get to school and college?

I support the view of the Coalition Government, in that the current system, which pays £30 a week to less well- off students, could be better targeted at genuinely poor students I think scrapping the allowance and putting money back into schools for a hardship fund for those truly in need is the right way forward.

Is it nice to have that extra £30? Of course it is. But we must focus that assistance on those that really need it.