Young learners from disadvantaged backgrounds are being let down by the 16-19 Bursary Fund because it is inadequate, inconsistent and under-funded, according to a report by Barnardo’s.
The children’s charity says the replacement for the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) is discouraging poor students from staying in further education because they are unable to pay for everyday expenses such as food, travel and books.
Anne Marie Carrie, chief executive of Barnardo’s, said: “It is an absolute disgrace that some students are now being forced to skip meals in order to afford the bus to college.
“The Bursary Fund is an unfair and totally inadequate replacement for the Education Maintenance Allowance.”
The Barnardo’s report, entitled “Staying the course: Disadvantaged young people’s experiences in the first term of the 16-19 Bursary Fund”, says the varying payment models used by providers has quickly created a “postcode lottery” for young people.
The charity says the government risks losing a significant number of young people to long-term unemployment unless the system is re-examined and fixed.
“The government has a moral duty to urgently invest in adequate help for 16 to 19 year-olds from poorer backgrounds to stay the course and complete their education or training,” Anne Marie Carrie said.
“The alternative is to risk losing a whole generation to the trap of long-term unemployment because they don’t have any qualifications.”
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, added: “The very least the Government must do is look again at providing the financial support required to give the poorest teenagers in the country a fair crack at an education.
“We see no benefit whatsoever in consigning them to the ever-increasing number of young people in the dole queue.”
The EMA scheme, which gave students weekly payments for staying in further education, was scrapped by the government last year.
The new system, known as the 16-19 Bursary Fund, gives out a guaranteed payment of £1,200 to young people who are in care, have been in care, claiming Disability Living Allowance, Employment Support Allowance or claiming income support.
The remaining funds are then allocated to other students at the discretion of the college, school or training provider.
“The decision to axe the EMA was rushed and ill-thought through and has been a farce from start to finish,” Sally Hunt said.
“Ever since ministers started cherry-picking research to drive through the end of the grant it has been clear to us that thousands of the country’s poorest teenagers would suffer.”
The Barnardo’s report, based on 51 face to face interviews, says the administration of the 16-19 Bursary Fund is overly-complex and fails to give “a reasonable, predictable level of financial support” to disadvantaged young people.
Anne Marie Carrie said: “Immediate improvements to the way the Bursary Fund is targeted and administered are urgently needed to prevent a shameful waste of young talent.
“Without access to vital funds, our most vulnerable young people may lose the opportunity to improve their life chances.”
Recommendations in the report include giving a bursary, in line with the Pupil Premium, to all young people who used to receive free school meals.
The report also suggests giving bursary support to all young people undertaking a foundation learning course, as well as learners who are care experienced.
“This is in keeping with the Government’s aspirations to improve social mobility and educational outcomes for this particularly challenged group,” the report states.
Darryl, 18, a trainee warehouse operative from the Newcastle area, said: “If you’re training, you don’t get much help, but if you sit around doing nothing you can still get benefits, which doesn’t seem fair.
“My family is finding it hard to afford the everyday costs of living, so they can’t always help me out.
“I want to train to get a job to support myself, but how can I finish my course if I can’t afford the costs?”