Following the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance, Labour candidate Ken Livingstone pledges to restore London-wide £30-per-week allowance if he is elected as Mayor in May. But he also tells FE Week he wants other cities to follow…
The battleground for the fight to become the next Mayor of London moved to the FE sector after the Labour candidate Ken Livingstone pledged to reinstate the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) to students in the capital.
If elected when Londoners go to the polls in May, Mr Livingstone says that he will “work to restore” a London-wide EMA of up to £30 per week.
The £560 million EMA was scrapped by the government in 2010 and replaced by the £180 million 16-19 bursary scheme.
However, Mr Livingstone says around 85,000 16-19 year olds in London now miss out on the weekly allowance.
The Mayoral candidate says the £80 million needed to fund the scheme – which represents the figure previously spent on the allowance – would be found by bringing together existing funds in colleges, universities, and local authorities.
Although previously outspoken on the government’s decision to scrap the EMA, Boris Johnson, the current Mayor of London, is yet to set a clear policy on the matter in the lead up to the election.
Some MPs don’t understand because they’re from rich upper class areas and don’t understand how much £30 can mean”
Mr Livingstone said: “I want to help young Londoners with their education by easing the squeeze the Tory-led government has imposed on them, and which the Tory Mayor has totally ignored.
“I have been deeply struck by the plight of thousands of students I have met at colleges right across the capital, who have had the lifeline that EMA offered snatched away from them by the Conservative party, whilst the part-time Tory Mayor stood by.”
Although pledging to bring back the EMA in London means it will only help students who study in the capital, Mr Livingstone hopes it will be a springboard to spur on other cities to act – if he can prove his plan is a success.
Speaking to FE Week after revealing his pledge, Mr Livingstone said: “If we demonstrate we can do it, other cities will copy it.”
The news has been met with delight by the National Union of Students (NUS).
Toni Pearce, NUS Vice-President (Further Education), said EMA provided a “vital source of support” for students.
She said: “The government’s decision to scrap it was widely condemned not only by students and their families, but by teachers, think tanks and businesses alike.
“Reintroducing EMA in London would be a huge step towards making sure that all young people in further education receive proper financial support to pay for the bare essentials associated with studying and would set a powerful example to national policy-makers.”
She also added: “Instead of washing their hands of the government’s decision to pull the plug on EMA or protesting their powerlessness, the other mayoral candidates should follow Ken’s lead and commit to reintroducing EMA.”
Mr Livingstone’s announcement was made on Thursday at City of Westminster College, where 17-year-old Brook House Sixth Form College pupil Zakariya Ahmed gave an impassioned speech about how the allowance had impacted his life.
Mr Ahmed said he has been forced to cut down on his hours volunteering with youngsters, in favour of a paid part-time job due to the financial void.
He also said he was called before the education select committee to give evidence on the decision last summer, where he told MPs “it would lead to more young people doing into crime”.
He said: “We need EMA. It’s valuable.
“But some MPs don’t understand because they’re from rich upper class areas and don’t understand how much £30 can mean.”
Steve Reed, leader of Lambeth Council, has thrown his backing behind the plan.
He said: “The government’s cuts to EMA have caused real hardship for young Londoners. Ken’s plan to reverse the cuts to EMA will make a massive difference to lives of thousands of young Londoners, giving them the chance to learn and make the most of their potential.”
James Mills, head of the Save EMA campaign, described Mr Livingstone’s pledge as “great news for tens of thousands of the poorest teenagers” in the capital.
He said: “It means that they can once again take education as far as their ability lets them and not their ability to pay.
“This will not only set down a marker for other mayoral contests across the country, but has shown it is not about money, but about priorities when it comes down to whether teenagers should have EMA payments.”
He added: “This is a big result for the campaign as it shows that through peaceful protest works, as it is possible to reverse decisions by governments if there is a will.
“We plan to continue lobbying politicians so that we can make commitments to reinstate EMA an issue in all coming election and especially the general election.”
FE Week asks learners what EMA meant to them
The London-wide EMA pledge by Mr Livingstone was witnessed by dozens of students at City of Westminster College on Thursday.
After making his announcement, FE Week spoke to five performing arts students at the college on how the EMA has affected their lives.
Chrystal Vidal (17) described Mr Livingstone’s pledge as “really good”, before adding: “I completely agree with it. Most of my friends left college as they don’t get EMA anymore.”
Meanwhile, Dreni Rezari (17) said the loss of the allowance has created added pressures, adding: “If I was able to have the EMA there would be less stress on you as a person.”
Bradley Rockall (18) was able to use the EMA two years ago.
He said: “I have to ask my mum for money normally every day. It put her under pressure because he’s been ill and hasn’t been working.”
Jody Nolan-Greenwood (18) added: “I had EMA previously and as soon as I found out it was to be scrapped, I was shocked.
“I have learning difficulties, so keeping up on work is difficult and with a job it would make it even more difficult.”
Sarah Kefi (17) said: “The EMA was a really good idea. It helped with little things like travel especially if you lived far away from college.
“The £30-a-week is good – it would really help.”