Day of protest over axing of education grant

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Students, staff and trade unions will hold a day of action today in protest at government plans to axe a grant for the poorest teenagers.

Colleges and sixth forms across England are expected to hold lunchtime protests against the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA).

The EMA is a weekly grant of up to £30 given to 16-18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged homes to help them stay in education.

Protesters claim that receiving the support is often the decisive factor for poor teenagers in deciding whether to continue their studies.

The action comes just days after tens of thousands of demonstrators descended on Parliament to protest at the Government's plans to treble university tuition fees.

There were ugly scenes of violence as police and protesters clashed. Missiles including snooker balls and paint balls were thrown at officers, graffiti was daubed on statues including one of Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, and the Prince of Wales' car was attacked.

The Supreme Court and the Treasury building were also targeted by vandals, along with bus stops, benches, sign posts and shop windows.

Organisers of the EMA protests said the demonstrations were expected to be peaceful.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU) said: "The EMA is a vital lifeline for many students in this country and can be the difference between people being able to study at college or being priced out.

"Withdrawing the EMA will hit some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society, as well as the colleges that are there to serve them."

Some of the most deprived areas will be hit if the EMA is scrapped, organisers said.

In some areas of Birmingham, Leicester and the North West, up to four fifths of students received the support.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) said: "That money is vital to pay for their basic costs - transport, food, books, internet access.

"It seems totally perverse to pull the rug out from those who want to get qualifications to help them get jobs and make a contribution in life."

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC) said: "The overall spending cut involved could see support for the poorest young people shrinking from £574 million to possibly as little as £75 million.

"We urge ministers to reconsider their decision which will disadvantage young people from low income families, severely limiting their career prospects which, in turn, will have an impact on the wider economy."

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: "By taking an axe to the EMA, the government is chopping away at the future of the next generation."

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: "We know that some young people need extra financial assistance to help them stay on in education.

"However, 90% of the students currently in receipt of EMA would have stayed in education without it.

"Given the economic climate, the state of the public finances and the very difficult decisions we have had to make across government, it is only right that we should find a better, more effective way of targeting support to those young people who really need financial support to continue in education.

"That's why we announced in the Spending Review that we are streamlining grants to ensure better value for money, ending the EMA and replacing it with targeted support for those who face genuine financial barriers to participation."