Minister outlines changes to EMA scheme

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The employment and learning minister outlined changes to the scheme which supports students staying in education after the age of 16, on 12 February 2013.

Stephen Farry told the Assembly that the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) would now be better targeted at those most in need

He explained that currently the scheme consists of weekly payments of £30, £20 or £10 depending on a household income and bonus payments, totalling £300 per year.

He said he was recommending that the £10 and £20 bands should be withdrawn and be replaced by a single band of £30 per week.

Mr Farry said this higher band would be payable to children from households with an income of £20,500 or less with one dependent child, or £22,500 or less where there were two or more dependent children.

In response to a question from the DUP's Thomas Buchanan, Mr Farry said this would mean 4,000 recipients of EMA would no longer be eligible.

However he said he expected the eligibility for the £30 band rise to increase by a similar amount by 2014/15.

The minister said responses to a public consultation process had shown that there was a support for retaining bonus payments as they provided young people with an incentive. These will be reduced to £200 per year and will be funded by a transfer of resources from the Department of Education and partly by the Department for Employment and Learning.

Employment Committee chairman Basil McCrea said he was "frankly shocked" that the minister's statement had been made to the assembly without discussion with the committee.

"This appears to be a cost-saving exercise," he said.

"This is not the appropriate way to go about making major changes of financial implications for the people of Northern Ireland.

"The committee should have been properly consulted, it would have properly engaged with the department and I suspect that the members here present will be extremely disappointed in the way that this has been handled."

Sinn Fein's Phil Flanagan called the review of EMA "flawed".

The DUP's Alastair Ross said EMA reforms were needed if a public consultation showed that more than 60% of students receiving EMA indicated that they would have remained in education even if they had not received it.

The EMA scheme was jointly introduced in September 2004 by the employment and education departments.

Scotland and Wales have already made similar changes and England has completely scrapped the allowances.

The Westminster government had argued the scheme was too expensive and poorly targeted.

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