Hardship grant for students in Wales to stay

Image caption Students in sixth forms and colleges will continue to receive up to £30 a week in means-tested support

A hardship grant which aims to help young people from lower-income families stay in education will not be scrapped by the Welsh Assembly Government.

The Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) was abandoned in England as part of the UK government's Spending Review.

The issue has been a key plank of protests carried out by students throughout the UK this week.

Students and Plaid Cymru welcomed the decision but the Tax Payers' Alliance called the EMA "clumsy and wasteful".

The grant gives means-tested payments of up to £30 per week to help teenagers further their education by paying for items such as books and transport.

UK Education Secretary Michael Gove removed the EMA in England last month, but the assembly government announced it would be keeping the system in its draft budget.

'Clear message'

The assembly government would not disclose how much the decision to keep the EMA is costing tax-payers.

Students' unions welcomed the announcement, although some who spoke to BBC Wales earlier in the week were not aware that the EMA was to be kept in Wales.

NUS Wales deputy president Michaela Neild said: "It is fantastic news that the Welsh Assembly Government has decided to retain EMA for the poorest further education students in Wales.

"NUS Wales has written to the minister [Leighton Andrews] several times to state the case for this invaluable means of support. EMA is vital to ensure that students from lower socio-economic groups are able to continue in education and achieve their potential."

Colleges have said the grants make the difference between youngsters staying in education or dropping out and taking low-paid jobs.

Plaid Cymru's Education spokesperson Nerys Evans AM also applauded the decision to safeguard the EMA.

She said: "I know that there are a great number of students that without the EMA could not see a future for themselves in education.

"This is a vitally important scheme and one that makes a huge difference to people seeking further education that otherwise could not afford it.


"I thought that the Conservative-Lib Dem government's decision to scrap the EMA was short sighted and a betrayal of student support.

"It is a great relief that we in Wales are taking a different approach and putting students' needs first."

However, Matthew Sinclair, director of the pressure group the Tax Payers' Alliance, attacked the decision as a waste of public money.

He said: "The EMA is a clumsy and wasteful way of supporting students in sixth form, and there is no real case for focusing support on that age group.

"Cutting back on it is an important way of responding to the problems in the public finances and delivering better value for taxpayers.

"If the assembly government reject this spending cut, they are going to have to start getting imaginative and proposing alternative cuts. They don't have the money to keep saying no."

The assembly government said the decision was part of a strategy to ensure young people in Wales had the "best possible" start in life.

A spokesperson added: "In the draft budget we reaffirmed our commitment to the EMAs in Wales.

"We're pleased to confirm that we are retaining the scheme which benefits learners and helps improve retention rates in education in Wales."

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