Simon Hughes writes… Educational Maintenance Allowance: a grown-up replacement

One of the first tasks which the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minster gave me when they appointed me to the job of Advocate for Access to Education was to advise on the replacement for the Educational Maintenance Allowance. Since then I have travelled across the country to listen to young adults in school and further education colleges about how they think students should be supported in education.

The overriding concern that students across the country had was travel. They wanted to know that the money was there to pay for their travel to school or college.

Other important things that students thought should be financially supported were the purchase of equipment and books, particularly as on some courses the cost of equipment can be substantial, and some help for students from poor backgrounds in college to have a mid day meal, as they would do if they had stayed on at school.

Students also thought it was unfair that people who had started on their course and are now receiving EMA would not continue to receive any payments next year.

In every school or college I visited there were examples of people who had EMA when they didn’t need it or should not have been entitled to it, such as people whose parental income was well over £30,000 but whose domestic circumstances meant that they still claim. There were also examples of people who spent their EMAs on things completely unrelated to education.

Originally the government had set aside £75 million for a successor to EMA. I was clear when I submitted my report on funding for 16-18 year olds the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister in February that this would not be enough. Although students would probably still stay on at school or college, without significantly more funding to cover the real financial barriers to attending, some students would face real financial hardship.

I was therefore pleased to see that in this week’s announcement we have made some real progress.

The government has recognised the need to continue to support people currently on EMA as they finish their studies. Everybody who started their course this academic year and is now on the £30 per week rate will receive a payment of £20 each week in their second year. All students on EMA who started their course in the 2009/10 academic year will continue to receive the full rate.

The discretionary fund of £165 million means that now the money will be there to support the most hard up with their educational needs.

There was also the welcome news that an additional £15 million will be set aside to provide bursaries of £1,200 for the most vulnerable students, for example those in care, with severe disabilities or single parents living on their own. This is more than the maximum available to students currently on EMA.

The coalition government was left with one of the most severe financial crises in our country’s history. Under these circumstances, it was simply unsustainable to continue to pay cash payments to asround half of all students in further education. This week’s announcement is a sensible, grown up replacement to the EMA which makes sure that funding is kept and in some cases increased for those in real need.

The government will now have a short consultation on its plans. I would encourage all with an interest in this area to respond to the consultation, which can be accessed through the Department for Education’s website.

P.S. To catch up with all I am doing on education, or to participate, please go to my website

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • The price of one cruise missile would have paid for the whole EMA for a year..

  • Foregone Conclusion 30th Mar '11 - 3:44pm

    So one cruise missile costs £550m (which is the annual cost of EMA)? The total cost of the war to the Americans so far is attributed as being $550m!

  • I heard a cruise missile costs c.£1 million. Hardly the whole of the EMA, and the funding comes from a contingency fund, not the EMA or any main budget stream (any sensible Government has contingency funding to hand of course!).

  • “In the current financial climate we just can’t afford the massive waste the old EMA system institutionalised. ”

    Regarding waste, as the Government is so keen on quoting the IFS perhaps they should have included the bit which stated:

    “The simple cost-benefit analysis mentioned above suggests that even taking into account the level of deadweight that was found, the costs of EMA are completely offset.”

  • Old Codger Chris 30th Mar '11 - 9:17pm

    The devil will be in the detail. I will reserve judgement until educational professionals have examined the detail.


    “To receive the allowance, the student must be shown to be in consistent attendance at their educational establishment on a daily basis. Such a prerequisite has already undermined the whole education system because it is founded on a fundamentally flawed assumption that the attendance of a student means they are learning, studying or taking knowledge in and this simply is not the case. I attended a sixth form in London and I can truthfully say that those who I knew who were in receipt of the allowance were not all learning as they should have been; in fact the large majority proudly exclaimed that, “I only come in for my EMA”. Such an attitude towards school stemming from the preconditions of the EMA is clearly not healthy and deceives the parents/guardians, the institutions and most importantly the government into thinking that as a result of students staying in education, they are actually learning or as a result of students going to school, they are actually being educated.”

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