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Monday 21st February 2011 | 10:17
Michael Gove is facing a legal challenge over his decision to axe the Education Maintenance Allowance, PoliticsHome.com has learned.
Just over a week since the Education Secretary was reprimanded by the High Court over school refurbishment, he faces the threat of another judicial review, this time from teenagers who are losing out from the scrapping of the EMA system.
EMAs are worth upto £30 a week for the poorest sixth formers and were introduced by Labour to persuade the less well-off to stay in education and training over the age of 16.
Although the Tories repeatedly said they had "no plans" to dump the EMA before the last election, Mr Gove announced last year that they would be scrapped because their administration costs were too high.
The Save EMA Campaign is drafting a legal case on behalf of students who believe their two-year contracts for study has been breached by the Government’s decision. Lawyers backed by the trade union Unison are examining whether they can win payments for students who began courses in September expecting two years of financial support.
Students sign an EMA contract which commits them to rules on attendance, punctuality and achievement in return for the payments. However, as it is a contract, campaigners say that the Government may also be obliged to fulfil its part of the bargain for 300,000 students.
Unison has discovered literature from the YPLA (Young People’s Learning Agency), distributed widely in colleges last year, which it says clearly guaranteed those students who started courses that year that they could expect funding up to 2013.
James Mills, head of the Save EMA campaign, said: “We’re saying, ‘A deal’s a deal.’ These young people have signed a contract and the Government should honour it. Ministers like to bang on about taking a 5 per cent pay cut, but these kids are taking a 100 per cent cut in their income."
"David Cameron went to a few colleges and said, ‘We won’t scrap EMA.’ There was a clear promise that EMA won’t be axed and students joined their courses on that basis and committed themselves for two years.
“Michael Gove said before the election that he would not scrap EMA, and that anyone who said he would was a liar. One of the things we want is for Michael Gove to honour his pre election pledge and pay these 300,000 teenagers next year who have started courses because he gave a commitment, rather than waste public money to drag Gove back to the Commons to do a Spelman."
According to a YouGov poll last week, almost half the British public oppose the government’s plans to abolish EMAs.The poll also showed that a substantial amount of those who voted for both coalition parties at the last election and who intend to vote at coming elections also oppose the abolition of the EMA. Some 50% who voted Lib Dem in 2010, and 27% of Conservatives, oppose abolition of EMA.
Campaigners point to research by the UCU showing that almost 40% of students wouldn’t have started their course without EMA, so that’s a large amount of people who will feel betrayed by this government.
Mr Gove was forced to reconsider his Building Schools for the Future (BSF) plans by the High Court earlier this month. The Court ruled his failure to properly consult some local authorties amounted to an "abuse of power". The Department for Education insists that the court did not find his ultimate decision unlawful.
Government sources today hit back, pointing out that the YouGov poll also showed that 45% of 18-24 year-olds support the abolition of EMA, with 44 per cent opposed. 43 per cent of 25-39 year-olds support the abolition of EMA, with 38 per cent opposed.
Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi said: “Labour left the country spending £120million a day just paying off the interest on the national debt. Difficult choices have had to be made and, despite protecting schools spending, we simply cannot justify maintaining an expensive programme that is not targeted at those who need it.
"Research commissioned by Labour when in Government, and now conveniently ignored by them in opposition, showed that EMA should be better targeted, while Andy Burnham himself conceded it is spent ‘on time out with friends’.
“And the same poll that the Save EMA campaign is quoting actually shows that young people – those with direct experience of the EMA – actually back its abolition in greater numbers than oppose it.”
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