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Are we short changing young people in education?

February 7th 2020

Steffan Evans sets out some of the key findings of the Bevan Foundation’s latest report – Learning a living, better support for post 16 learners

BY6G3J College students on break. Image shot 2010. Exact date unknown.

The Bevan Foundation has today (7th February) published a new report looking at the support that’s available for young people from low income families who want to continue in education post 16. The report is the latest in a series of publications developed by the Bevan Foundation as part of its work on the support provided to low-income families in Wales.

What’s the problem?

We found that whilst young people in Wales valued the support they received, there are a number of shortcomings with the current system.

We heard from a number of young people that the support provided is not sufficient to meet their needs. One example of this is the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). Since 2004/05 a young person eligible for the EMA has received £30 a week. Had the £30 rate kept up with inflation it would now be worth over £45 a week, meaning that in real terms students only receive two thirds of the support that was available to their contemporaries in 2004/05. In the words of one young person we spoke to –

“£30 doesn’t buy you anything. It’s crap. It’s gone by the time you cover your basic costs.”

Not only did we find that the support on offer wasn’t enough, too many young people are missing out on support due to unfair eligibility criteria. A student’s family must be over £4,000 poorer today than in 2011 to receive EMA. Free School Meals are only available to young people who continue their post 16 education in schools whilst the Welsh Government Financial Contingency Fund is only available for those who attend FE Colleges. This lack of consistency and the arbitrarily low eligibility benchmarks are locking young people who living in poverty out from the support they desperately need.

What can be done?

We are calling on the Welsh Government to look at both short term and long-term solutions to the many issues we have identified.

In the immediate term we believe it is vital that the Welsh Government restores the value of the support provided. This would mean increasing the EMA to £45 a week and the Welsh Government Learning Grant (Further Education) to £2,350 a year. We also think that the Welsh Government should look at the all eligibility criteria and raise them to ensure that no young person living in poverty is barred from getting support.

To protect these values in future, the Welsh Government should put an inflation lock in place to ensure that the value of the support and eligibility thresholds rise with inflation every year.

We also think there is scope for the Welsh Government to streamline and simplify the schemes as well as seeking to provide further support with additional costs facing young people such as transport to and from their place of study.

In the longer term however, the Welsh Government should consider more radical reform. We propose that a single scheme for all post-16 learners be established, whatever their level of study. This should be based upon the reforms made to student finance in higher education. It would be a signal that the Welsh Government recognises that further education contributes to the economy and labour market, and that learners in vocational subjects need financial support just as much as in higher education.

 

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