Research published today (7 February) by Barnardo's reveals that the poorest young people have been hit hard by the government's decision to scrap Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) for 16-19-year-olds.
The charity said that the government's new Bursary Fund is failing to adequately support disadvantaged teenagers to cover the everyday costs of studying or training.
They say that lower levels of money and a lack of access to the fund - which is awarded partly on a discretionary basis - are both key factors which are forcing many young people to consider dropping out of education and training altogether, due to financial hardship.
The situation was described as “an absolute disgrace” by Barnardo’s Chief Executive, Anne Marie Carrie.
She said that some students are now being forced to skip meals in order to afford the bus to college.
“The government has a moral duty to urgently invest in adequate help for 16-19 year-olds from poorer backgrounds to stay the course and complete their education or training,” said Carrie, “The alternative is to risk losing a whole generation to the trap of long-term unemployment because they don’t have any qualifications”.
The organisation called for immediate improvements to the way the Bursary Fund is targeted and administered.
Barnardo’s are recommending that funding should be available to all young people who have received free school meals, with each student receiving £30 per week. This is the same basis on which the Pupil Premium is calculated. This would still cost less than half the price of the EMA.
Researchers found evidence of flaws in the way the new discretionary Bursary Fund is run. They say there is minimal guidance given on how to appropriately distribute the funds available. Varying payment criteria are being used by different learning and training providers, which is leading to inequalities between students studying at different colleges.
The charity's findings were described as “truly shocking” by the University and College Union (UCU), which represents academic and teaching staff. The UCU's Sally Hunt accused the government of consigning an “ever-increasing number of young people to the dole queue”.