The education maintenance allowance programme provides a financial incentive for 16 to 19-year-olds from low-income households who are attending non-advanced learning in school or college, or who are on an activity agreement, to stay in learning. Home-educated pupils are also eligible.
The EMA programme is an entitlement in Scotland, unlike in the rest of the United Kingdom. The Scottish Government wants young people to be able to choose from the same learning opportunities, regardless of their background or circumstances.
I welcome that the Scottish National Party Government continues to recognise the importance of the EMA programme in allowing our young people to make learning decisions that are based on their abilities and aspirations rather than their financial circumstances.
What proportion of EMA recipients live in our most disadvantaged areas?
The most recent statistics on education maintenance allowance show that in 2016 the proportion of recipients who live in Scotland’s 20 per cent most deprived areas increased to 36.8 per cent from 34.9 per cent in the previous year. The figures tell us that education maintenance allowance arrangements continue to make a positive difference to young people from the most disadvantaged areas in Scotland. I welcome the increase that has taken place.
This morning, the Education and Skills Committee heard evidence that families lose access to clothing grants and tax credits when a pupil applies for education maintenance allowance. Families are falling into poverty and debt, due to the gap in processing applications. What action will the Scottish Government take to prevent families from falling further into debt as a result of applying for EMA?
I will look with care at the transcript of this morning’s committee meeting and follow the evidence. It is my understanding that the decision on whether other benefits are forfeited as a consequence of an application for EMA is enshrined in the rules and eligibility criteria of individual local authorities.
I will consider with care the point that Mary Fee raised, because I would be concerned if a family who applied for an education maintenance allowance forfeited access to other elements of provision, such as a school clothing grant—because an EMA will be available to an older pupil, who will be bound by the rules on uniform in relation to which school clothing grants are designed to try to assist.
If Mary Fee has particular information to draw to my attention, I will look at it carefully, because what she described is certainly not the policy intention or the situation that I want to emerge. I will examine the detail, to see what the Government can do to rectify the situation. It might be to do with individual decisions that are taken by local authorities, over which I have no control.