Students protest in Liverpool against the abolition of EMA. Photo Credit: Matt Baldry/Flickr

Labour has pledged to reverse the government’s abolition of student grants and EMA if it wins the next general election, it has been announced today (Tuesday).

The bold plan is designed to support over a million students from poorer and middle-income incomes to remain in education, and will be funded through a 1.5% increase to corporation tax.

EMA was introduced by the Labour Government in 2004, providing financial support in the form of cash payments to 16-18 year-olds.

Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found the benefits of the scheme easily outweighed the costs, with participation among 17-year-olds increasing by 7% and among 16-year-olds by 5%.

The coalition government confirmed the abolition of the EMA programme in England on 20 October 2010, replacing it with a £180m bursary scheme which focused on students from less wealthy households. However, the bursary is paid to the education establishment rather than directly to the student (source: Wikipedia).

The announcement led to mass student protests across England. Despite large media interest and wide opposition, students were ultimately unable to prevent the cuts.

EMA schemes continue to operate in Wales and Scotland, but EMA “performance bonus payments”, as well as the £20 and £10 payment bands, were abolished in Wales at the end of 2010/11. The £30 per week band for students in Wales with an income under £20,817 per year remains in place.

The Conservative Government abolished Maintenance Grants this year, affecting over half a million students from poor to middle-income backgrounds and forcing them to take on more debt to remain in higher education, despite the government’s own figures which show a trebling of student fees has impacted on the number of state educated pupils going to university.

Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said: “Today’s commitment to restoring both EMA and student maintenance grants shows that while the Tories continue to burden our young people with debt, the Labour Party is committed to investing in our young people.

“It is only by investing in education that we can ensure that all of our young people, whatever their background, are able to succeed in whatever they aspire to.

“This policy will have a real and meaningful impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of students.

“Bringing back EMA, which the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies said improves both participation and attainment among 16-18-year-olds, would benefit three-quarters of a million students.

“Reversing the Government’s replacement of the student maintenance grant with loans would help over half a million students from low and middle-income students to cover their living costs at university.

“When we can help improve the education of over a million young people with a small increase in corporation tax, it is an investment we would be foolish not to make.“