The Tory-led coalition had their way today, and voted to scrap a life-line to thousands of poorer students. A bid by Labour to save the Education Maintenance Allowance was defeated by Conservatives and Lib Dems who reject the idea that young people from low-income backgrounds should be encouraged to go on with further education. By doing so, they have condemned a generation to unemployment, a fact backed up by the latest figures: almost a million under-25’s are unemployed – a record high.
Students in Cornwall and other parts of the UK travelled to London to lobby MPs, to persuade them not to abolish the EMA scheme. Many were ignored. Some MPs spoke only to single students, despite many travelling hundreds of miles during the exam period. Some MPs would not even stop to explain their decision to betray young people. This betrayal will not be met with such apathy by students. The next couple of weeks will see more demonstrations nationwide to fight for education, to fight for our futures.
What are the NUS doing to support the struggle? They recently passed a ‘radical’ document calling for support for the demonstration in Manchester on the 29th – while completely ignoring the protest in London, the centre of power, and the national day of action on the 26th. Anti-cuts groups need to be becoming active in their student unions, in trade unions and local groups to support these demonstrations, regardless of which organisation is ‘leading’ them.
Billy Hayes of the CWU has been calling for unions to do exactly that, declaring workers and students ‘allies in misfortune’, and heralding a ‘serious fight-back’. Other unions have been slower to take up the call. But as Hayes asks, ‘are we going to fight for our rights’ or not?
EMA could be funded, three times over, if only private schools paid VAT on their fees, meaning these elite institutions finally give something back other than Tory-cabinet ministers.
There is no fairness in the scrapping of the EMA. Peers in the House of Lords can claim an allowance of up to £300 a day just for turning up. And now our future doctors, academics, scientists and teachers are being denied £30 a week to continue with college. The Tories and Lib Dems can be certain. Once exams are over, there is going to be a serious surge of support for the fight-back, and it will not stop until those at the top find out what ‘being in this together’ really means.