Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Do college students need EMA to pay for transport costs?

EMA was originally called the Educational Maintenance Allowance (Transport), and even though it's changed its name, one of the big reasons why people say it's needed is to pay for transport costs.

Thinking about, you can see the point.  After all, in a lot of places kids will be travelling a further distance to college than to school, and transport costs often go up after the age of 16.

But once more, closer inspection of these issues finds that yet again EMA is a waste.

Tucked away at the back of the IFS report into EMA is the average distance kids in the pilot areas lived from their nearest post-16 educational institution (there were 41 pilot LAs and they are geographically representative).

2.2km.  That's 1.37 miles.

On top of that, in London - where an awful lot of EMA kids live - 16-19 year olds in full time education get free bus passes.

Let's put that 1.37 miles in context as well.  Even the most unfit kid should be able to walk that in under half an hour. At my last job, the school was a fifteen minute walk from the nearest train station.  I used to get the train there, along with most of the staff who didn't drive, and most of us had a ten-fifteen minutes walk from home to our closest station as well.  So most of us would walk for thirty minutes a day.  I am not asking kids to do anything I think is particularly arduous or draining or cruel, or anything that I wouldn't do myself. I'm asking them to walk for thirty minutes in the morning and thirty in the evening.

Obviously, as 2.2km is the average, half of kids will live further away than that, and of course some kids won't go to their closest college.  But then we have to consider all the London kids with their free bus travel, and then in Manchester you get reduced bus travel, and I have just googled "fares for 16-19 year olds" which suggests that there are a lot of other concessionary and/or free schemes out there.

I would suggest that yet again, kids who really absolutely cannot get to college in any way other than paying expensive fares that they cannot afford without help are a small minority who deserve to be helped. The help should be targeted at them, not the large majority who either don't need public transport or have free transport anyway. Fortunately, that's what the scheme that replaces EMA will do.

I have only anecdotal evidence (albeit substantial anecdotal evidence) for this, but there is one form of transport I think EMA really does subsidise - driving lessons and cars.

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