Ken Livingstone denounced the government as “liars”, at a student rally in support of the Education Maintenance Allowance [EMA] at BSix college in Hackney today.
The former Mayor made a short but strong speech, in which he said: “These people have told more lies than any party in my life to try and win power.”
“I’ve been following general elections right the way back to when I was a kid in 1964 and I’ve never seen an election where such lies were told to win. I saw this man, our Prime Minister, on the Andrew Marr programme the week of the election, what did he say? ‘If ministers come to me with cuts in frontline services, they will be sent away’. That’s a lie! They are putting through more cuts than any government since the 1920s,” he added.
He continued: “On the EMA, my old friend Ed Balls, who was then the education secretary, warned people in Britain a Tory government would scrap the EMA. What did Cameron say? ‘We’ve looked at this. We have no plans to scrap it.’”
The Education Secretary was also strongly criticised: “Little guy Michael Gove. During the election he gave a pledge, an absolute clear commitment, he would keep the EMA. And we have Cameron saying ‘we are all in this together’. Well, actually he’s worth 3 and a half million pounds, so he’s not in this with all of you.”
The EMA was introduced in 2004 to help and encourage teenagers from lower income families to remain in education. It gives £30 a week when household income falls below £20,817; £20 a week if household income is between £20,818 and £25,521; and £10 a week if it is between and £25,522 and £30,810.
For new students, the EMA will not be available from January 2011. Current students will receive it until the end of this academic year. As many as 3,647 students in Hackney will lose out on £10 to £30 a week. Seventy per cent of BSix students currently receive the EMA, and teachers are worried about the impact this cut will have in student’s assistance.
One such student is Faith Rayachi, she said: “EMA pays for a lot of things -food, travel. I come from a single parent family and my mother can’t pay for everything. EMA helps me with all the costs she can’t cover. I was planning to go to university in Liverpool, but when I found about the cuts I changed my options. I chose to go to City University, because it is closer to home.”
Benjamin Oladunjoye, another student, said: “EMA is very important, because it pays my travel here. I’m 19 right now and I don’t get a free travel card. All these educations cuts make me very worried, especially because I do want to go to university.
“I was thinking to go to study in Scotland, but I can’t do it anymore because it’ll be too much to live there. I’m going to have to stay in London and live with the cuts, but I’m definitely fighting against them.”
James Mills is a teacher in BSix and member of NUT. He said: “I hear the news about what the government is planning and it just make me sick, because I know that a lot of my students really need the EMA.
“We are talking about an area that is one of the poorest of the country; we are talking about young people that have got to try twice as hard in their lives because they don’t come from a privilege background. I’m teaching in these areas because I want to give students from more deprived parts of London a chance, and it sickens me to see that that chance is being taken away.”
Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and Shadow Minister for Public Health, released a statement supporting BSix students today: “Now more than ever it is important that students stand together. With the scrapping of the EMA and the rise in tuition fees, the Coalition government is making unprecedented threats to our higher education system that are going to have huge effects here in Hackney.
“The Coalition’s decisions are incredibly short-sighted and unfortunately will mean young people in Hackney have to take on further burdens and debts just to gain the education that I and many other politicians, were able to enjoy for free. I will continue to oppose these threats and support students in Hackney and up and down the country.”