A Belfast student says he will be forced to go hungry or leave his course if his financial support is cut by the Government.
Stephen Howe (17) was one of crowds of young people across Northern Ireland who gathered to protest over the proposed slashing of education support payments.
The Belfast Metropolitan College student currently lives alone in a hostel and said he relies on his Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) payment in order to get by.
“The money I get every fortnight has to buy me food, toiletries, gas and electric. I’m living in a hostel and it helps me pay to live there,” said Stephen.
“I do require it. A cut would probably mean I would have to starve for a few days.”
Students of all ages gathered outside Belfast City Hall yesterday to show their opposition to proposed cuts in the EMA.
More than 25,000 here receive an average annual allowance of £1,000 to help them continue their education in either school or a further education college.
However, under proposals unveiled by the Department for Employment and Learning and the Department of Education last month, the £10 and £20 weekly allowance is to be scrapped.
Meanwhile, in London, thousands of students took to the streets in protest against the rising cost of university and further education.
Yesterday’s march was the first national student protest to come following a wave of unrest over tuition fees two years ago. NUS-USI president Adrianne Peltz said the “devastating proposals” will have a “massive impact on young people’s futures”.
“Students and young people are facing very difficult times already, and to cut EMA to the level outlined in the recent consultation would be a bodyblow to this and future generations here,” she argued.
Neil Moore (18), president of Belfast Metropolitan College students’ union, said he was fighting for young people right across Northern Ireland.
“This will affect anyone my age going into college next year,” he said.
The consultation is a sham. I’ve been speaking to students who are helping keep their families going. It will have an impact on staff and student numbers.”
Among those protesting yesterday was Courtney Robinson (15) from Grosvenor Grammar School. She said: “In some areas of England it is already affecting young people.
“It is forcing people outside of education and we are making sure that the same does not happen here.”
”I’ve no doubt any cut will stop people from going on to study further.”
The Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) was introduced in September 2004. Under the scheme young people aged between 16 and 19 attending schools and further education colleges are eligible to receive a means-tested weekly allowance (£10, £20 or £30) depending on family household income. The allowance is linked to satisfactory attendance and is paid on a fortnightly basis to cover day-to-day costs.