SOME of the country's most disadvantaged young people are being tempted into post-16 education by changes in benefit regulations.
New rules will make it easier for disabled teenagers, ex-offenders and others to qualify for the pound;30 to pound;40-a-week education maintenance allowance (EMA) designed to encourage 16 to 18-year-olds to stay on in education.
Qualification criteria for the allowance have been relaxed in a pilot scheme in Nottingham, Walsall, Stoke-on-Trent and Cornwall.
Baroness Blackstone, education and employment minister, said: "These pilots provide us with a real opportunity to test out additional incentives for young people, who often have more serious problems to overcome.
"They do not detract from the 'something for something' principle that is at the heart of the EMA pilot scheme. Instead, they will widen the opportunities open to those young people who may not have otherwise been able to participate in post-compulsory education. Disadvantaged young people will have to work as hard, if not harer than, other young people in order in order to get their allowance."
The incentives will also benefit young parents, the homeless, carers and those who have recently been in care.
The rule changes include allowing EMAs to be paid for study outside mainstream institutions waiving the proof of residency, requirement for the homeless, special payment arrangements for those without bank accounts and payments for pregnant
teenagers returning to education. People in these groups will be able to claim for three years instead of two.
Students who become pregnant during their course will get a special allowance for returning at the end of their maternity leave.
The allowances were introduced in 15 areas in September 1999, targeting young people from low-income households, and will be extended to a further 41 areas from September 2000, with funding announced in the Budget. The cash is available only to those who sign a learning agreement, which includes a commitment to agreed levels of attendance.