Teenagers from poorer families rely on Education Maintenance Allowances (EMAs) to keep them in further education even though the grants fail to cover essential costs, according to a survey published this week.
Almost 60 per cent of students from the poorest backgrounds receiving the maximum pound;30 a week allowance said that they could not afford to continue their education without it, the survey by the National Union of Students (NUS) found.
But while EMAs were a lifeline for most students, two-fifths said that they were too low to cover essentials like travel, books and food at college. A fifth of the poorest students relied on commercial borrowing to make up the difference.
The survey is a response to studies calling for an end to EMAs. Critics say that the raising of the compulsory education participation age to 18 in 2015 makes EMAs, which are awarded to 16- to 18-year-olds at pound;10, pound;20 or pound;30 a week depending on family income, redundant.
But the union argues that EMAs are key to keeping poorer teenagers in education and training. It recommends raising the top rate to pound;40.
Shane Chowen, NUS vice-president for further education, said: "It is not acceptable that so many poorer students are unable to afford the basic costs of further education. The top rate of the EMA has not been raised in line with inflation for the last six years."
Ian Pursglove, director of young people's learner support at the Learning and Skills Council, said that EMAs were hugely beneficial, but added: "The EMA is there to meet the additional cost of learning rather than to provide living cost support. The LSC makes discretionary funds available to providers to cover other costs."