Youth Fight for Jobs and Socialist Students decided to launch a campaign lobbying Sheffield city council to restore the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) earlier on in the year. The lobby of the council on December 5th was a long time coming and the culmination of hard work collecting petition signatures and mobilizing a campaign.
Dan Celardi, Sheffield Uni Socialist Students
EMA provided college students with up to £30 a week to help fund them while they studied at college. This was one of the few positive New Labour reforms aiming to tackle two things access to education and poverty. They hoped that the money would encourage students to stay in college rather than go to work, apprenticeships or the dole. It was designed to help students fund their expenses from buses, food and books etc. Quite frankly the money wasn’t enough to do this.
This was scrapped in the first round of Tory cuts, beginning their attacks on the young as well as other sections of the population. 2 boroughs in London have introduced a local version of EMA and Ken Livingstone pledged to restore it across London during his unsuccessful campaign for mayor. We felt this was a campaign that we could gain support for and hopefully get a labour council to support us. We gained the support of anti-cuts and privatisation campaigns at both universities in Sheffield.
We choose the council meeting on the 5th of December to go present our petition and hold our march and rally. This was also the date when George Osborne would announce his autumn statement hammering another round of cuts to working people.
We had a good march and a great rally at the town hall where we spoke to some of the other groups presenting petitions that day. We presented our petition of 1247 people calling directly on Sheffield council to restore EMA and a further 5580 calling for an end to all education cuts including the restoration of EMA.
We asked the council to use some of their massive £168 million (which has increased by £18 million this year) of reserves to fund EMA which would cost a maximum of £25 million if it was available to all. The idea of reserves are for tough times, and times have never been tougher for young people. Sheffield is a Labour dominated council surely they would back their own policy that the Tories so viciously cut.
However the Labour council took a stance in line with that of its national leadership and similar to that of the right wing of the Labour Party in the 80’s; They made it clear they were against some education cuts and want EMA back but that they couldn't defy the Tory cuts to deliver this. It seems Labour don’t want to get re-elected with Labour councillor Jackie Drayton claiming "I'll tell you what the difference would be if you had a Tory council, we wouldn't have to make these cuts".
This statement has deeper meaning, showing the gross incompetence of the Labour Party; councillor Drayton seems to believe that the Tories are only making cuts to punish Labour councils. Labour controlled council in Sheffield is more than happy to dish out the Tories dirty work for them. The local Labour group has no real desire to represent working people, they just talk about themselves. The scrapping of EMA is an attack on young people in Sheffield, not the Labour council! Her further comment, "We can't fight the government, that's your job", will be a massive let down for the many people who voted Labour in opposition to the Con-Dems cuts, but it is a mantle that Youth Fight for Jobs and Socialist Students are happy to take up with some of our activists having stood as candidates for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) in the city, correctly predicting that Labour would fail in this task.
This rings all too true of 1985 and, the then Labour leader, Neil Kinnock's condemnation of the Liverpool city council resisting of Thatcher’s cuts. Labour say they are against some cuts but have no strategies or backbone to fight them. Kinnock said at the party conference that year that the Liverpool council had started with ‘impossible promises’. We were essentially told the same by Sheffield council in the chamber. This tells us everything about the capitalist system, when giving £30 a week to college students is an ‘impossible promise’, it’s time to rethink how we run our economy and start looking at the alternative of a better world, a democratic socialist planned economy, run for the needs of ordinary people not the profits of a privileged few.