What will be replacing EMA?

Remember – although EMA has been abolished, this doesn’t mean that post-16 students will  be left high and dry (although some people want you to believe this, for purely political reasons). Instead the coalition  are proposing a new allowance that will be targeted at those who need it most.

This is very good news for those who are worried that loss of EMA will prevent them attending school or college

The government’s intentions about EMA are therefore very different  to Suffolk County Council’s disgraceful and undemocratic decision to scrap Suffolk’s Explore card tomorrow – right in the middle of the academic yearThere was not even a figleaf of a consultation or ‘conversation.’  So please don’t stop signing the Save the Explore Card petition and pressing for this decision to be reversed. We are now only 1000 signatures short!

The government’s proposals are that:

  • Everybody who started their course this academic year and is on the £30 per week rate will continue at the current rate to the end of the academic year  and will receive payments of £20 per week in their second year.
  • All students on EMA who started their course in the 2009/10 academic year will continue to receive the full rate.
  • An additional £15 million will be set aside to provide bursaries of £1,200 for the most vulnerable students, for example those in care, with severe disabilities or single parents living on their own. This is more than the maximum available to students currently on EMA.
  • Finally, schools, colleges and training providers will have £165 million put into a discretionary learner support fund each year which will be available for them to distribute to students facing financial need.
    This is the equivalent of just over £800 for every young person who received free school meals at the age of 15.

Across the country students face very different costs and barriers to attending school or college. In some places – such as huge swathes of rural Suffolk –  students have to travel a long distance to attend, or may find it hard to get transport. On the other hand, some courses involve prohibitively costly equipment.  Under the new plans schools and colleges can decide individually exactly how to distribute the money available to support their students in need.

The government wants to have a short consultation on its plans. You have till the 20 May to respond to this consultation – which you can do online.

So, if you get or got EMA, if you are a parent, grandparent or friend of someone who had it, has it, or will need support in the future  – or if you are just interested in social justice, please  add your two pennorth. We can ensure properly targeted support for the workers of the future if we all contribute to the decision-making!

Big Lottery Grant for Woodbridge-based Home Start

Staff, volunteers and families at Home Start Suffolk Coastal are thrilled today to hear that they have been awarded a Big Lottery grant  totalling £362,637!  This money has been provided as part-funding for the scheme over 3 years to extend its services within Suffolk Coastal.

Home-Start recruits and trains parent volunteers to support families , struggling to cope, within  their own homes, offering non-judgmental, practical and emotional support for a wide range of issues  including domestic abuse, multiple births, isolation, depression, bereavement and lone families. Family support groups are another part of the scheme, offering a nurturing environment for families to grow together. The effect of any intervention at an early stage in childrens’ lives  is magnified – and lasts a lifetime!

Tara Somers,  the Hone-Start Suffolk Coastal Senior Co-ordinator “couldn’t be more delighted! The money is for our Empowering Families project  – and will allow us to reach more local families for whom too often life feels like an uphill struggle. In the current economic climate, this is particularly important!”

The grant will enable Tara and her team  to set up a new Family Group in Woodbridge, and increase Home Start services throughout our area, which stretches northwards  from Felixstowe , as far as Leiston and beyond.

Home-Start Suffolk Coastal is part of the UK’s leading family support charity, Home-Start UK which supports nearly 35,000 families and almost 73,000 children each year.  More than 16,000 volunteers visit families in their own homes – parents supporting other parents in a variety of situations including isolation, bereavement, multiple births, illness or disability.

Since opening in Woodbridge in 1999, Home-Start Suffolk Coastal has supported 530 families, many in very challlenging circumstances. In the last year alone, their 45 volunteers spent a massive 17,000 hours supporting 84 families and 181 children.

Home-Start Suffolk Coastal  has already been part of a pilot, “Maximising Income”, helping families who already supported by Home-Start, to access necessary financial support  (And let me tell you, this is very very necessary: it took me and my daughter and my husband three full weeks of headscratching and together to  complete a Disability Living Allowance form). With the help of the Lottery grant, 60 more Home-Start families will be supported in accessing benefits and grants they are entitled to. Major reform to the welfare system means that there has never been a more vital need to offer support to families in navigating the system

“I really don’t know what I would have done without Home-Start, my volunteer was exactly what I needed, a friend, someone to talk to, someone that’s been there. My volunteer has given me the confidence to go out, and do what a ‘normal’ mum can do”

Woodbridge pays the price for no buses

I see that Ipswich Hospital made £1.3million from parking charges last year. What a brilliant means of encouraging people to use sustainable transport instead!

O, hang on a moment…

…Woodbridge has no sustainable transport whatsoever that can get you to Ipswich hospital  and back for the evening visiting hour – or get you anywhere near the hospital on Sunday or bank holidays. In Woodbridge our hospital-visiting choices are stark:: cycle a twelve mile round trip, pay to park, or stay at home!

As well as being a large source of income to the hospital, this  should be a huge source of shame and embarrassment  to the Suffolk County Council administration as a whole, to the Portfolio holder in question,  and to the Council Officers  involved in this kind of bum decision-making  (one of whom had to listen to me rant and rave for a good twenty minutes the other day when he was hoping to eat lunch instead. I pointed out that there was hardly one of the decision-makers who even knew what the inside of a bus looked like and explained that I would like to be a good fairy so I could smite them with a few month’s chronic epilepsy or some other condition that leaves one unable to drive, together with an insufficient income to employ someone else.  THEN, said I, you would really have an understanding of what your decisions really feel like. I didn’t get much of a response).

It was less than a month ago that the last evening buses left Woodbridge – forever, as far as SCC were concerned. And they STILL have the nerve to send out “Greenest County” press releases.

SCC LOVES to send out its mixed messages in worn-out  management-speak cliches.  So here’s one back for them to ponder over:

“Why don’t you learn to walk the walk as well as talk the talk? ” This level of decision-making is as joined-up as a 4-year old’s first sentence!