Fuel for learning - help me light a fire

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I posted last Friday on the abolition of Educational Maintenance Allowances (EMAs), the grants of between £10 and £30 a week made to disadvantaged 16-18 year olds.

Later that evening I met my father and his partner for a drink. In the course of the conversation they told me how embarrassed they were about keeping their winter fuel allowance (WFA) when so many other worthy causes were being cut (neither of them is exactly on their uppers). A light went on in my head.

Roughly speaking, three pensioners’ WFAs plus gift aiding would be equivalent to providing a teenager with a £25 a week allowance for three ten week terms. So, how about a scheme (‘fuel for learning’) in which pensioners can opt to redirect their WFA to providing an EMA-like allowance?

Before it is abolished next year we can take advantage of the current means testing structure for EMAs and the conditionality rules which mean youngsters don’t get the allowance unless they attend the lectures.

The scheme might work like this:

- The RSA sets up a web site on which through a single click a pensioner can redirect their WFA to helping to replace EMAs. We would need Government help for this.

- The pensioner can choose either simply to direct their donation to a central pot which would be distributed according to current EMA expenditure or to have a more personal relationship.

 - The latter might involve choosing an educational establishment (sixth form or FE college) to which to direct the WFA, offering to be available to provide mentoring support to a student or even requesting that a supported student agree to provide up to a set limit of hours in reciprocal labour (mowing the lawn etc).

- For the whole idea to be worthwhile it would need to achieve scale, so it could be designed on the same lines as Pledgebank whereby pensioners’ commitment to donate their WFA only gets acted upon when, say, 100,000 have signed up.

I would love for the RSA to do this. And there are people in Government I believe would help us. What better evidence could there be that the Big Society ideal can take concrete form.     

So what do you think? If you like it, please pass the idea on.

I am setting myself the target of getting 500 expressions of support by the end of the week. This would be remarkable given that my average number of comments is about five. But the idea will only work if it goes viral so I need to set the barrier high.

Over to you

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