Article from: The Australian
FEDERAL Education Minister Julia Gillard has caved in to pressure and delayed changes to the youth allowance that would have caught out students now working a gap year, but about 61,000 of those on support and working part-time will pay for the concession.
About 5000 students will benefit from the decision to be announced today to delay by six months tougher eligibility criteria for those working a gap year to qualify as independents, and who can show they would have to move to attend university.
For these mostly regional students the changes that were to come into effect from January 1 will not now apply until June 30.
That will cost the budget $150million. With the government determined to keep its youth allowance changes cost-neutral, it has been forced to delay more generous earnings thresholds by 18 months.
From next year the earnings thresholds at which youth allowance is reduced was to rise from $236 a fortnight to $400 a fortnight, but that now will not happen until July 2012.
In total there are 272,840 students receiving youth allowance, of whom about 61,000 are estimated to earn above the threshold.
"Working students are being punished to benefit a small amount of students taking a year off," said Matthew McGirr, 23, a full-time history student at Sydney University.
"They are penalising people trying to make ends meet."
Mr McGirr earns between $220 and $350 a fortnight as an organist playing at weddings and christenings. If not for a $100 a week scholarship, he would be left with just $100 a week to live on after paying rent, he said.
In Warrnambool in regional Victoria, however, Jarrod Caveny was celebrating. Mr Caveny, 18, left school last year and decided to work a year to qualify for the full youth allowance as an independent so he could afford to study engineering at Melbourne University. The tighter criteria meant he would not have qualified for the full allowance, jeopardising his plans.
"I'm really pleased with that. It was going to be hard and tight to go to university next year," Mr Caveny said.
The original changes sparked a storm of protest from areas where taking a gap year to cover the high cost of moving to attend university is almost an institution. Rural young people are already half as likely to attend university as those from metropolitan areas.
In recent days Ms Gillard had met students to listen to their concerns.
"This change will mean that students won't be caught up in the transition between the old and new systems," Ms Gillard said.
The National Union of Students was disappointed the government did not increase the total package and in next year's election campaign it will lobby for the government to bring forward the higher earnings thresholds, saying the thresholds had not changed since the mid-1990s.
"We are glad the government has listened but we are disappointed they had to push something back," NUS president David Barrow said.
"It is bad news for thousands of students who must now spend an extra
18 months in student poverty."
The government's youth allowance package, while budget-neutral, has been praised for targeting money to the most needy students, with about 100,000 set to benefit.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010 7:58 PM
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