An allowance given to young people from poorer homes to help them stay in education has fallen by £1.6 million in a year, new figures indicate.
The Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) is for people aged 16-19 from lower income households to overcome financial barriers to them staying in school, college or undertaking an activity agreement.
New Scottish Government figures show a total of £23 million was handed out in 2017/18, down from £24.6 million in 2017/18.
Average individual payments over the year increased by £11 to £788 in the same period.
A total of 29,135 teenagers were given the allowance in 2017/18, down 2,540 (8%) from the previous year.
The proportion of teenagers from Scotland’s most deprived areas given the allowance rose slightly from 36.8% in 2016/17 to 37.2% the following year, but the number of recipients in these areas fell by 805 to 10,810.
Most payments went to school pupils (64%) with colleges taking 31% and activity agreements making up 5%.
Just over a quarter (27%) of Scotland’s school pupils aged 16 or over were given at least one payment, as were 31% of full-time college students aged 16-19.
The EMA scheme is entitlement and demand led, and payments are administered by local authorities and colleges on behalf of Scottish Ministers.
Education Secretary John Swinney said: “No young person should feel disadvantaged by deciding to stay in school or continue on to college.
“Education Maintenance Allowance provides welcome financial assistance to young people and their families, making the decision to stay in education easier.
“EMA is one of the measures available to offer financial support, alongside college bursaries, for example.
“It is particularly encouraging to see that this year the proportion of young people receiving EMA from our most deprived areas has continued to increase and is now up eight percentage points since 2006/07 to reach 37% of overall recipients of EMA.
He added: “EMA is a demand-led programme and an entitlement in Scotland.
“The decrease in this year’s numbers can be attributed to a number
of contributing factors, including a smaller population of young people; the broadening of learning and training opportunities through Developing the Young Workforce; and more attractive bursary packages available to learners in college.”
Scottish Green education spokesman Ross Greer said: “Despite the government’s smoke and mirrors, the number of young people receiving EMA has gone down by over 2,500, whilst child poverty itself has risen.
“What John Swinney didn’t mention in his statement is that two thirds of children in poverty don’t live in deprived postcodes, so whilst supporting those communities is important, it misses the overwhelming majority of young people living in poverty and in need of support.”
He said the expansion of a scheme to maximise family income supported by the Greens would make a “huge difference” once fully rolled out across Scotland.
Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray said:”With more and more young people now staying on at school, it is vital that all who are entitled to EMA are receiving it.”