29/04/2015 15:06 BST | Updated 29/06/2015 06:59 BST

#InMyShoes: Is a Young Person's Future Worth £30 a Week?

When I was 14, I had a plan. I was going to get all A* and A grades at GCSE level, progress to a great sixth form and eventually end up at Oxbridge studying English Literature. It seemed like it was well within reach, I was in the Gifted and Talented group at my high school and felt supported.

When I was 15, everything changed. I had been suffering at the hands of my abusive father for my whole life, but eventually it came to the point where I couldn't take it anymore. I ran away from home and my carefully orchestrated plan was thrown into disrepute. Suddenly, my grade predictions didn't look as bright as they once had. I was briefly homeless. Against the odds, I made it into sixth form, but dropped out due to poor attendance. The sad reason behind this was that I couldn't afford the bus fare. This happened with the second sixth form too, despite being halfway through a free bus pass application.

Now I was 17, on "special circumstance" Job Seekers Allowance with no prospects for the future. How had it all gone so wrong? The Job Centre told me that I had to "look for work, but don't worry, no-one expects you to get a job at 17 anyway."

I could have completely dropped off the grid. I could have ended up dealing drugs or stealing. However, I had a lifeline.


If you've never heard of this particular scheme, the full name was Education Maintenance Allowance. I realised that I could claim £50 a week worth of Income Support and £30 a week from EMA, so I'd be much better off and I could go to college! I signed up for a Performing Arts BTEC (at a college within walking distance - no bus fare issues this time round) and it was almost perfect. That £30 was the difference between me eating food that week or not. I won't lie, the few times that EMA didn't go through for one reason or another; I would sit in the College office crying as my stomach ate itself. Once, I went to the Job Centre to beg for help. I cried, telling them I had no family support - but they couldn't do anything for me. I was filled with so much shame, I never went back to ask for help again.

However, this story has a happy ending. I got through college. I applied for university, and successfully enrolled on a course in Journalism. Three years later, I walked across the stage and shook the hand of my Vice Chancellor after securing a 2:1 degree. Not only that, I'd been democratically elected into the position of Vice-President at my Students' Union. As I write this, I've been re-elected as President and my term comes to an end in July. However, my future is looking bright (if I can find a job, but an unpaid internship rant would take another blog post).

So, since EMA was snatched away a couple of years ago, how many young people like me have fallen through the cracks? If I was born a few years later, I reckon I'd still be on Job Seekers with a couple of GCSEs and no ambition. That £30 a week changed everything. Certain politicians may sit there and say "oh, well £30 isn't helping anyone. That wouldn't even buy me a meal deal at a London café." Well you know what; I'm living proof that it means everything.

I'm proud of where I've come from, and hopefully where I'm going. When I can afford to, I hope to support young people with my own finances. But surely, as the sixth richest country in the world, we should be doing that already?

Part of the BBC initiative, #InMyShoes for @InMyUK. Join the conversation on Twitter, watch more of our videos on YouTube and find us on Facebook.

Mel Ramsay is a BBC Generation 2015 contributor. Her views are entirely her own.