The Union of Students in Ireland is calling on Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar, to change the BTEA (Back to Education Allowance) restriction to allow more single parents to progress to third level education, like Erica Fleming, a homeless mother-of-one who was offered a place in Trinity College via the Trinity Access Programme, but who was rejected for BTEA, which she needs to attend college.
USI said while the SUSI grants help so many families, and the BTEA is a vital resource for mature learners, the stark truth is that any rules that allow clearly deserving people like Erica Fleming to slip through the net are insufficient.
“The whole point of the Back to Education Allowance is to help people out of poverty and further their prospects, but they can’t commit to education if they can’t access the funding.” Jack Leahy, USI Deputy President, said. “USI fully supports Erica’s call for the Minister to urgently revise the BTEA guidelines to support single parents like her who wish to improve their lives and the lives of their children. Students often burn out while balancing jobs, study, and exams. Having to do all of this as well as raising children is incredibly difficult and it’s absolutely vital that supports are available to single parents. Erica’s case exposes a clear deficiency in policy arising from what we have always maintained was an ill-considered cut to lone parent supports in 2015.”
USI has emphasised that education is a passport to a better future and that government investment in Erica, and people like her, will be hugely beneficial to the economy long-term by giving the opportunity to lone parents to go back to education, further their careers with third level degrees, and pay more back into the system with higher taxes. USI also stressed that education is the biggest asset for people from disadvantaged socio economic backgrounds because it’s the only thing that permanently breaks poverty traps.
“As a lone parent, opportunities like this never come along.” Erica Fleming said. “The opportunity to go to college and fulfil my dream of becoming a social worker was never in my sights until May of this year. I am asking Minister Leo Varadkar to please look at the policies brought in last year by Joan Burton and reverse them. Lone parents deserve the chance to try and get themselves out of poverty traps. If we’re never given the opportunity then we have no way of standing on our own two feet and we will never move away from relying on the state for financial assistance. We, as lone parents, need to lead by example for our children, for the next generation and prove to them that they can succeed in life.”