This week Irish media and TCD President Kieran McNulty have called on the Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar, to revoke the Government’s recent reforms to the Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) and the Family Income Allowance for ‘One-Parent Families’.
Incoming students from single parent families are being restricted from joining third level education courses such as Trinity’s Access Programme (TAP) and equivalent programmes in other Irish colleges because of this. Erica Fleming has been the subject of national news headlines covering this issue, and of President McNulty’s letter to the Minister Leo Varadkar. Along with 25 other incoming Trinity students, Ms Fleming’s place on the TAP course has been jeopardised by these reforms.
She is a single parent mother of a daughter (Emily). Ms Fleming up until a year ago was homeless and housed in a Dublin hotel under the Family Income support. She applied to Trinity and worked part-time for the last year to supplement her social welfare and prepare for this. However because her daughter is now over seven years old, that she has worked part-time and is a single parent receiving accommodation support, Ms Fleming has not only been rendered ineligible for BTEA but has incurred cuts to her Family Income Allowance Aid. Recent changes announced this summer have delayed Ms Fleming from receiving her BTEA for another nine months because she worked part-time this year, and as her daughter is now over seven 2013 reforms also make Ms Fleming ineligible for the ‘One-Parent Family’ allowance.
As Trinity’s 17,000 students are gear up for the upcoming 2016/2017 year, these reforms (designed by the previous Government and secured by the incoming coalition) have collectively jeopardised Ms Fleming’s opportunity and ‘access’ to the Trinity Access Programme this September – a foundation course established to support the academic aspirations of individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
TCDSU President Kieran McNulty wrote an open letter this week to Minister Varadkar arguing that there is “no discernible logic to this denial. It was a thoughtless cut which harms those who are trying to access education, to make a positive change, both to their lives and for society. The cut cannot open up enough revenue for the State to justify it. On this basis, I would like to request that this loophole is closed and that Erica, and the many others in similar situations, are not barred from attending the university in which I work. On behalf of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union and the 17,000 students we represent, we would like to ask for this to be changed as soon as possible”.
He also outlined the tragic irony that in simply working to support her family she is raising in a hotel, Ms Fleming has disadvantaged herself under Government legislation.
Open access to third-level education and career initiatives need to be protected. If cutting social welfare only prolongs society’s dependence on this instead of movement to fulfil or even consider their own aspirations, this is completely illogical.
Hopefully moves by Irish media, the USI and TCDSU will secure Government reforms before September to protect the places of these incoming students like Ms Fleming. If not, these reforms along with Trinity’s internal cuts to the TAP program, will deepen social inequality and obstructions to social mobility within Trinity College alone.