The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) is calling on the government to reinstate the Jobseekers’ Allowance for under-26s to the maximum adult rate at today’s pre-budget forum in Dublin Castle. USI is proposing that the government invests €81.2m in social welfare for Under-26s, ensuring that young people are able to access Jobseekers’ Allowance at the same rate as those over age 26.
USI Vice-President for Equality, Aisling Cusack, and Vice-President for Campaigns, Michelle Byrne, lobbied Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty personally on the issue this morning, among other calls for higher education funding.
Speaking to Trinity News, Cusack explained that for USI, “ensuring that our voice is heard in this forum is part of our wider Budget 2019 campaign”. Byrne and Cusack are attending workshops on “Supporting Sustainable Employment and Pathways to Work” and “Income Inadequacy and Social Inclusion”.
In a pre-budget submission published last month, USI recommended that the government invest in publicly funded education for all by reducing the Student Contribution Charge and removing Apprenticeship fees. It also called for the government to allocate €14.9m towards increasing grant allocation through Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI).
USI’s pre-budget submission also recommended that the government invest €50m in supporting student teachers during placements and €2m in restoring the grant for student teachers’ mandatory Gaeltacht attendance. A USI report earlier this year found that the 89% of current student teachers believed the Gaeltacht fee, which amounts to €1,500 across two trips, to be too high.
In previous years, a €637 grant was given towards the cost of what was then a three-week Gaeltacht placement. A 2014 estimate from the Department of Education suggested that reinstatement of the grant would cost around €1m.
USI also called for the government to invest €40m in postgraduate student grants, citing that the government must recognise a growing postgraduate student community in Ireland.
Supporting mental health was a key issue in USI’s pre-budget submission. It proposes that €55m is used to address the mental health crisis and €3m is invested in mental health counselling on third-level campuses to reduce the strain on existing services.
In February, 80 Trinity students were on the waiting list for a counselling appointment with the Student Counselling Service (SCS). This marked an increase of 66% since the previous October, when 48 students were waiting on their first counselling appointment with SCS. Former Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) Welfare Officer Damien McClean said the service was “under-resourced” and “understaffed”.
In order for the government to generate revenue, USI advised the government to introduce a “Latte Levy” on single use cups, which it estimates would generate €40m per annum. It also suggested that the government develop a Carbon Tax to protect the environment.
Today’s forum, hosted by Regina Doherty, allowed organisations to share ideas on how spending should be allocated in Budget 2019. Approximately fifty organisations were in attendance. In addition to USI, young people were represented by the national Youth Council of Ireland and Comhairle na nÓg.
Minister of State with special responsibility for disabilities, Finian McGrath, was also in attendance. The forum was moderated by journalist Sinead Ryan.