A homeless mum has appealed to Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar to change rules that bar her from getting a support payment that would help her secure a brighter future for herself and her daughter.
Erica Fleming has been living in a hotel with daughter Emily for the last 14 months. Their story was told on the My Homeless Family programme on RTÉ TV last year.
However, after getting the news in May that she had been accepted onto the Trinity Access Programme at Trinity College Dublin, Ms Fleming is now devastated to learn she will not get the welfare payment that would have supported her while she studied.
“I work from eight to two, that’s college time, so I can’t go to college and live on air. I have to be able to feed my child,” she said.
Fleming told the Ryan Tubridy Show on RTÉ Radio One about her upset at not being able to pave a way out of dependency on social welfare assistance.
“My plan was to break the mould with Emily and get her into college. I never thought that it was going to happen to me,” she said.
However, she received a letter from the Department of Social Protection last week explaining that the Family Income Supplement (FIS) to which she was switched last year is not a qualifying payment for the Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) that she had applied for. The move to a different payment was a result of changes from 2013 that moved many lone parents off the One-Parent Family Payment, which is one of more than a dozen that an applicant must be receiving to qualify for the BTEA.
“As a lone parent, I want to be able to make more money so I don’t have to rely on anybody,” said Ms Fleming. “I want to be able to stand on may own two feet.
“So by them investing in me now, or another lone parent in the same situation, they are going to reap the benefits because when I do eventually get a degree, we’re going to get better jobs which we’ll therefore pay more tax so they will get it back off us.”
Appealing directly to Mr Varadkar, she asked him to look at the policy, saying it prevents lone parents from going to third level.
“I’m asking him to change it for everybody, not just for me; to look at it and see the logic of sending us back to third-level education to give us that opportunity to prove that we can get out of poverty,” said Ms Fleming. That’s what I’m asking him and I’m asking him to do it today.”
The Department of Social Protection said it does not comment on individual cases. However, a spokeswoman said State support for third-level education continues to be available for lone parents who transition to FIS when their youngest child turns seven and this has not changed as a result of the reforms to the One-Parent Family Payment.
“The mechanism for providing this support for lone parents who move to FIS is the SUSI grant,” said the spokeswoman. “This option potentially provides a higher level of support than would be provided on BTEA and at minimum provides the same support so on that basis there has been no effective change for lone parents in this regard.”
However, it is understood that students on the programme to which Ms Fleming has been accepted are not eligible for college grants from SUSI which are available to those on other third-level programmes.
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