Wednesday 26 October 2016

Varadkar claims Erica's welfare row will put parents off college

Student Erica Fleming Picture: Tony Gavin
Student Erica Fleming Picture: Tony Gavin

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar has said he is "delighted" that homeless campaigner Erica Fleming has been accepted onto the Trinity Access Programme at his old stomping ground.

Commenting on Ms Fleming's high-profile case for the first time after she was refused a back-to-education allowance, Mr Varadkar said he and his department would support her on the programme.

The comments came just hours after the minister issued a statement in which he hit out at a "high-profile individual" for distributing "inaccurate information" which he claimed would put other lone parents off going back to education.

"On a personal level I am delighted that Erica has been accepted to the Trinity Access Programme and given the opportunity to study where I did," he said.

"She can be assured of my department's support while she is on the programme and in the years ahead."

Mr Varadkar's comments come after weeks of controversy following Ms Fleming's claim that she was declined a back-to-education allowance because she did not qualify.

When Ms Fleming was accepted to Trinity's Access Programme, she applied for the allowance. However, because she works part-time she was refused. She had appealed to Mr Varadkar and his office to help her achieve her dream.

Minister Varadkar yesterday hit out at the publicity surrounding the case in a statement from the Department of Social Protection.

He did not name Erica in the statement, and only referred to "a high-profile individual case".

"I am concerned that a lot of inaccurate information has recently entered the public domain due to a high- profile individual case that might cause lone parents to pass up educational opportunities in the mistaken belief that there are no supports available to them," he said.


In the lengthy statement, he said that the back-to-education allowance existed for those whose main income came from social welfare.

He said that those on family income supplement did not qualify as the system would be "wide open to abuse".

"It would not be possible to allow anyone who wanted to give up their job to attend college and immediately receive a social welfare payment of €188 per week from the State."

He clarified that lone parents can receive support from the jobseeker's transition payment, which allows lone parents to receive €188 per week while attending college.

They also receive an extra €29.80 per week per child under this payment, as well as child benefit. He said that after nine months of being on that payment, the lone parent can qualify for a back-to-education allowance.

"I think any fair-minded person will agree that this is a considerable level of support from the taxpayer. It is much more than is available to the average student or family."

Erica Fleming declined to comment on Mr Varadkar's statement when she was contacted yesterday by The Herald.

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