Tuesday 16 July 2019

'The government needs to take this seriously' – Charity calls for reforms after homeless mum refused education allowance

Erica Fleming and daughter Emily (9) in Trinity College. Photo: Tony Gavin
Erica Fleming and daughter Emily (9) in Trinity College. Photo: Tony Gavin

Meadhbh McGrath

One of Ireland’s leading organisations for one-parent families has called for changes to government policy after a homeless single mother was refused the Back to Education Allowance.

Erica Fleming (30) was admitted to Trinity College Dublin through the Trinity Access Programme, and was due to begin in September.

Ms Fleming and her nine-year-old daughter Emily have been homeless for a year and have been living in hotel rooms.

The single mother has been working part-time and was told she was unable to qualify for the grant, which would have required her to be unemployed for 234 days.

Karen Kiernan, director of One Family, told RTE Radio One’s Morning Ireland that government departments need to work together to create “integrated services and policies” for single parent families.

“There’s a lot of problems with the system and (…) it’s certainly not easy for someone to navigate,” she said on Tuesday.

“A lot of government policy is saying, ‘look, we want parents to move off social welfare, we want parents to get education, to get good jobs’, but they haven’t put in the services or any kind of pathway for education.”

The organisation has been campaigning for the reforms for many years, particularly after the cuts to social welfare payments for single parents in the 2012 Budget.

Ms Kiernan said that although they had received a response from government about some “very small strategic things”, they are still awaiting action on a broader plan.

“In terms of an integrated, strategic plan in terms of how to help people who are parenting on their own and relying on social welfare to move out of that, no we haven’t (had any response to our calls for change).

“That requires government departments to work together, it requires investment and it requires strategic thinking.”

When asked what policy changes they would like to see, Ms Kiernan said: “We need to have more flexibility around education payments, we need to have people who are on one-parent family payment or jobseekers transition be allowed stay in education for longer, we need the rent supplement issues sorted out, but ultimately, big picture, we need a strategy here.

“We need the government to take this seriously and put a plan in place and to stop the barriers that are there for people who really want to work and want education.”

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