'Back to Education' payments double as jobless rate soars
SPENDING on social welfare payments for people returning to education has almost doubled in the past two years due to spiralling unemployment.
The Department of Social Protection announced yesterday that it would be allocating €198m to fund the Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) scheme for the up-coming academic year. This compares to just over €107m in 2009 and almost €180m last year.
The number of people applying for the scheme surged by a fifth last year as more people opted out of the dole queues and back into the classroom with just over 25,000 qualifying. This figure is expected to rise again this year.
Aontas, the national adult learning organisation, said it welcomed the additional funding. However, its head of organisational development Jacinta Cuthbert said a decision made in 2010 to exclude those in receipt of the allowance from also qualifying for the maintenance grant was causing "serious problems" for people.
The BTEA scheme allows people on certain social welfare benefits -- such as jobseekers, lone parents and the disabled -- to return to education to improve their skills or qualifications while still receiving state support.
They are paid a weekly allowance, equivalent to the maximum standard rate of the social welfare benefit they are on, while they study an approved full-time course at either second or third level.
They also receive an annual allowance of €500 at the start of the academic year to help off-set the costs of studying.
Announcing an extra €18m for the scheme this year, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton said it would help those on social welfare payments to enhance their employment prospects.
Applicants must be in receipt of a relevant social welfare payment for three months if they want to study a second-level course, rising to nine months for a third-level course.
However, those on illness benefit must have been in receipt of it for two years to qualify.