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Back to Education Allowance

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 24 March 2021

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Questions (987)

Catherine Connolly


987. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Social Protection the analysis her Department has carried out into the temporary expansion of the back to education scheme for the duration of Covid-19 restrictions or the development of a similar temporary scheme to include persons currently being paid reduced wages through the employment wage subsidy scheme to facilitate them returning to third-level education in September 2021; the engagement she has had with the Ministers for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and Finance in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14672/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) second chance education opportunities scheme is for jobseekers, lone parents and people with disabilities who would like to undertake a full-time education course at second or third level.  The main focus of the BTEA is to assist eligible individuals who are not in employment to improve their educational qualifications and increase their prospects of gaining employment.  My Department has a provision of €96.5m in supports under the BTEA for 2021.  This represents a considerable investment in supporting participants to acquire the necessary education and skills to re-enter the labour market. 

As an exceptional measure, this scheme was extended as part of the July Stimulus in response to Covid-19 whereby the qualification period for Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) recipients is waived.  This was discussed and agreed by all Government members, including the Minster for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and the Minister for Finance.

This measure provides that those who lost their employment during the pandemic have immediate access to a range of educational options.  There are in excess of 6,000 students in receipt of the BTEA for the 2020/2021 academic year.  Almost 600 of these received PUP at some stage prior to transitioning to the BTEA.  In order to avail of continued financial support while pursuing a full-time course, a person in receipt of PUP is required to apply for a jobseeker payment.  The BTEA is payable at the jobseekers rate while they are in education and continue to have an entitlement to the payment.

Policy in relation the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) is a matter for my colleague the Minister for Finance.  Individuals who are being paid reduced wages where their employer is in receipt of the EWSS are in employment and would not eligible for the BTEA supports available for unemployed individuals.  The conditions under which the BTEA operate are designed to ensure that they address the objective of supporting welfare recipients into employment.

The Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) grant payable by the Department of Further and Higher Education research innovation and science represents the primary support for persons pursuing education, including those currently in employment. 

I hope that this clarifies the position for you.