Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for giving me the opportunity to raise this matter which is of great importance to parents and students in the lower income brackets. As of now, education grants are paid at the maximum level to students in families of at least two children with a gross income of up to £10,700 and in families with three children, with a gross income of up to £11,595. Taking into account tax deductions, PRSI and so on, these are relatively low incomes. The maximum grant is £1,409 which does not represent 50 per cent of the cost of keeping a student in third level education.
On 1 June, 74,000 students will go on holidays for a minimum of 12 weeks — in the case of universities, for approximately 16 weeks. Up to 12,000 students will seek holiday work in the USA and on the Continent and it is uncertain how many can hope to secure employment in Ireland. However, it is certain that a substantial number will apply for unemployment assistance. It is most unjust to assess a student's grant as income in relation to such an application.
A large number of parents whose only income is social welfare are severely handicapped by this regulation as they are not capable of providing money to their children during the holiday period. It must be recognised that these people make a tremendous sacrifice to keep their children in third level education. To avoid hardship in 1992 it is absolutely necessary that the Minister make regulations or amend existing regulations to exempt school grants from assessment so that students who are unable to emigrate or to get employment at home are treated on the same basis as other unemployed people.
To apply, as a basis of income, the maximum grant would reduce the unemployment assistance of any such applicants by approximately £25 per week. Having regard to the inadequacy even of the maximum allowance of £50 per week, it is unacceptable that £25 a week will be taken from the allowance, taking into account also that in the overwhelming majority of cases these students will be resident with their parents in respect of which a further reduction will be made. I appeal to the Minister to consider this matter. Parents have approached me who have been seeking, for a number of months, employment opportunities for their children in third level education but without success. They are extremely concerned that should their children not succeed in finding a job, which in a certain number of cases will be the position, any social assistance they will get will be dramatically reduced. This is an injustice to the student and the parent. As I outlined earlier, it is only parents in very low income brackets, including many on social welfare, to whom education grants are paid as a small contribution at least to ensuring some element of equality in education. I urgently appeal to the Minister, before the start of the 1992 school holiday season, to implement regulations to give justifiable rights to these students.