Brennan promises education review

 

The Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Mr Brennan, said he was well disposed to reducing the qualifying period for the back-to-education allowance from 12 to nine months.

He promised the Opposition he would examine the situation and would report back within weeks and with a "clear decision" on the allowance, which would cost €2.4 million to change.

Mr Brennan was speaking at the end of the debate on the Social Welfare Bill, which gives effect to all the measures in the Budget, and which was passed by 67 votes to 40.

The allowance is aimed at the long-term unemployed to encourage them into third-level education. To qualify for the allowance, an individual has to be unemployed for 12 months. It had been six months, but was increased to 15 by the previous Minister because of claims of widespread abuse of the scheme by "education tourists" from other EU countries.

Mr Brennan said of the back-to-education allowance: "I like this scheme and I am determined that it will survive and do the job it was intended to do."

He had already reduced the qualification period to 12 months, which is the definition of long-term unemployment.

Fine Gael's disability spokesman, Mr David Stanton called for the Minister to reduce the time-frame to six months and said the best way to help people improve their lot was through education. The allowance was a "sure winner" in helping people to stand independently rather than depend on the State.

Labour's social and community affairs spokesman, Mr Willie Penrose said they would accept a reduction to nine months and that €2.4 million was "small beer".

Mr Finian McGrath (Ind, Dublin North-Central) recalled attending a party for a former pupil who had graduated from college. Some 450 people from the north inner-city attended.

"That drove home to me the importance of third-level education because he was the only person in the area who had gone to college and gained a degree."

Mr Seán Crowe (SF, Dublin South West) asked for statistics on the numbers of people from other EU countries who abused the scheme, because he had never heard of people abusing it.