Erica’s Education





From top: Gary Gannon; and Erica Fleming; Bill Tormey’s most recent tweet; Gary Gannon.

Erica Fleming, who secured a place at Trinity College while homeless, has been told she  is ineligible for the back-to-education allowance (BTEA).

Gary Gannon writes:

I often talk about the importance of education in my life. I am from a post code where less than 21% of the population have a third level degree so it isn’t difficult to measure the advantage my degree has giving me over many of my childhood friends who haven’t been so fortunate in this regard.

I am approaching thirty. I currently have two jobs which I enjoy and my rent is always on time.
It wasn’t education alone which changed my life though. There is a secret to university life that is known only to those of us privileged enough to have benefittd from it.

That secret is that for many people, the hardest thing about university is actually being accepted into one.

My life changed drastically on the very morning that I was granted a place on the Trinity Access Programme (TAP). It changed my identity; it altered the aspiration I possessed for my own future and it immediately enhanced my earning potential.

Very briefly, TAP is a pre-university year that provides an alternative means of entry into Ireland’s most prestigious university for students who come from socio- economic groups who aren’t strongly represented in higher education.

Erica Fleming is both a friend and a person I have the utmost admiration for. Having witnessed first-hand the affect that single room living can have on the mental health of those forced into this existence, I am constantly amazed at Erica’s strength in being able to stand and so passionately hold our system to account.

I met Erica in late February of this year. By that time she had already spent a considerable amount of time in single room accommodation with her daughter Emily.

She was organising a demonstration to bring further attention to the issue and was requesting any advice that I could offer in this regard. I was useless on the topic of protest but we got to speaking about our lives and I shared with Erica my story of Trinity and how access to education had radically altered my life’s course.

Erica spoke of how strongly she desired for her daughter Emily to go to college and I was surprised that somebody as obviously intelligent as Erica wasn’t considering university as a path that was in anyway open to herself.

I strongly encouraged Erica to apply for TAP as I was then as I am now convinced that she would thrive in such an environment.It took a little persuasion but Erica did indeed apply for the Trinity Access Programme and it was little surprise to me that she was accepted on to the course for this forthcoming academic year.

I miscalculated though and I was somewhat ignorant to the fact that the impediments to Erica entering college were much more pronounced than those which faced me previously. I had no children, a part-time job which funded my social life and I lived at home at the time.

This week the department of social protection saw fit to deny Erica’s application for Back to Education Allowance on the grounds that she was not in receipt of the appropriate payment from the department.

This decision is a consequence of Labour’s ‘activation’ reforms. Erica works part-time and as her daughter Emily is over the age of seven, she was moved from the One Parent Family payment to the more restrictive Family Income Supplement.

As you will imagine, Erica did not take this decision lying down and was once again this week being held up as the physical embodiment of poor government policies which are impacting so negatively upon the lives of real people.

Erica terrifies the establishment in this country as she does not fit neatly into their trite understanding of what a person of low-income looks, acts or sounds like.

As Erica has held a looking glass up the woefully ineffective policies of this State, she has of course had to endure quite considerable abuse not only from the conventional trolls of the online world but also from public figures who seem disjointed by Erica’s audacity in challenging them.

I watched in disbelief some time back as a former government appointed Senator not long out of office attempted to smear Erica by claiming that she was a ‘homeless campaigner’ who had in brackets, ‘turned down offers of help’.

It was one of the most egregious acts of smear that I have witnessed from a person who has held high public office towards a citizen of the State and as yet, that former representative has failed to elaborate upon or divulge her source of information in making this claim.

Former Fine Gael Councillor Bill Tormey was a lot more conventional in his abuse of Erica. In classic right wing fashion, the good doctor Tormey tweeted “How many taxpayers are needed to pay for this Fleming woman weekly” in response to Erica’s call for Minister Varadker to provide a common sense solution to these nonsensical policies of his predecessor.

In those statements, Dr Tormey captured perfectly the  ignorance of those who have long since used education as a means of locking in their privilege.

Erica has gone on record to explain that she saw university as her way of escaping poverty and even a crude calculation of that ambition can highlight the flaw in Bill Tormey’s ignorance and Joan Burton’s ‘activation’ policies.

If she was to accept her place in Trinity, it is Erica’s intention to pursue a four year degree in Social Studies while availing of a Back to Education Allowance of E219 euro a week.

Over a four year period, this payment would come to a total of E45,552.

The starting salary for a qualified Social Worker in Ireland is E43,000 per annum according to grad Ireland. At current rates of taxation, Erica would contribute E8,068 per year in taxes from her first year as a professional social worker.

The entire cost of Erica’s education to the State would be repaid within a period of nine years.

The thorough tragedy of Erica’s situation is that she is just a single example of a policy which will in the next couple of weeks prove to bar hundreds of young women and men from gaining the possibility of entry into our education system.

Bill Tormey and his ilk rarely raise their head when tax payers’ money is being wasted to the tune of some E46 Million per year on hotel accommodation for homeless families in our State while measures such as providing security of tenure against ever-increasing rent hikes or the building of social housing were ignored throughout the period of austerity.

It all comes down to who Bill and those who have written policy over the last couple of years have saw fit to place their trust in.

Providing greater access to education and investing in those who are seeking to escape poverty would reap considerable payback for the State.

We must seek to eradicate bad policies that have saw fit double down on the intersectional inequalities that are crushing real people in Ireland today.

Education shouldn’t be a tool by which people like me can be held up as an example of what others may aspire to when the reality is that this is not at all the case.

Erica Fleming is once again championing this cause but as with her campaign on homelessness, she is merely embodying the frustration of the thousands of people in similar situations to her who are experiencing the effects of poor policy formation from this disabling State.

Gary Gannon is a Social Democrats Councillor on Dublin City Counicil for Dublin’s North Inner City. Gar’s column appears here every Friday before lunch. Follow Gary on Twitter: @1garygannon

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83 thoughts on “Erica’s Education

    1. Sam

      The article says her tuition fees will be paid back within 9 years. Thats if she doesnt have another kid,decide to leave the country, or any other variable.

  1. Paul

    Great story Gary, everything should be done to educate anyone who wants it. There are so many impediments it’s hard to believe. It’s so true that the more educated we are the more we can do for ourselves and the less handouts we need. Fair play to you for highlighting this plight.

    1. Kieran NYC

      This should be obvious to everyone, but it’s not.

      No coincidence that the economy picked up after free third level education was introduced.

          1. Martina

            Yep all the people she worked with were too. Breezed in between 9.30 and 10 every morning, left at 4.30 and half day every Friday. As I said overpaid and underworked.

          2. Clampers Outside!

            @Martina…. My friend’s a Social Worker…. she was like someone had a stress bomb go off yesterday after spending three days with a full time / regular client, for whom all involved in the case, were on suicide watch.

            Certainly not the stress I’d want to be bringing home from work.

            Does my anecdote beat yours or how does this work…. or maybe, let’s drop the anecdotes altogether.

          3. DaithiG

            Well from my experience with having gone out with a social worker in the past, they all have ridiculously large feet and all shave their pubic regions.

  2. Holden MaGroin

    “the advantage my degree has giving me over many”

    Goddamn it Gary. You’re very hot though. So I forgive you.

  3. Holden MaGroin

    “who have written policy over the last couple of years have saw fit to place their trust in.

    “that have saw fit double down on the intersectional inequalities”

    Double Goddamn it Gary! Call me though. Mwah.

    1. Harry Molloy

      Rules are rules and, to be an optimist, I’ll assume they’re usually put in place for the right reasons and with the best intentions.

      Every organisation needs policy and procedure or else all you have is chaos.

      But any good P&P should also have an exceptions procedure for cases like this to be referred to and following that, a change control board to deem if an amendment should be made to the overall P&P following the exception.

      I would hope such a mechanism is in place in this instance. If not, the minister needs to instruct his department to get on it.

      In my opinion.

  4. Anomanomanom

    Sorry but Bollox. I worked with erica in dunnes a good few years ago. She was in college then while working, so where is story of why that didnt work? Or how/why she’s a single “homeless” parent. And you seriously think a piece of paper gives you a starting wage of nearly 50k. Thats a starting point in nearly all places once you have experience. I could tell you alot about what I know but all il say again is Bollox

    1. Holden MaGroin

      Perhaps it did work? How do you know it didn’t? Perhaps she had to leave college early, maybe she didn’t like it, maybe she was sick? Maybe she couldn’t get a job in the area she qualified for?

      Why did you put homeless in inverted commas?

      Your attempted character assassination is not very nice.

      1. Ned Flanders

        There’s some lovely young man out there who has sired this child and currently contributes nothing to its upkeep. Why isn’t he being pursued for cash?

        In some countries, failure to maintain child support results in fines, sentences, even suspension of one’s driving licence. In Ireland, women have babies “for” knackbags, as it it’s some kind of service.

        This woman is trying to better herself and has the lead weight of having to maintain the child alone around her neck.

      2. Anomanomanom

        I think you know why the ” ” is there. Like the fake homeless stats people keep throwing out, black and white me thinks not.

    2. curmudegeon

      I have to go agree, so much absolute non sense in this case. Everyone is falling over themselves to gush about how “brave” she is, there is no critical thinking applied lest you appear as the bad guy. All the talk of how she will go to college and better society as a whole, any politician have a glance of the CV to see has she followed through on that before. And I’m sorry but having gone to college and meeting many future social workers the thought of paying them 50k is outrageous.

        1. MoyestWithExcitement

          And the aul ‘I’m the smartest person here because I’m taking a different position to everyone else’ method of stroking one’s fragile ego.

      1. Nigel

        Probably because you’re aiming your so-called critical thinking at an ordinary flawed human being rather than at a flawed if not dysfunctional system that’s supposed to be serving human beings, however flawed. If you were really any good as a critical thinker, you’d have thought of that, critically.

      2. nellyb

        Working or non-working single mothers ARE brave. Your quotation marks belong to your thinking process. Tool.

        1. Anomanomanom

          Why are they brave. Any single PARENT not just mothers are not brave to work. Life does not owe you a living. My mother worked to keep me fed and housed, everyone needs help I know that but don’t have a child and then moan that you have to work.

          1. Neilo

            You can spend your life on the scratcher here and the slack will always be taken up by those with a taxable income. (Not directed at Ms Fleming, who shows zeal for learning).

    1. MoyestWithExcitement

      The back to education allowance very much does help. That linked report is very ambiguous. “Education programme”? You’re probably not going to get a good job from a 1 year diploma. You have, however, a much better chance of getting a good job if you have a degree.

      The stat on people who didn’t qualify for the allowance also doesn’t tell the whole story. What jobs are these people getting? I might be in my late 20s and have spent the decade jumping between retail jobs. I might decide I want to break that cycle, escape relative poverty and be, I dunno, an engineer, which would require me to go back to college for 3 or 4 years. If I don’t get the allowance, I might be in a position where I simply cannot afford to go to college so I decide to get a job as a cashier because I still need to pay the rent and buy food for my kid.

      Instead of learning how to be an engineer and possibly refine some ideas in my head that could help business/society, I’m helping you to try on shoes in the Ilac centre. Is that really a good thing for society?

    1. Joe Small

      Bill is the real movie-type villain here. No one would defend him and he’s a useful Establishment character for Gary to paint his picture of beauty and the Beast. Stories are rarely ever so straightforwardly black and white. Its mostly a variable shade of nuanced grey but that doesn’t fit Gary’s narrative. Establishment=bad, Plucky single mother underdog=good.

      1. Nigel

        Actually, since the slightest shade of grey in any story can easily provoke a disproportionate and often destructive negative backlash, there’s something to be said for keeping it straightforward. It’s stupid, but people require individuals like Erica to be spotless. People will hunt for anything remotely negative about her to tear her down and prove she isn’t deserving. People shouldn’t have to qualify for sainthood to get an education. People shouldn’t suffer insinuations that they’re scheming devils because a dysfunctional system requires them to be championed as underdogs to do something constructive and beneficial. Bill Twomey, on the other hand, didn’t have to be invented. he showed up all on his own.

  5. Fact Checker

    She is in part-time employment and therefore not entitled to Back to Education Allowance (BTEA). Paradoxically if she was NOT in employment she WOULD automatically qualify!

    The issue is in part how easy it is to qualify for BTEA if unemployed, and that you can often take long degrees in subjects that don’t improve your employability. The ESRI research (carried out for DSP who pay for it) showed that. I am sure that there are many very worthy recipients of BTEA. But I know a few people who have ‘gamed’ it with a spell of unemployment first to cover a long degree. Short version: BTEA is not a very clever or efficient way of subsidizing education.

    HOWEVER, third-level education is a private and public good and everyone should have a chance if they are able for it. I would favour a system of public support whereby EVERYONE is entitled to one shot at an undergraduate education (at whatever age) in life.

    Finally, raising a child while single and homeless is something I am lucky enough never to have experienced. People should take on board their own good fortune before casting rocks in this lady’s direction.

    1. MoyestWithExcitement

      “I am sure that there are many very worthy recipients of BTEA. But I know a few people who have ‘gamed’ it with a spell of unemployment first to cover a long degree.”

      Yet again, a personal anecdote to validate your assertion. “Fact Checker”. What a joke.

      1. Joe Small

        Fact Checker is using an anecdote to illustrate an ESRI report’s findings. Is that a problem? Have you a Trump-like issue with facts and scientific methodologies?!

        1. MoyestWithExcitement

          The ERSI found that “few people who have ‘gamed’ it with a spell of unemployment first to cover a long degree.”? Really? Are you sure?

      2. Fact Checker

        Here is what I mean.

        Someone in my extended family left school early, had kids early, worked hard and found himself at 50 with grown-up kids, a job paying an average wage and a mortgage paid off.

        He wanted to get a third-level qualification which he had never had the chance to take. He took a redundancy package and stayed unemployed for six months. He then qualified for four-year arts degree which he thoroughly enjoyed and excelled at.

        He is now in a job which pays more or less what his job before his degree did.

        Do I morally resent what he did? Not in the slightest. Unlike me he never had the privilege of a taxpayer funding his way through education at age 18. I am really glad for him that he had the chance to do it and took it. Like I said, EVERYBODY should have this chance if they are academically able.

        Do I think the system as designed is easy to game? Yes. Do I think that it fails at its stated objective of improving labour market outcomes for participants? Probably, the ESRI study says on average that it does fail.

        Education is a good thing and should be subsidised, but like everything else, it is not free to provide and we always have to think about how well it is being rationed.

        1. MoyestWithExcitement

          “He wanted to get a third-level qualification which he had never had the chance to take. He took a redundancy package and stayed unemployed for six months.”

          The rules state you must be unemployed to get the allowance. Is that his fault? Should someone working the tills in Tesco be denied the chance to get a better life because they’ve not been on the dole for the last 6 months?

          “Do I morally resent what he did? Not in the slightest.”

          Really? Lets look at what you said again “I am sure that there are many very worthy recipients of BTEA. But I know a few people who have ‘gamed’ it with a spell of unemployment first to cover a long degree.” So you are sure many cases are worthwhile BUT you know of some who GAMED the system. And you don’t resent him “in the slightest”? To be honest, it sounds like you’re making this up as you go.

          “Do I think the system as designed is easy to game?”

          Your issue seems to be all about people going on the dole for 6 months to qualify. If people could get it straight away, you’d be in favour of it then, right?

          “Do I think that it fails at its stated objective of improving labour market outcomes for participants?”

          Making sure someone has money for food while they study doesn’t harm their employment prospects. That is such an incredible interpretation I don’t even know where to start.

          “Education is a good thing and should be subsidised, but like everything else, it is not free to provide”

          Roads and educated employees aren’t free either so I assume you’re for an increase in taxes for business owners, yeah?

        2. BobbyJ

          You need to be unemployed for 9 months to qualify for BTEA (Degree course), 3 months unemployed for BTEA (PLC course).

        1. MoyestWithExcitement

          Good God. Clearly you are kneejerking and haven’t actually considered any of the words you looked at. Go troll someone else.

          1. MoyestWithExcitement

            Calm down and go outside then. Don’t pick a row with someone and start crying when you get it.

          2. MoyestWithExcitement

            And then he started reading your angry, sneering posts and lost his faith in people.

  6. Steve

    All very good stuff. Happy to pay my taxes/increase taxes to make sure anybody in this state who wants 3rd level education can do it and be financially supported at the same time, irrespective of family/economic, citizenship status. As long as they are willing to return to favour upon completion of education and contribute the same to society.

    But Gary come on its been two weeks, between yourself and Anne-Marie, can one of ye give us the goss on your man heffernan!! We’re dying to know!!’

    1. Harry Molloy


      social mobility through education was the making of this country, long may it continue

  7. Shallowthroat

    Jaysus you’d think Gary Gannon would have informed Erica Fleming of the changes in BTEA before her recommended she made the application.

    Speaking in May 2016 she said “she had been encouraged to apply for the university’s access programme by Social Democrats councillor Gary Gannon”

  8. Junkface

    Erica should be commended and awarded for her achievements, not blocked access to the BTE allowance! That’s crazy! Motivated, hard workers should get what they need.

  9. Stephen

    She would probably make a good social worker too.
    As for the comment at the top, I have worked along side social workers in various hospitals and community health services for the past six years and from my front line point of view social workers are generally operating in under staffed departments, over worked and hold a stressful amount of responsibility.
    For the record the starting salary is 34k

    1. ahjayzis

      Christ Clampers, you’re really tending toward the UKIP side of the fence these days.

      Her personal history is irrelevant – if a heroin addicted junkie with a host of convictions can get the BTE due to being unemployed and living with their parents – please tell me why a single mum, homeless, cannot also get that chance?

      The fupping arrogance and moral superiority of it all. You’d rather keep her poor and dependent on welfare for longer because you don’t think she deserves a chance to improve her life which would cost the statre less in the long term in any event? Is it because she’s an unmarried mother? Is she too uppity and not grateful enough for the scraps we already throw her?

      Unbelievably callous, ideological bullsh1t

  10. Tish Mahorey

    Bill tormey is just another ‘poor’ hating Fine Gaeler. The utter contempt FG show towards the very people they cut services for since entering government is disgusting. Shameful lack of decency in that party. Self serving elitists.

  11. Water Boy

    She would not have been entitled to €219 per week on the old scheme as payments would have been capped at what she was receiving working part time most likely closer to about €150 per week, you would not support 2 people on that amount of money.

    But lets look at what someone earning €300 a week could actually secure under the old regime

    Old regime
    Earnings €300 per week
    Maintenance €80 per week
    Lone parents allowance €51
    FIS €48 per week €48
    Total €479 per week

    New regime with one child
    Wages €300
    Maintenance €80 per week
    Family income supplement €79
    Total €459 per week with earnings likely to increase as wage growth is back

    These sums are not subject to income tax, USC or any other form of deduction, should a person have received only wages and was subject to income tax on all this is what they would need to earn
    New regime €28,200
    Old regime €29,650
    These are hardly ungenerous payments to people and it does highlight the point that if people in full time employment are denied something there is complete silence but if someone in receipt of welfare payments are denied something there is a huge wall of noise that results from particular quarters.

      1. Water Boy

        I have a problem when people are getting a lot of state support then trying to play the victim.

        There is a much wider issue and that is people who are working but earning little enough to qualify for FIS not having the opportunity to move forward, it affects cohabiting couples a lot more than lone parents with parental support as the income top ups are exactly the same for 2 parents as they are for lone parents and clearly 2 will consume more than one parent.

  12. Tommy

    How come there is no follow up to this? You were happy to knock out for posts about this con but why so quiet now?

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