11th July 2019
AONTAS, the National Adult Learning Organisation, strongly opposes the decision to scrap the rehabilitative training (RT) allowance, worth €31.80 a week per student, for new entrants which was announced this week by the Health Service Executive (HSE). AONTAS calls for a full reinstatement of this allowance which is an essential financial support that contributes to increasing participation in lifelong learning.
The allowance is designed to support people with disabilities to develop life, social and basic work skills so that further education and training, and employment options are more accessible to them. Scrapping the payment is a regressive step and contrary to a common view that all of society benefits when we move towards greater educational equality.
With stark inequalities in lifelong learning participation in Ireland revealed in the CSO’s Adult Education Survey 20017, the focus should be on widening participation to ensure a more inclusive society.
Barriers to Participation
Adult learners tell us that their basic needs must be met before they are in a position to engage in learning opportunities. The recent Adult Education Survey 2017 published by the CSO revealed that significant obstacles exist preventing adults from accessing education including the affordability of courses, the cost of travel, age and health. The results included:
Supports for Adult Learning Are an Investment, Not a Cost
Financial cost was also revealed as a critical factor impacting on a person’s ability to engage in adult learning, therefore we believe this small investment of €31.80 per student per week supports those who are most educationally disadvantaged to access courses.
According to our members who work with people with disabilities including the National Learning Network (NLN), who provide training and specialist supports, “This small allowance facilitates people with disabilities to pay for travel and basic subsistence to attend training courses that can be far from their homes.”
Response to HSE Comments
Some comments made by the HSE, quoted in an Irish Independent article in relation to this decision, are a cause for concern and require further explanation. According to a HSE spokesperson, the decision to scrap the allowance, “will bring equity to all persons attending HSE-funded adult day services and will be in line with mainstream vocational training services". It is difficult to see how this claim can be made in relation to the removal of a support allowance for vulnerable learners, and AONTAS believes there is a need for further investigation of the potentially damaging impact on this group of learners.
The Value of Adult Learning for Health and Wellbeing
AONTAS and our members believe that education occurs throughout our lives and includes formal, non-formal and informal learning. There is much evidence on the links between lifelong learning and health outcomes including the Healthy Wealthy and Wise report, published by the UK based Learning and Work Institute, as well as the 3rd Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE) report.
AONTAS welcomed the issue being raised by Kathleen Funchion TD at the Private Members’ Business Dail debate on 9th July 2019; see https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/oireachtas-tv/video-archive/dail-videos/2746 at 6:02:18. We hope this decision is reversed and we encourage our members to highlight the inequalities of scrapping this financial support.
For more information on this issue contact AONTAS CEO Niamh O'Reilly at firstname.lastname@example.org