University of Limerick
Martin J Power PhD Thesis.pdf (3.85 MB)

"Crossing the Sahara without water": A critical analysis of the macro and micro-level dynamics of persistent class inequality in the Back To Education Allowance Welfare to Education Programme.

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posted on 2022-09-12, 13:20 authored by Martin PowerMartin Power
This thesis elaborates a critical empirical and theoretical exposition of the impact of the Irish welfare to education programme, the Back to Education Allowance, on classbased exclusion. In doing so, it contributes to a broader understanding of dynamics of welfare to education programmes in the era of the post-welfare state. It adopts a strong ‘structural’ position, which sees the source of social exclusion as lying in the structured inequality of the labour market and the state (Morris 1994, p.80). It rejects arguments that social exclusion can be addressed by promoting policy that adopts a weak ‘cultural’ position (Morris 1994, p.80), ultimately blaming the excluded for their own misfortune. The thesis proposes the provision of education, and 3rd level education in particular, as a key means of addressing social exclusion. Education is theoretically situated in terms of its relationship with the economy and broader state policy, which has (ultimately) resulted in the commodification of education (Mulderrig, 2003). The education system controls levels of social mobility (Drudy and Lynch 1993, p.26) and by extension I argue that education can affect social exclusion. However the education system as it stands at present serves as a means to reproduce society’s inequalities The thesis situates the Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) in its macro level (global) context. It examines the system of welfare provision that exists in Ireland and how that system emerged. It locates the emergence of Neoliberalism as the dominant political discourse in the 1980s, before focusing on how the construction of status beliefs and the ‘New Right’ ideology of personal responsibility have justified the rolling back of the welfare state and the promotion of welfare to work over welfare to education programmes in western societies. In doing so, the thesis argues that welfare recipients have been constructed as the ‘undeserving’ poor. It is held that this construction, which is part of a Neoliberal project to retract the welfare state, has offered a justification for the short-term approach which this thesis finds is being adopted in relation to the BTEA. This thesis finds that initiatives to facilitate access to 3rd level education for welfare recipients (on a macro level) are restricted in scope and substantially modified in practice (on a micro level) as a result of the dynamics of interactions between welfare recipients and welfare officers, interactions which are lent great significance by the administrative nature of the BTEA. It has been found that BTEA participants require certain levels of cultural and / or social capital to overcome obstacles created by the DSFA and accordingly those who are most distant from the labour market, and who possess less capital, are considerably less likely to be able to access the BTEA. The thesis concludes by highlighting the positive impact of participation in the BTEA upon participants’ class situation, economic capital and levels of cultural capital. The latter is in turn used to acquire more sustainable and secure employment, offering welfare recipients the tools to combat their own social exclusion and potentially that of their children. However, I find that the effectiveness of the BTEA in addressing more than individual exclusion is limited by the requirement for cultural and social capital in order to negotiate the system and access the benefits it can offer. This finding informs an evaluation of the state response to the BTEA as minimalist; the documented lack of will to maximize the BTEA’s potential is held to be reinforced by dominant Neoliberal ideologies.



  • Doctoral

First supervisor

Haynes, Amanda



Other Funding information

Kilkenny County Council, Programme University Industry Interface



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