Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection

Eligibility for Employment Activation Measures: Discussion

11:10 am

Mr. John McKeon:

In fact, the figures show that many emigrants have come back. There was some information in our youth guarantee plan. I will find the reference and send it to the Chairman. It set out that the number is quite small and the European Union has recognised that the situation in Ireland is not the same. In many other member states, one must work before one can claim any jobseeker payment. In France, unless one has worked, one will never be measured as a young person who is unemployed. In Ireland, one can claim jobseeker's allowance immediately. Unless one's family income is in excess of €100,000, one will be able to claim some element of payment. Most young people can get on the live register. There are no plans to change the credit situations of people who have never worked or that people who do not come straight out of school or college will get it.

I might respond to a couple of other matters.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh raised the issue of linking the claim of the qualified adult to a subsequent claim. We do not have a difficulty with that in principle but we need to look at the administrative and regulation aspects. This issue has been raised with us before. As I said, we do not make allowances for people on other schemes that would not strictly speaking be live register schemes. The principle is already established. We need to look at the practicalities of regulatory, legal or whatever other issues we might need to get through to make it happen.

I will talk about some of the other issues that have been raised, for example, using the live register as the mechanism to access supports. The issue there is that most people on a social welfare payment, as I said my opening payment, can get access to the supports. The issue is the employment service at the Intreo level. Purely by weight of numbers, we must prioritise people who are coming in, signing on and declaring them jobseekers in terms of access to the Intreo centre service. Where there is capacity in the Intreo centres, we will deal with other people. The other thing we must be cognisant of is that it is a condition of jobseekers' payments that they genuinely and actively seek work. Again in terms of prioritising resourcing, we must respond to that as the State and say that we are obliging them to do something and must help them to do it. Some of the other cohorts mentioned do not have that obligation. In the first instance, we must prioritise those who have the obligation.

To the extent that there is capacity in the system, people on disability and carer's payments will get access to the Intreo service. On the local employment service, one-third of its capacity is reserved for what it calls "walk ins" - people on non-jobseeker payments walking in as opposed to people referred by the Department - so that capacity is there.

Claims splitting is a difficult issue. There are cultural issues in terms of claims splitting. One of the issues is that when someone splits a claim, they are declaring that they are now a jobseeker. Again in line with the Government policy of rights and responsibilities, if a person declares that he or she is a jobseeker and claims a payment on that basis, we would require him or her to stand up to that declaration by participating in activation schemes and in that case, it would be non-voluntary just as it is for jobseekers. There are important issues there and many qualified adults were not working prior to their partner becoming unemployed. It means them changing their status and for a variety of reasons such as no longer being the caregiver or homemaker, they want to be treated as a jobseeker. One can get into cultural norms and so on. It means that when they make that declaration, they must then respect their obligations. The Department has no issue with that. It is perfectly happy to take people splitting claims once they accept that they then have an obligation to engage with the Intreo centre, to take a referral and to move on to community employment or Tús if they are so referred. This is not what many people want, which is the difference between the voluntary and obligation and obligation versus opportunity. It reflects where we are. I know Dr. Murphy mentioned that when we were at the peak of the economic boom, there was a greater shift towards moving away but we must recognise that circumstances have changed. The infrastructure we are putting in place with Intreo, which of its nature must deal with people on the live register, will be available in time as conditions improve. That is something we have committed to look at as part of Pathways to Work this year to see what might be available. We must all accept the reality. There are 390,000 people on the live register and we are obliging them to look for work. The Department must focus our services and the €1.4 billion we spend on those people first and foremost.