Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 14 January 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection
Jobless Households: NESC, ICTU and INOU
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Increased unemployment levels have been one of the most damaging impacts of the economic crisis and the recession. The impact of unemployment at both an individual and household level is felt where no one is working or has limited access to work. While there has been a decrease in unemployment in recent times, there is still a significant issue with household joblessness. We will discuss this issue, with the findings of the report by the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, in June 2014, Jobless Households: An Exploration of the Issues.
To assist the committee in this regard, I welcome Dr. Helen Johnston, senior policy analyst, NESC; Dr. Peter Rigney, industrial officer, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU; Ms Bríd O’Brien and Mr. Robert Lynch, Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed, INOU. I invite Dr. Johnston to make her opening statement.
Dr. Helen Johnston:
Unemployment is one of the most devastating impacts of the economic crisis. While the focus of unemployment tends to be on individuals, there is a related concern, namely, the impact on households where no one is working or has very limited access to work. It is very different for an unemployed person to be living in a household in which others are employed as opposed to living in one in which no one works. There is a need to address the issue of household joblessness for the households themselves, especially in terms of the future of their children, to reduce poverty, for the productive capacity of the economy, for the common good and societal well-being.
Jobless households are defined in two ways. One is based on working adults living in a household in which no one is at work, using the Central Statistic Office’s labour force survey. The other is based on low work intensity where a household is considered jobless if the total time in work in the past year by all working-age adults, excluding students, is less than 20% of their working time using the Central Statistic Office’s survey of income and living conditions, SILC.
On both measures, Ireland has an above average share of the adult population in jobless households. In 2012 the labour force survey showed Ireland had a 16% share of jobless households compared to an EU average of 11%, while the 2011 SILC showed that nearly one quarter of households in Ireland were described as jobless, twice the EU-15 average. A particular feature of Ireland’s jobless households is the likelihood that they contain children.
There was a sharp increase in the number of jobless households in Ireland following the economic crash in 2008.
This increase has been attributed to a combination of factors. These factors include the increase in unemployment, changes in household structure and other characteristics such as having a disability or caring responsibilities. In Ireland jobless adults are less likely to live with at least one working adult than in many other European countries. The working patterns in couple households have changed in that there has been a decline in what are described as traditional male breadwinner households, in other words, one-earner households. At the same time, there has been an increase in dual-earner households and a growth in households where neither partner is at work.
The complexity of jobless households is reflected in their composition. Children make up nearly one third of people living in jobless households, while those who are officially described as unemployed make up a further one fifth of those living in such households. A further 18% of people in jobless households are people who are in home duties, while 12% are sick or disabled persons and 13% are students aged over 16 years or adults who are otherwise inactive in the labour market. Those who live in jobless households are more likely to have no educational qualifications, have never worked or be in the unskilled social class. They are also more likely to be parenting alone, have a disability or live with someone with a disability.
Why does Ireland have such a high rate of household joblessness? The various explanations put forward to explain the causes of household joblessness can be summarised as follows. The first reason is the operation of the tax and welfare system, which can result in disincentives and traps for those trying to make the transition from welfare to work. A further reason is the state of the labour market, in which there is a lack of jobs or a mismatch between education, training and skills and available jobs. The characteristics of jobless households, which may make it more difficult to access jobs, are a further reason. Such characteristics include lone parenthood, disability, caring responsibilities and low levels of skills and education.
A number of responses have been made to address the problem of unemployment, if not specifically household joblessness. They include the Pathways to Work programme, the Action Plan for Jobs and the work of the advisory group on tax and social welfare. Notable reforms include the transformation of both the public employment system and education and training services and the reconfiguration of the one-parent family payment. Given the diversity of household joblessness, however, the issue will not be resolved through single solutions but through packages that reflect the complexity of jobless households and their needs. This means the emphasis on participation and activation must extend beyond those who are on the live register.
Responses should include the provision of more tailored services that respond to people's needs and circumstances. This will require connectivity and co-operation between service providers at the local and national levels, an understanding of the issues and the provision of appropriate supports at local level. Some degree of devolution and flexibility may be required within an overall framework of accountability. The National Economic and Social Council is planning further research to explore these issues and identify solutions to address them.
Dr. Peter Rigney:
The concept of workless households has come to us courtesy of Europe and EUROSTAT. It is a metric on which Ireland does not perform particularly well in an international context, for reasons which are not entirely clear but which are pointed to in a recent report from the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI. There is some confusion and overlap between workless households and what are described as very low work intensity households.
ICTU cautions against devising policy measures which focus exclusively on workless households. A recent ESRI study shows that very low work intensity households are inextricably linked with the problem of working poor.
In our view there are two priority areas in tackling this: long-term unemployment and NEETs, which are young people who are not in education, employment or training.
In 2009, the proportion living in low-work intensity households, including workless ones, varied from 26% in Ireland, far larger than in any other EU country, and over 16% in both Belgium and the UK, to 7% in Sweden and just 6% in Cyprus. It is worth noting that according to a recent Dutch study the proportion of those living in very low-work intensity households who had an income from work in Ireland was 1.2% in 2006 but had risen spectacularly to 20% by 2009. In the same year the comparative figure for EU 12 was 12.7%.
Those in very low-work intensity, VLWI, households have a more disadvantaged educational and social class profile, which means that a larger human capital investment will be needed to enable them to take an active part in the labour force. In addition, they are more likely to be lone parents or to have a larger number of children. Child care and its costs are a key issue in addressing labour market participation in workless and VLWI households.
A Swedish man and his Irish wife decided to move to Sweden because they felt Ireland was not going to work out for them. The most immediate thing they noticed was that their child care costs went from €800 per month down to €80 a month. Ireland is therefore an outlier and if we want to address participation in the workplace by women that issue has to be addressed.
There are many similarities between the risk factors of being an adult in a jobless household and long-term unemployment. Profiling models indicate that the risk of long-term unemployment is greater for those with low levels of education, larger numbers of children and for older age groups. In addition, unemployed men who have a spouse in employment are less likely to become long-term unemployed. That 2009 research was carried out by Philip O’Connell late of the ESRI and now of the Geary Institute.
If access to active labour market programmes was allocated on the basis of the probability of becoming or remaining long-term unemployed, this would already go some of the way towards targeting resources towards adults in jobless households.
The ESRI goes on to makes the following observation about jobless households:
Personal life-course decisions on living arrangements and family formation, on the other hand, are less amenable to policy intervention. However, designing policies requires an understanding of the full range of factors that are important, even if not all of them are amenable to policy intervention.
I do not fully know what that means but perhaps the Oireachtas has a translation service which could get that translated.
There is no quick or easy solution to this new problem which Europe has brought to our attention. The high level in Ireland is linked to a mix of factors, of which the following are prominent. The first is the cost of child care. Ireland is one of the costliest countries in the EU for child care. This will tend to lock women – especially those who are lone parents - out of the labour market.
The second factor is household means testing. People on low incomes will be less likely to take risks. If the perceived best way of protecting household income is through having the same social welfare status as the rest of the household, people will react in an economically rational way and will stay where they are. There was an illustration of this two Christmases ago. The system of dealing with people in economically precarious positions should have been taken as a guarantee, particularly pre-2007.
The third factor is access to job information. We are suffering here from the weakness of our public employment service – now being addressed in Intreo. However we are also reaping the long-term effects of policies on public housing specifically the infamous surrender grant of the 1980s, which cleared much public housing of most of those who worked.
In other words, as much information on jobs is provided by word of mouth through friends, neighbours and family, this means the chances of a person living in a workless estate receiving information on jobs is concomitantly less.
In the view of congress, the new emphasis on joblessness and very low work intensity, VLWI, households is welcome and should direct us towards further action in what are, in our view, three priority areas, namely, long-term unemployment, young people not in employment, education or training, NEETs and the cost of child care and the possibility of support for this cost being targeted at VLWI households.
Ms Bríd O'Brien:
I thank the committee for the invitation to appear before it today to discuss the issue of jobless households. Like the previous two speakers, the INOU views jobless households as consisting of young and older people who are long-term unemployed. The issue of long-term unemployment among older people is one often raised with the INOU. Many people in this category have a disability, are parenting alone or are working in piecemeal, part-time or low work intensity jobs. In terms of the many issues facing these people, access to adequate income is a critical one. A variety of research has highlighted the importance of social transfers in addressing the poverty that many households experiencing joblessness face. Another critical issue is reliance on public services, including community services. In rural areas, lack of transport is a critical issue. Accurate and timely information on jobs and supports provided through the social system is also critical, as illustrated in some of the points made earlier by Dr. Rigney. A lack of access to sustainable and decent employment is another issue. This is particularly striking in areas outside of urban areas. This point was made to us by affiliates living in rural areas in the context of our preparation of this submission. Outside of certain sectors there is a lack of decent employment. Another issue is that of mismatch, in that many people do not have the skill-sets or experience required for particular jobs. Also, the cost of participation is particularly high, especially for people with disabilities and those with caring responsibilities. There is a need for a strong commitment to meeting the social targets set by the State.
In terms of adequate income, social protection is critical to many households struggling with the issue of joblessness. Accurate and timely information, particularly for those moving from social payments to employment and vice versa, when employment comes to a natural end or does not work out, is a critical issue and an area in which great improvement is needed. An issue that many unemployed people and many of our affiliates have raised with us is the need for constructive and respectful engagement so that people do not have to seek information and are treated in a manner that will facilitate them in making the journey from welfare to work. In terms of the recession, the perception of people who are without work and how these issues are discussed in the public arena can have particularly negative implications for people and can impact on them and their daily lives. As stated by previous speakers, for many people work is not always, unfortunately, a route out of poverty because much of that work is only part time or piecemeal. A recent example is that of a gentleman from a small rural town in a particular county who found work in a larger town in the next county but for whom the cost of getting to work was prohibitive, particularly because of the hours offered to him. That is a huge issue.
The quality of work is critical. The cycle of welfare and low pay and the precarious nature of much of the available work is a particular issue for those living in households struggling with the issue of joblessness.
Alongside this, we have an increasingly flexible and piecemeal labour market and a social welfare system that increasingly insists on people making a choice either to be on welfare or to work when, in fact, they need the supports necessary to manage the two. We would love to see everyone having full-time, decent work. We are conscious that for many of those who are long-term unemployed, have a disability, are parenting alone or caring for other relatives accessing full-time work, if it was available, would be an issue, but that should be the goal we set for ourselves.
Persons who are living in jobless households tend to live in poorer communities, where people are reliant on public services or local community organisations. The recession has had a huge impact on the provision of many services, particularly by community organisations. Intreo and Pathways to Work are not open to everybody of working age but only to those in receipt of a jobseeker's payment. This throws up issues for persons who are unemployed and not in receipt of a payment, for those who are parenting alone and for people in receipt of a disability payment.
There are strong links between housing tenure and joblessness. The housing crisis also impacts on jobless households. If one lives in an area in which there is little or no work available and is aware of an area in which there is work on offer, one may not be able to move because one would be moving from a secure to a very insecure housing tenure. The lack of affordable transport presents particular issues for those living in rural areas and those with a disability.
In terms of what we would like to see in increasing access to employment for people living in jobless households, there is a need for supports for them to re-skill and re-educate, as there are strong links between educational and employment status.
One issue that was brought to our attention by affiliates working in the local employment service was that the mediator fund which had been part of the service since its foundation was no longer as flexible as it had been and that there was an increasing focus on participants making a contribution. The local employment service had always asked people to do this, but it had always ensured it took place in a way they could afford. They are concerned that the rules that have been introduced will make accessing some of the supports very difficult for households with little or no income. The public employment service which is to be rolled out by the State through Intreo needs to be open to everybody of working age. Joblessness is closely linked with the issues of exclusion and discrimination in the labour market. Even at the height of the era of full employment, there were geographical communities, communities of interest and ethnic communities in which the level of unemployment remained very high. I refer to particular urban and rural areas in which there are issues of class, people are struggling with issues of disability and groups such as the Traveller community which experience huge exclusion within the labour market. The issue of employment outside large urban areas must be addressed. Attention must be given to overcoming barriers to participation such as child care costs and accessible transport, smoothing the path from welfare to work and the need to work with employers to ensure they will give serious consideration to employing people on the live register, people with a disability and others living in jobless households.
In terms of social targets, if we are serious about having a more equitable and inclusive society, we need integrated policies. We must ensure policies right across government are assessed from a social inequality perspective, that social inclusion, equality and human rights principles are built into policy design, roll-out and delivery and subsequent monitoring and evaluation. Within the revision of the national poverty target set in 2012, there was a sub-target to reduce the level of poverty facing jobless households. To meet these targets, we need policies that are integrated and serious about addressing social exclusion and discrimination. We had jobless households at the height of the Celtic tiger. However, the levels have increased as a result of the very serious job losses we experienced, but if we do not get to the heart of the structural issues underpinning them, we will leave many people behind when the economy starts to take off.
I thank the witnesses for their concise presentations. It is a topic that does not allow itself to be very concise because there are so many issues involved. As Ms O'Brien just said, even at the height of the Celtic tiger there were jobless families, so it is not a new phenomenon and we never managed to fully address it, even when there was additional money in the coffers. One of the key things for me is how to make work pay. Part of that is addressing low pay, job displacement and zero-hour contracts. It is not in our gift as members of the joint committee to address all of this. There was a report that highlighted two groups in receipt of social welfare who, if they went back to work, could end up with less money and in deepened poverty. Those groups are one-parent families and families with quite a number of children. Part of the problem was that they would lose their benefits. Some of the transitional arrangements were cut back by this Government and lately some of those cuts have been reversed in acknowledgement that they were wrong. What transitional arrangements are required to make it easier for jobless families taking up work?
I usually speak on social protection, but the other part is education. What additional educational supports can be put in place to break the cycle? It is accepted that education is a vehicle for getting out of poverty. In my own area, I met a number of school principals in Ballyfermot last year who were concerned about cuts to the Traveller education project. They could see that the days of young people staying out of school were returning very quickly. They felt that when there had been investment in Traveller teachers and extra supports, a pathway had been set for a group which was very marginalised and often very poor. If that was identifiable, I presume the same can be said about the families discussed in the three presentations today. What are the additional supports? What framework do we need to put in place now to ensure that as the economy grows in the future, supports will be in place so that if we have the supposed 100% employment - which never really happens - it will also benefit jobless families, especially those that have been jobless for a number of generations?
I agree with Deputy Ó Snodaigh. It is very difficult to be specific because it is so huge and so complex. Dr. Johnston mentioned that we need employment to reduce poverty for the productive capacity of the economy and for the common good and societal well being. I would also add in number four there, for personal value. I think that is terribly important. Paragraph four of Dr. Johnston's presentation states, "the working patterns in couple households have changed in that there has been a decline in 'traditional male breadwinner' households". That is accepted. "At the same time, there has been an increase in dual earner households and a growth in households where neither partner is at work." I am very confused. Could she tell me what is the increase and decrease there? What are the statistics?
Dr. Johnston also told us that the operation of the tax and welfare system plays a huge part and she talks about disincentives. Will she outline them specifically?
Dr. Rigney's paper was excellent and I thank him very much for it. Will he outline or does he have any way of outlining what he considers to be low quality jobs? What does this all mean? Will someone tell us what is meant by that? He asks this question, and I remember Ms O'Brien coming in here in 2011 and giving a very good paper on supporting unemployed people. I ask Ms O'Brien if anything has changed. I understand that 2008 was a disaster; we all understand that. We are now in 2015. Is the incantation, if one wishes to call it that, still the same? What has changed? Is there no sustainable unemployment? Are there no opportunities? What has the Department of Social Protection been doing in education, through Intreo, Gateway, Springboard and the education and training boards, ETBs? Have any inroads been made? I wish to find out what is the other side of the actual semi-depression I am listening to that is happening to people.
It was said that a job will not necessarily get a person out of poverty. Can that be elaborated on? Tell us about quality jobs and any changes in 2015, 2014 and late 2013-2014. Have any inroads been made into tackling this enormous, evident and wearing problem? I know these questions are a bit disparate, but I wish to lock into what each of the witnesses said.
I thank the witnesses for coming in today and compliment them on the work that all three agencies do. My first question is for the National Economic and Social Council, NESC. Dr. Johnston talks about disability with respect to joblessness. I am looking for a definition of what she describes as disabled. Are we talking about those who are educationally disabled, medically disabled or is it a mix of both?
We talk about a mismatch of skills. Typically, when a large employer leaves an area and there is a mismatch of skills, who is responsible for matching the skills up? I am trying to come to terms with this. Is it for the IDA or a local enterprise scheme to bring in industries that meet the skills that are already there or does Dr. Johnston see a role for ETBs and SOLAS, if one wants to start a skills transition programme, to be immediately activated? For example, if an IT industry pulls out of an area and there is a chance of bringing in chemical industries or some other one, should training programmes be put in place? It strikes me, having come from the ETB sector, that there is not enough cross-departmental co-operation or discussion between the IDA, for example, local enterprise schemes, the ETBs and SOLAS. We tend to operate within our own little areas.
It is good to see Dr. Peter Rigney here. On the ICTU side and on the issue of the minimum wage, as he and I well know, the zero-hours contract has become the poison in Irish employment. We talk about the minimum wage and how it can influence someone's decision to take up work on offer. He referred to the rural issue - Ms O'Brien made the same point - where someone in one town may have an opportunity of getting a job in another town but the cost of commuting renders that job useless. That can be said of getting a job in west Galway city as against living in north Galway city or living in north Dublin and being offered a job in south Dublin. All of these things are relative, if one wants, to the individual. When we look at someone being offered a job, should we be offering some sort of discounted travel to entice him or her?
On the issue of child care, some of the State-run crèches have closed in recent times, including in particular the ETB-run facilities. I spend my time trying to figure out why this happens. Reference was made to the Swedish example of charging €80 per month for the crèche system, compared to €800 per month here. This would probably work out cheaper and crèches might be located beside the local national or secondary school, thereby permitting a one-stop drop-off for children. Issues that are of concern for me include transport, education and the role of the ETBs and SOLAS.
The issue of Traveller education was raised. I had the privilege of visiting Traveller training centres around Dublin over a two-year period. I was stunned by the level of work and commitment demonstrated by students in those centres. Closing them down was the most regressive step ever taken in this country. I do not intend to genderise the matter but typically these centres were attended by the mothers who lived on the sites where they were located. As I recall from my own youth, if Mammy is into education, it is likely that the kids will follow. I recall being told that the boys tended to attend training until the age of 16 or 17 years, at which point they withdrew. An issue probably arises in regard to how we engage with them.
In regard to upskilling and bringing people back to education, only €200 was provided to meet the cost of returning to further education. That is only the tip of the iceberg. I taught in Dún Laoghaire, where the €200 charge was only part of the issue because the cost of course material was more than €1,000. How do we help people to manage that?
I ask the witnesses to comment on the specifics of the labour activation measures, including Gateway, Tús and JobBridge, and to give their opinion of the success or otherwise of those measures in terms of their impact on unemployment. Our strategy has changed in recent years by moving away from merely issuing cheques to providing a more respectful service by engaging with people and establishing Intreo offices and other labour activation measures. Rightly or wrongly, there is a perception that a cohort of people just do not want to work irrespective of what is done for them. Many employers feel frustrated at being unable to recruit people for jobs that offer reasonable pay. We can debate what constitutes good pay but many employers are frustrated by the difficulties they encounter filling positions. They have interviewed people but were told it does not pay the individuals concerned to work. Do the witnesses believe that a cohort of people just do not want to work and, if so, are they exploring a solution to that issue?
Dr. Helen Johnston:
Deputy Ó Snodaigh made the point that we had the issue even during the boom before the crash, and I agree. We had not fully resolved the situation. For people who were unemployed, in general there were jobs available and pathways into work. However, for people with issues such as child care or disability the necessary supports for them to move back into employment were inadequate in some areas. A case worker approach was taken to try to move those people on when the crash came. Although Intreo is trying to move to this model, the volume of people requiring such supports has meant it has been very difficult to move the people furthest from the labour market back into it. The fact that the people with very long-term issues are there with people who have lost their jobs more recently is adding to the complexity, as all the issues must be addressed.
On the transitional arrangements, a number of actions could be taken. One that has been found to work is the retention of some social welfare payments for a period of time while people move from welfare into work. As a number of speakers mentioned, there is a risk in moving from the security of a social welfare payment that may come with a medical card and a housing supplement. If one loses those payments as one moves into work, perhaps in a temporary, low-paid job, people may be unwilling to take the risk, for the good of their families. Supports can be kept in place for a period of time, during which a person may be able to get better, more full-time work, and transition into a more permanent position. This has happened before. People have retained part of their payments or their medical cards for a certain period of time.
I have been doing some more detailed work in Blanchardstown and in a rural area of north County Meath, talking to people who provide educational supports. There are many issues around basic literacy and English language for people who are not Irish nationals. Often, the educational supports are at a level with which they may be unable to cope. They may need very basic levels of training at level one to progress to level two or level three. Often, people are put into level three and are unable to cope. In some households, particularly where young people may have had very little structure to their day, the expectation that they will turn up every morning at 9 a.m. may need to be addressed. A comment was made about the need to consider personal value. Perhaps I did not spell out the issue of personal value and confidence, which needs to be addressed in some areas. It is not a simple solution but is a combination of personal development and capacity building along with a range of different educational supports starting from a very basic level before progressing to more advanced levels, and the retention of some payments as people make the transition.
Deputy O'Donnell's point-----
Dr. Helen Johnston:
I do not have specific statistics on one-earner couples compared to two-earner or no-earner households. However, in the report I produced for NESC there was a reference to work done at European level, because this is an international, European phenomenon, not just an Irish phenomenon. In general, because of the reduction in gender barriers, in many households in which there are children, both parents work.
Increasingly, this is necessary to be able to pay mortgages, child care and so on and in consequence, there is that trend. However, for some households with low levels of skill, poor work histories and so on, it can be quite difficult to get jobs and there then is a tendency for jobless households, as well as for dual-earner households. Whereas previously the majority were single-earner households, they are migrating towards the dual-earner model but in some cases, there also has been a growth in no-earner households. This also relates to some studies that have been done on, for example, marriage and partnering behaviour in which those most likely to be jobless are more likely to find a partner who also may be in a similar situation because of the social networks in which people move and so on. It is a complex phenomenon.
Dr. Helen Johnston:
However, my point is this is not simply an Irish phenomenon, it is also an international phenomenon.
As for obstacles in the tax and welfare system, I have mentioned a number of them already. For example, people in receipt of social welfare and who avail of the medical card lose the medical card when they take up a job. People may be in receipt of a housing supplement but lose it when they take up a job. A further example involves people in receipt of jobseeker's benefit who then move from that onto jobseeker's allowance, which is means tested. If such people have means or if their partner is working, they may not get that payment, which then disbars them from participating in a number of different jobseeker or employment support schemes. There are several disincentives and they may also lose their child-----
Dr. Helen Johnston:
One pertains to the disability issue. My understanding is that it is medically defined so that people are unable to work because they are in receipt of a disability payment. While this is not to say they cannot work without supports, obviously one then needs employers who are willing to take on people with disabilities, to provide adequate supports and so on. This is an ongoing challenge, particularly at present, in a time of high unemployment, where more people are available to work than there are jobs available. This challenge must be addressed. Moreover, one can look at other countries in which those supports are in place and where people with disabilities are well able to work. However, that has not happened to the same extent here.
In respect of a mismatch of skills and who was responsible, clearly Senator Craughwell answered the question himself in that both are responsible. The education and training boards, SOLAS and education and skills providers must consider the jobs that will be available in a particular area and should ensure there is training and education available to take up those jobs. On the other side however, there also is an onus on employers where they are being located as to what kind of jobs are being provided and where there must be linkages between them, which has not always been the case to the extent one might wish. I believe I have probably answered most of the questions.
Dr. Peter Rigney:
I will try to deal with a number of the themes. The first point to make is this is deep-seated and its causes go back over the lifetimes of a number of Governments. From the point of view of the Oireachtas, it is probably best dealt with by a committee with a tradition of cross-party working, rather in the Chamber where there is a more adversarial tradition. One question one must ask oneself is why did we go through the boom years with such a high proportion of people not working? If one reads a National Economic and Social Council, NESC, report, what jumps out and hits one is that when the boom hit, a high number of people were depending on social welfare. One almost must go through this deliberatively, in a no-blame way to ask how did we get to that point. That leads me to the question as to what interventions work or what interventions should be in place.
The interventions that work are the ones that have been evaluated and that we can prove work. As the original agenda was to evaluate them, an EU evaluation unit, the ESF evaluation unit, was set up. Then we grew up and got plenty of money and told those in Brussels to go and take a running jump. We disbanded the evaluation culture, never mind disbanding the unit. The people involved in it were sorted out elsewhere. While we stood down the culture, there is a need to examine and evaluate programmes.
Programmes are seldom evaluated against each other, particularly if they are initiated by opposite Departments, as it were. I will give an example. The back to education allowance scheme is funded by the Department of Social Protection, while the back to education initiative is funded by the Department of Education and Skills. They are roughly the same size and provide the same benefits for the same number of people, but nobody will evaluate one against the other. Under the JobBridge scheme a common or garden employee is taken on with the same rights as everyone else and the person concerned is given a cheque in the post for X number of weeks. From a trade union point of view, it has the benefit of the State expressing an opinion on what is a decent threshold of work - it is 30 hours. Many people are being offered a lot less than 30 hours of work and many have no certainty in their working hours. Traditionally, if a person was offered a part-time job, he or she was told he or she would work, say, seven hours a week. He or she could then approach another employer and seek a further seven hours of work. However, the problem now is that an employee can be told an employer can offer him or her a few hours each week but that the employer wants him or her to be available outside these hours. That means the person concerned has no market power to seek employment from another employer. This is related to the issue of job quality.
Normally when unions raise issues such as this, somebody will say we will kill the small and medium enterprise, SME sector, but, by an large, this is not an SME sector problem but one related to large companies. A question was asked in the House two summers ago as to who were the major employers employing persons in receipt of family income supplement or jobseeker's assistance. It was a roll call of the large service sectors. There is no point in increasing the minimum wage if at the same time we increase uncertainty with regard to the number of hours people work.
If we consider this issue from the point of view of the social insurance system, it works on the basis of pricing risk. The person who smokes 40 cigarettes a day is charged more by VHI, Laya or another provider than somebody who has never smoked. From the point of view of risky behaviour in terms of hours worked, the employer's contribution is the same; therefore, the system does not price risk. That is what I would say about quality of work. Although the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has not stated all that much, it has expressed an opinion by indicating 30 hours is a decent level when it comes to having a full-time job.
Dr. Peter Rigney:
There is a large public house with which those who go to Croke Park will be familiar and which was mentioned in the newspapers recently. It suffered greatly because nobody was sweeping up in it to an adequate standard, if the Senator gets my drift.
Senator Gerard P. Craughwell raised an important point in relation to travel. The first point to remember is that people on a disability payment will have free travel but one can use the tax saver ticket, which means that the price of the ticket is deducted from one's wages before tax is deducted. I see quite a number of complaints on social media from people who cannot get their employers to sign up to avail of the scheme. That issue might need to be addressed because it is not administrative cruelty and one can halve one's travel to work costs.
Before Dr. Rigney moves on from that point, the zero hours contract or the one he described whereby one is left sitting at home waiting for the telephone to ring has become a plague in the public service for those who start on the bottom of the rung. Is that not the case?
Dr. Peter Rigney:
Yes. We have members in the private and public sectors and do not distinguish between the two.
An injustice is an injustice no matter from what sources the wages.
I wish to make some points about policy. This situation occurred over a long period. We must dig deep into the causes in a reflective rather than in a blame culture manner. We must find out how we got here and make sure we do not reach this position again. We forget that these things can turn around fairly fast. I remember a couple of years ago listening to a programme on Raidió na Gaeltachta where someone from the Donegal Údarás area said we had a real problem because we had run out of labour which was a time just before the bust so things do move up and down. People now think we are great because we have full employment. Britain had military and civil conscription in wartime but it also had an unemployment level of between 2.5% and 3%, which is full employment. I hope Ireland has full employment again. That is the time to look at what is happening in the labour market and why people feel they cannot take up employment.
The question was asked if there is a cohort of people who do not want to take up an employment offer. If there is then very few rational employers would wish to employ such people. That is the problem and that is the contradiction.
Ms Bríd O'Brien:
In terms of the questions posed by Deputy Ó Snodaigh, schemes like the back to work family dividend would be useful in addressing some of the challenges that arise. In many respects, the re-introduction of the back to work allowance could help the transition because invariably jobless households have children. The dividend is a welcome development.
In terms of educational supports to break the cycle, particularly to address issues that face young men, there needs to be a link between education and potential work. It would mean that a lot of them could see the rationale for engaging and would feel there is something concrete at the end of the process. We have not been so good at creating that linkage or doing it that way. We need to address this issue, particularly in respect of the young men who live in areas where unemployment or joblessness have become a structural issue or remain an issue. We need to ensure that happens.
In terms of Senator O'Donnell's questions, today we are looking at the issue of joblessness. It is an issue of people who are very distanced from the labour market, be it because of their ethnicity, class, disability or parenting alone. Of course the individual may fit into all those four boxes.
We are not looking at the issue of unemployment per se. Overall the statistics on the live register are all moving in the right direction. However, we still have 165,000 people who have been on the register for more than a year and, within that figure, an astonishing number of people have been on the register for more than three years. Those people belong to households and communities that often deal with the issue of joblessness.
Things are beginning to move in the right direction. How do we ensure that this time around people who are often left in the margin are not left in the margin? We need to be honest about the issues of discrimination and exclusion in the labour market and try to address these issues. That means trying to get employers on board, to win them over so they will look at the live register. Currently, a lot of observations are made about the live register that do not stand up to scrutiny because there is an extraordinary cross-section of society on it. The register consists of people with all kinds of experience and backgrounds. Older unemployed professionals face the issue of ageism. We need to address a variety of issues in the labour market.
In terms of the mismatch of skills, that is an ongoing challenge and one which we need to address in the Action Plan for Jobs, Pathways to Work, SOLAS, the further education training strategy and in initiatives like Springboard. Some of these schemes are starting to address some of the issues but often a particular programme does a particular job. The challenge is to get the system to work without the necessity of a programme.
The Senator gave the example of when a large employer pulls out. In that case there is a need for a whole variety of agents to click in, to look at who is now unemployed, what are their skillsets and their experience and how transferable are they. Some people might just need to be told how to apply for a job as they may not have done it for 20 years while others might need to be reskilled. There will also have to look at the types of jobs needed, where are they and how do people access them.
The issue of transport is something that our affiliates living and working in rural areas raise with us. The tax saver scheme like the free travel scheme is great if one happens to live in an area where there is public transport but not otherwise. That is an ongoing and huge issue that needs to be addressed as is the whole issue of jobs in rural areas. One national executive committee member asked me to make that point strongly. It is a huge issue for many people.
The provision of child care by the State is an interesting and pertinent point. Given that currently many services are being contracted out and the role of the State, as a provider, is being diminished, many services will suffer. The State has a clear role to play, the community and voluntary sector has a clear role to play as has the private for profit sector. All three have a role to play and we need to keep that in mind.
Traveller unemployment statistics, even at the height of the Celtic tiger, were horrendous. The unemployment statistics for people with disabilities are horrendous as they were at the height of the Celtic tiger, so we have huge structural issues to address. At a time when we had technically full employment, the employment levels of people with disabilities was only 34% and for Travellers less than 20%. We have huge issues that we need address.
We did not go into the specifics of labour market activation measures today because we were looking at the issue of joblessness. The reality for many people who are jobless is that unfortunately those measures do not apply because they are not on the live register. We would be delighted on another day to discuss them with the Deputy. Colleagues of ours will appear before the committee in two weeks to discuss the work we did around Intreo and peoples' experiences of it. Much has happened. Again the question is how do we ensure it is delivering what we would all like to see. It is a person-centred service that tries to support the individual, be they unemployed, have a disability, or parenting alone to move from where they are into work. That journey takes longer for some people than others.
A huge challenge faces us around programmes such as community employment which provide a very important role in the community and underpin many services, such as Tús and others. The progression from those into sustainable decent jobs is not anywhere near what we would all like to see. How do we address that issue? Often programmes are used to help people get back to work or to get to work in the first place or to get into the habit of going to work. We need more employers in the wider labour market to say it is great that one is on such a scheme and to regard that as a tick. Much of that is perception and those perceptions need to be addressed and challenged. Much of it requires the Department engaging in the serious marketing of its own programmes, for example, by letting it be known it has 20,000 people on a particular scheme who are doing great work and that these are potential staff for employers. The Department is no longer a provider of income. It now incorporates the public employment service. At times I feel certain elements of the Department are keenly aware of that because they are in the middle of rolling out Intreo, but I wonder about other elements. In some ways it is regrettable that the Department's name was not changed in order to make all of this more visible.
When people raise the whole issue around perceptions that people do not want to work and employers saying they cannot find people, lots of people contact us asking where are all these jobs that people are talking about. Many people tell us they have applied for jobs but have not heard back from anybody and have never been called for interview or have never got a chance.
I can safely say that for all the stories cited by the Deputy of employers having a perception that some people do not want to work, we could match, if not exceed, those with stories of unemployed people asking where the jobs are and saying that they have not heard back, that they are not getting a look in the door and that they could do the job in question. That is where the matching within the Intreo service or the employment service now under the Department of Social Protection comes in. Those involved need to up their game and provide the service for anyone in receipt of a working-age payment as well as those in receipt of no payment. This issue arose during the Celtic tiger because so many couples worked. Many men experienced something that many women were very familiar with. A person would get to the end of the jobseeker's benefit payment but because of household means he did not progress onto jobseeker's allowance. Then, the person was left with access to nothing because he was not in receipt of a payment. Many women were already familiar with that dynamic but men began to go through that during this crisis.
I welcome the delegation. I want to raise an issue about education and training. Obviously, nothing beats having a job, especially if it is reasonably well-paid and draws on a person's skills. Nothing is more satisfying. There are benefits to social interaction in the workplace as well. However, in the absence of that there is a role for education and training and I wish to explore this aspect of the whole equation.
These are important interventions in the lives of people who are not working. Perhaps they do not have the skills, equipment, competence or whatever. Let us consider what the former vocational education committee colleges have been doing. They have taken several initiatives in recent years. In Dublin, many of them are situated in working class areas where there are high levels of unemployment, including Ballyfermot, Inchicore, Finglas and Crumlin. It is interesting to consider a profile of the interventions in this regard. I was wondering if any evaluation or assessment has been done. I have been struck by the number of people who would never have thought of themselves as likely to go to college. They flock to these places, which are packed to overflowing. Luckily, many of the colleges are drawing on people from the local community and people come out of the colleges with a significant enhancement of their personal sense of themselves, quite apart from new skills and so on.
I know the colleges have been assessed in the sense of people getting certificates and doing examinations and so on. However, has there been any objective assessment by groups like the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed, which has an interest in being able to quantify what works, what is effective, where the most effective interventions are happening and how to marry job preparation with educational and various other skills, as well as how to make a more creative intervention in people's lives? It is not simply about jobs, although jobs are very important. It is probably in the nature of the VECs that they have changed and developed, depending on the challenges in the wider working community and environment and they have done this successfully. Perhaps that might be of interest in terms of the results the INOU has for quantifying the success of such interventions. Has anything like that been done? It might be worth considering.
It is hard to do this discussion justice at one meeting because there is so much going on. There is a lot going through my head. It is complex, as someone else said. I offer my support to the Intreo office, the idea behind it and the idea that people can sit and talk to someone. I am not referring to someone being behind a screen but a set-up whereby a person can sit in a room and speak to people at a one-to-one level. I have had this experience on several occasions in respect of people I have sent to the Intreo office in Ballyfermot, with which Deputy Conaghan is familiar. We are aware of the good work those employed there are doing. They believe their job is not simply about talking to people through a screen and this has made a major impact.
For myself, this is complex. There is a lot of stuff going on in my head. Anyway, I will bring this back to myself and where I came from.
I came from a street of 35 houses and the majority of the children on it left school at 14. It was just the way at the time. I left school because I could not pass Irish and, accordingly, could not pass my intermediate certificate. I was thrown out to the wolves. I left on a Friday and had a job the following Monday. I lived in an area with which Deputy Conaghan is familiar that had many manufacturing companies such as Lamb’s jam factory, Rowntree Mackintosh and Lyons Tea. Those without skills could automatically go into a job in these companies. My parents were fabulous, rearing eight of us and getting us from one stage to another before they passed away without any of us ever getting into trouble. That is a compliment we must pay to those of the older generation. They did not have much but Friday was an important day in our house when the wage packets were put on the table and everything was divided out whether it was for the gas, ESB or food bills. My poor Dad never got an awful lot but the money for a few smokes at the end of the day.
The area in which I live is deeply affected by poverty. It is not just family but individual poverty. There is nothing wrong with being poor. No one should be ashamed to say they are. The one word I detest the most is “disadvantaged” because it means much. For those who are told they live in a disadvantaged area, it throws them over the edge. When tackling long-term unemployment and dependency on social welfare, we have to make it worthwhile for people to decide to get the skills to get a job. Unfortunately for many caught in that bracket, we do not have the manufacturing companies that we did in the past into which they could slot. If I were starting over again tomorrow, I would insist everyone stays in school and that its structures would facilitate those who are not academic but have other qualities. Deputy Conaghan taught in a VEC college in my area. Many kids who did not have a strong academic leaning entered that college, came out with expert skills in woodwork or metalwork and were subsequently able to get jobs.
We need to rethink the whole idea of how we tackle long-term dependence on social welfare. Progress has been made in this area by the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection. She introduced a measure whereby those on the lone-parent benefit will have to come off it after their child reaches seven years of age. Several weeks ago, I met a young girl, a lone parent with two children, who has gone back to third level education to do catering. She informed me this was the best thing that ever happened to her. It has given her a confidence that she did not have before to ensure her children stay in school and go that extra bit. She does not get much, only €270 a month for maintenance. However, that little bit has given her the initiative and restored her self-esteem, a problem for many in such circumstances. The Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection has allowed it for those long-term unemployed to retain €29.50 of their benefits if they go back into employment. Hopefully, that will gather pace as it goes along.
Dr. Peter Rigney is correct about JobBridge and other schemes in that Departments do not talk to each other. One end does not know what the other is doing.
I apologise for my late arrival. Dr. Johnston noted that people need to retain some benefits when they return to work. People returning to work can avail of the back to work family dividend and may also retain their medical card for three years. The forthcoming introduction of the housing assistance payment, HAP, will also be critical in allowing people to stay in their homes when they enter the workforce by paying the differential in rent to local authorities. Pilot HAP projects are in place but it is vital that the payment is introduced quickly because it will have a significant impact in terms of the opportunity to return to work.
Ms O'Brien referred to ethnicity and the need to move in the right direction. I represent the Dublin North constituency which has two significant population bases, namely, Balbriggan and Swords. In the year ending October 2014, unemployment declined by 17.2% in the Swords area and only 7% in the Balbriggan area. One of the differences between Swords and Balbriggan is that the latter has a significant population of non-Irish nationals. I was interested in Ms O'Brien's remark that we must address this issue. Has the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed done any work on the employability of this cohort of the population? Does it have any suggestions about how to address the issue?
Dr. Peter Rigney:
Deputy Catherine Byrne made an important point on the broader issue of employment. One of the most pernicious effects of the property boom was that it made manufacturing unprofitable in areas surrounding large cities, not on the basis that the figures on production did not stack up but because companies were being offered incredible amounts of money to sell up. I dealt with a redundancy scenario in a company, which I am not at liberty to name, that moved operations to Warsaw, not because it was uneconomic to manufacture here but because it had received an offer from a property developer that it could not turn down. We were told that a very generous redundancy offer would be made. Deputy Byrne referred to the Lyons Tea site on Davitt Road in Inchicore, which is now a wasteland. That is a further pernicious aspect of the property boom.
Dr. Peter Rigney:
To respond to Deputy Brendan Ryan's comments on ethnic minorities, we cannot take our eye off the ball on that issue. If one takes the tragic events in Paris last week, the subject was young males with an Algerian background. This issue has been discussed in the French press for more than a decade. French society has become disconnected from many young males, primarily those from a north African background who do not know if they are north African or French and are locked out of the labour market.
Ireland is lucky that employment levels are high among its ethnic minorities, which are mainly eastern European and Slavic. However, I am hearing anecdotally that a number of those who worked throughout the boom had virtually no English when they were made unemployed in the bust, despite having worked here for nearly ten years. Their children are under-performing in school because English is not the first language in the home. While I do not profess to be an expert on this issue, Ireland must avoid the mistakes that were made in the United Kingdom and France. Large influxes of migrants normally occur when there is a labour shortage. For this reason, people tend to believe everything is grand because there are jobs for everyone. When the bust comes, however, people are made unemployed and their children become alienated. Ireland may not yet have experienced this problem but it is the job of deliberative committees such as this one to anticipate problems.
Senator Marie Louise O'Donnell:
The Government did very well in ensuring that migrants were not ghettoised when they arrived. Geography played a key role in this regard as the immigrant population is not centred on the larger cities because migrants went to live all over the country. One of the reasons for the problem being experienced in other countries was geographical.
Dr. Helen Johnston:
I would like to respond to some of the issues raised. On the different levels of education, there is significant emphasis on third level education, degrees and higher degrees because many jobs of the jobs available require these. However, we also need to look at more vocational type education and the jobs that might be available in that area. One of the issues that has come to my attention, which we have discussed a little, is the role of apprenticeships. We have limited apprenticeships here now whereas there would have been more opportunities in this area previously, such as in the building industry which has collapsed. A group has reported on this issue and a new kind of apprenticeship scheme is being put in place. This could contribute to addressing some of the gaps that exist. Apprenticeships do not exist only in the building industry, but in other sectors of the economy that require a more practical rather than academic application of skills.
A related issue is the role of social enterprise, which is not as strong here as in many other countries. There are significant advantages to social enterprise, though there is an issue of the commercial viability of social enterprises and the extent to which they can be supported by the state. These enterprises can provide an important service in certain communities and also provide a start-up in employment to people. One example I have come across of such an enterprise is the Flexibus system in County Meath, which takes people on as drivers who then train other drivers. The service provides community transport for people in various areas and it has now started up an associated company which will fix the buses and is taking on people to train them in skills to do this. This is just one example of a social enterprise, but we have an opportunity to think more about social enterprise and how it might work.
I wish to comment now in regard to ethnicity and housing, based on experience I have of what is happening in Blanchardstown where there is quite a large non-national population. While this is quite small on a European scale, there is a concentration of non-nationals housed in some housing estates in Blanchardstown which are almost all non-national housing. There are issues in regard to ability to speak English, such as parents being unable to speak English and being reliant on their school children to interpret for them and English not being the spoken language in the home. There is an associated issue of English language training and who should provide this.
This seems to be an issue that is shifted from one Department to another, but I understand it is currently within the remit of the education and training boards. However, they do not have the capacity currently to deliver the level and amount of training required. Therefore, the responsibility is falling on the local partnership companies and others to provide that training. They are not funded for that and must seek separate funding from European sources, which is restricted. There are gaps in this area. There is a demand for English language training, but it is not always available. There are reasons for this but if the issue is not addressed we could face the issue of generations of people becoming long-term unemployed and of ghettoisation, which is something we do not want. Therefore, there is some urgency in regard to identifying and addressing the issue.
Ms Bríd O'Brien:
In response to Deputy Conaghan's question, many of the evaluations that have taken place use the word "activation" in a broad sense. These tend to be related to programmes the Department of Social Protection has rolled out or for which it has responsibility. There is a gap in regard to what is being provided by the education service per se, such as where people are going and what is happening. The one programme I am aware of which has been evaluated is the Springboard programme. One of the striking features of that programme is that once people go beyond the age of 45, their employment rate drops like a stone. As a person over 45, I find that scary. This, therefore, is a challenge.
Further work on some of the education programmes that are provided would be useful, particularly the personal and communal-family impact of people's engagement with those programmes and how we ensure that engagement results in people being able to find employment. It is important we are able to get a better sense of that. Some of the limited work that has been done suggests that some of the outcomes are not what we would all like them to be. As I said, more indepth work is required, focusing particularly on some of those interventions from a broad educational perspective and the value to the person of their engagement.
Deputy Byrne raised the issue of the language used. I appreciate that she does not like the word "disadvantaged" and can well appreciate that sometimes people do not like issues being articulated in a particular manner. However, we must be careful to avoid not laying out the issues to be addressed. On compulsory school attendance or compulsory engagement in anything, I, personally, and the INOU as an organisation do not agree with it. One of our concerns is that as a result of some of the changes currently taking place the system is becoming more directive and is not necessarily matching up people with the most appropriate opportunity for them. Often people take up opportunities because they fear that if they do not accept them their payments will be cut. For this reason, people are agreeing to take up opportunities that are not in their best interest. Again, we need to ensure that we develop services that are good at engaging with people and sifting through with them what is the most appropriate intervention-support to enable them to access paid employment sooner rather than later.
That does not work for the person who left school at 12 or 13 years of age and has no numeracy or literacy skills. I agree with Deputy Byrne that compulsory education up to 18 years of age should be tantamount in our country.
That does not take from the fact that children should remain in education up to 18 years of age. One can do lots of things between 16 and 18 years of age by way of apprenticeship models. We have not even looked at that idea.
Ms Bríd O'Brien:
The issue of control in the context of how the system engages with the adult population is an important one. Again, a far better use of resources is ensuring that people end up participating in initiatives that are most suited to them and will help them progress onwards. The service is beginning to move in that direction but, again, because the Department of Social Protection has dual responsibility for the employment service and the control of its expenditure the two are pulling against each other. That needs to be resolved.
I agree that the back-to-work family dividend is an important development, as is the retention of medical cards. Again, what is important is that people are made aware of this when making considerations about returning to work. Likewise, it is important people are also informed about the family income supplement, FIS. The vast majority of people are better off in work. Often what is at issue is that information is not being given to them at the right time. The housing assistance payment, HAP, is an important development. The big challenge is whether landlords will buy into it.
I apologise for my late attendance and thank the delegates for their submissions. I would welcome their views on the current system in respect of previously self-employed now jobless people and whether they would welcome a new system.
Many people who were self-employed are now jobless and nearly had beg to get their payment. Thankfully, the Minister and this Government reduced the threshold levels, so that self-employed people could get a payment, but we need a new system for self-employed people. I meet many jobless people who were self-employed and who have great ideas but are frightened of becoming self-employed again. It is sad that we have people who became jobless through no fault of their own and will never be self-employed again. We need a new system for self-employed people.
Many men or women who have stayed at home to mind their children for many years come to my constituency office. The children grow up and go their way, get married or go away. These people want to re-educate or re-skill themselves and they cannot because they cannot get onto social welfare. They cannot sign on because perhaps their partner is working and they cannot register to be on SOLAS or to participate in back-to-work or education schemes. It is very sad to tell these people that. They are very disheartened because they have given a great service to the country by raising their children and have made sacrifices. We are saying that there is nothing there for them and there is nothing we can do. That must be looked at. Perhaps it is due to Governments diddling the books because they are afraid to put these people onto social welfare even though they will be entitled to nothing, for fear that it might put the figures up and show that there are more people unemployed. I cannot get my head around that. We must look at a new system for women or men who raised their families and want to go back into the workforce to re-educate or re-skill themselves. Something must be put in place.
Perhaps I was an 1980s, 1990s or 1970s child, but apprenticeships were a huge thing when I was growing up and from a national point of view, the Government should be looking at a new roll-out of apprenticeships. There was a great deal of exploitation when it came down to apprenticeships and people not being paid a proper wage. Thankfully we now have the minimum wage. What are the view of the delegates on apprenticeships? It would be a way of getting jobless people back into work and learn a new trade for themselves. The JobBridge and JobsPlus schemes, etc., have been a huge success but we have Departments that are not talking to each other.
I know of one company that has employed 18 new people plastering. The company's cashflow is not great because the owner remortgaged and refinanced and the banks are not playing ball and will not give him an overdraft. He may have to wait six to eight weeks to get payment for a job he has done. He has employed 18 men and when a payment has not come in from a Department, that leaves things very tight. We must look at the banks, but that is for another day. The Departments should be talking to each other and making sure that these payments are there for these men who are employing people.
I have young girls who have come out of school and gone to college and one of the things I saw when they were coming through the house with their friends was that they were all at different levels of skills. Some of them were more academic and some had other skills. I saw the connection they had with the teacher in the classroom and the teacher's ability to look at people's different skills.
It is of huge benefit that we have teachers who are so in touch with what is going on in the classroom and are able to identify the different skills young people have. I would be concerned that there are a lot of projects out there doing the FETAC papers, and some young people think they are an easy way out of the structure of sitting in a classroom. I see that on the ground with young people. Some of them cause as much trouble as they can in the mainstream setting in order to go into the project down the road, get a few bob and get the FETAC. This issue has been dominating the last three years of my public life as I have been dealing with young people who have left school when really they would have been better off staying within the mainstream classroom system and not going into the local project, not only for the academic end of it but for many other reasons as well. Sometimes when they go back out into the project doing FETAC - I think Dr. Johnston might have said it - there is no point giving people certificates if they are not going to be given something to do afterwards. I have met so many young people who have gone through FETAC levels 1, 2, 3, who are at FETAC 5 and are still not doing anything. I wonder if it is really a good idea to put them into those situations. Perhaps we should keep them in the classroom and facilitate their needs rather than put them out into a project that at the end of the day - I am not saying this is true for all young people - can be an easy way out of the structure of the classroom.
On that point, one good development is that for people who did not have the leaving certificate, FETAC gives them the equivalent. I was out looking at community employment schemes in my area recently and local community groups put a big emphasis on getting people to get the FETAC certificate. It means that they have a qualification, they do not need to worry any more about not having the leaving certificate because what they have is as good.
We are going to conclude at this stage so I invite any final comments or outstanding questions.
Ms Bríd O'Brien:
Deputy Byrne has identified a real issue, and that is why it is so important that we evaluate everything to get a better grip on what is delivering for people. Some local projects, schools and teachers do deliver. We need to get a better sense of all that, particularly in terms of meeting the needs of those who do not fit into the mainstream or for whom the mainstream is not delivering.
One of the difficulties for self-employed people is due to the nature of the social insurance payment. They have been paying into the social fund for themselves as employees, so to speak. There have been a variety of discussions around that. One of the proposals we had was for the self-employed person to pay for himself or herself as both employer and employee and have that option to build up social insurance entitlement. We would be aware that some people have met the means test criteria and have ended up on a jobseeker's allowance payment, and others have not because of family circumstances. They are then in a very similar space to the unemployed people whose period on jobseeker's benefit has come to an end and who, because of family circumstances, now find themselves in a limbo. It is similar for the person who has worked in the home and now wishes to go back out to the labour market. They are all now in a limbo and without a service because unfortunately one of the things that happened in the downturn was those services were cut. In the past there were some openings, but those doors have all been closed. That is an issue.
Getting the system to work more effectively is important so that we can smooth out any welfare-to-work issues for the individual and also for the employer, particularly the smaller employer who has those cash flow issues the Deputy outlined. That could make a massive difference to so many people and they are probably relatively small changes that would result in huge savings for the system overall if we could get that right.
Dr. Helen Johnston:
Ms O'Brien has explained the situation of self-employed people quite well, but another aspect is access to credit. When somebody has a new idea and wants to set up a new business, it has been quite difficult for SMEs and so on. This is about the interconnectedness of the system, which we talked about earlier. If somebody has a new idea and wants to get started up again that is something that needs to be further looked at. I know it is recognised.
Another issue involves those who want to go back to work after their children have left home. Some will take the volunteering route and in so doing will have social interaction and develop skills. However, if they receive a jobseeker’s payment, they must be available for work which can impinge on their ability to volunteer. It is a question of how the system deals with all of these issues in maximising the potential for the person who wants to get back to having a paid job.
Dr. Peter Rigney:
The only issue in bringing the self-employed into the social welfare system concerns the price point as they are both employer and employee. That is a high premium to pay. One can also declare one is unemployed at particular times. These issues all lead to a debate about the price point.
On Deputy Catherine Byrne’s point about apprenticeships, there is a gender problem. There are problems with young men. What works better for them is a programme that links them with the workplace. As teachers will inform us, they will not give the same amount of guff - for want of a better word - in the workplace as they do in the classroom. We need to find out which programmes work, evaluate and replicate them. One cannot run programmes without evaluating them. It is not a question of money going astray but of evaluating the opportunities in terms of what one could do better with the money if it were spent in a better way.
The committee will examine the issue of short-term unemployment in several weeks time. The meeting has been very helpful and informative in that regard. I thank the delegations and committee members for their contributions.