Tuesday, 5 February 2019
JobPath Programme: Motion [Private Members]
There must be some logic behind any scheme of this nature. I have looked for the logic behind the comprehensive JobPath scheme. Having done so and listened to the evidence presented to the joint committee and considered the relevant statistics, it appears that the whole project is based on the belief that the problem with unemployment is unemployed people. Having come through the 2008 recession and the cuts and austerity of the years which followed, it is incredible that anyone would suggest that the mass unemployment and emigration was caused by behavioural deficits in individuals looking for work. Nevertheless, that is the logic behind the JobPath scheme. If someone is unemployed, it is his or her own fault and we will help, punish, force, cajole and twist that person's arm until he or she is back in employment. Underlying this is an assault on standard employment rights, pension entitlements, security, stable employment and the massive growth in low-paid jobs. This is not a reference to the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, but the true attitude of the Government was shown clearly in the Taoiseach's class bias during his campaign to become leader of Fine Gael and his reference to welfare cheats cheating us all. He referred to those who pay for nothing and get everything and said he was the one who represented those who got up early. The Taoiseach did not conceal his class contempt, unlike this scheme which pretends to help the unemployed while hiding behind a punitive screen. For many, it intimidates, causes mental health problems and is very scary.
In 2011, at the height of the recession, there were 359 welfare sanctions. In 2017, there were 16,451. Those figures are from the Minister's office. That is no accident. It is a direct result of labour activation programmes that come at a time when the numbers unemployed have fallen dramatically. In reply to a parliamentary question I submitted to the Department last January, I was told 6,500 people had been sanctioned directly as a result of JobPath. In other words, their dole money was stopped or deducted for failing to co-operate with service providers. They were not sanctioned for being abusive, violent, aggressive, for failing to co-operate or for being unable to demonstrate that they had sought work. We have heard many examples from around the Chamber this evening and will hear more. These are mind. For many, the sanction was the result of a refusal to sign a personal progression plan notwithstanding the fact that they have no legal obligation to do so. For some, it was for failing to show up for an interview. I have brought to the Minister's attention previously the case of a Traveller woman was able to provide evidence that she missed an interview as she had to spend the day in Crumlin Hospital with her child. Nevertheless, she was sanctioned for doing so. One man on a back-to-work scheme was given the wrong information by Seetec on where to go and lost money as a direct result. When he complained about the personal adviser appointed to his case by Seetec, he was threatened with further sanction.
Last year, the State paid two private companies €84 million to operate the JobPath scheme. In the Minister's words, Seetec and Turas Nua were paid to provide intensive individual support to the unemployed. I refer in that regard to the examples I have just provided. It is interesting to note that while both companies have been contracted to deliver JobPath based on their skills, ability and experience, they have subcontracted the programme from the outset to additional companies. Seetec has subcontracted PeopleFirst Ltd. while, more interestingly, Turas Nua subcontracted to two companies, namely, Working Links and FRS Recruitment. Working Links and FRS Recruitment are, in fact, a joint venture which make up Turas Nua. As such, Turas Nua has subcontracted back to itself. There must be an accounting trick being played there but that is what has happened. Under the scheme, there is no obligation on the companies to report to the Department that they are contracting out.
Like many colleagues in the House, I have been contracted by people whose experience is very different to the gloss put on JobPath by the Department and various Ministers. There have been incidents in which people have successfully applied for training courses or were about to go on community employment schemes only for Seetec to call them in on the same day and refuse to release them. Seetec has insisted that these individuals have already started on the JobPath scheme and cannot do useful work on community employment schemes. This is particularly vindictive when a person has been accepted for a course involving an educational element and class attendance. It may not be the kind of work the person wants, but he or she is willing to be educated, reskilled and trained.
In contrast, JobPath is more concerned with getting people into whatever low-paid job it can find for them, regardless of their suitability. It is very questionable as to whether they find people real jobs.
When questioned by me in the Dáil, the Minister spoke about an independent survey that indicated high levels of satisfaction with the scheme. We are very sceptical about the survey. A truly independent survey, by two academics from Waterford Institute of Technology, showed the scheme is becoming more alienating and more punitive and welfare recipients feel degraded and coerced by the process and experience anxiety and depression.
JobPath does not help people get back to work. When jobs are available in the economy unemployment falls. It is that simple. What JobPath is about is punishing the unemployed and pushing them into the jobs that are low paid with low hours and poor conditions. More people were put into JobPath at the same time as unemployment figures started to fall. The growth in job figures is based on a boom in the low-paid, low-hour precarious employment industry, with jobs with little security, no pensions and no sick schemes. A total of 150,000 workers are on the minimum wage or lower. Between 20% and 30% of our workforce is classed as low paid, one of the highest rates of low paid in Europe and the highest low paid rate for full-time employees, at 17%. This is the real rationale behind JobPath, to make jobs palatable to the employer and low-paid, low-hour precarious jobs more appealing than a basic welfare society, and to humiliate and bully people into these sectors and jobs. It represents the start of the privatisation of social protection, with private companies doing the work that should be done by the public service. In England, these companies have a record of being accused of fraud and bullying in the operation of similar schemes.
We support the Sinn Féin motion. We need to end the scheme and end the largesse of the State being passed on to Seetec, Turas Nua and other subcontracted companies. If we want to help the unemployed, and I assume we do, we should divert the wasted resource that is swelling the accounts of private companies into education and improving the skills of the unemployed and creating a working environment that respects and pays workers a living wage and gives them a future that is secure and not dependent on the profit margins of their bosses.