Tuesday, 5 February 2019
JobPath Programme: Motion [Private Members]
I welcome this motion and commend Sinn Féin on putting it forward. I have great doubts, however, that anything will be done about the issues many Deputies have raised tonight. I am afraid this will all fall on deaf ears, as has happened before. However, I hope that will not happen tonight.
The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, has hailed JobPath as the most successful job activation scheme in the history of the State. The employment outcomes of JobPath do not reflect this in reality. As of November 2018, 190,000 people had been referred to JobPath, of whom only 9% were able to secure employment that lasted for one year or longer. The Government is deceiving people about the true numbers in gainful employment. When people go on a JobPath scheme, they are taken off the live register, which reflects the unemployment level. People should be taken off the live register when they gain proper employment and are no longer in receipt of a payment from the State and not before.
There is a problem with people being referred to JobPath for a second time. As of January 2019, more than 21,000 people who had previously completed JobPath had been referred to the scheme for a second time. When this happens, Turas Nua or Seetec receives a double payment. We need to keep a close eye on this issue to ensure the system is not being abused. I have heard at first-hand from constituents who are frustrated at having to complete a second JobPath scheme. These people want to further their education and job skills and return to the workforce but the system is holding them back.
We also need to consider people living on islands who are expected to travel unrealistic distances to JobPath courses. People living on an island must get a ferry to the mainland and then try to catch a bus or thumb a lift to the location of the course, which could be miles away. It is completely unrealistic to expect islanders to be able to travel such a distance every day. No consideration is given to the fact that no matter how hard they try, people living on islands will not be able to make it to a course on time because of ferry times and the need to get another mode of transport once they reach the mainland. In one case in west Cork, the ferry does not leave an island until 9.30 a.m. The man who contacted me is supposed to be about 30 miles away attending a course at around the same time. He gets there at around 11 a.m. and his unemployment benefit has now been cut to rags. That is absolutely insane. No understanding is shown and the rules are draconian.
The Department's preference to refer people to JobPath as opposed to community employment schemes, rural social schemes and the Tús scheme means these schemes are suffering. Thousands of vacancies in community employment schemes cannot be filled as a result. It is important to note the vital benefits such schemes provide to local communities. I commend all workers in community employment and those on the ground who are giving their time voluntarily to ensure the schemes run smoothly. I wrote to the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection in July 2018 outlining that people in community employment and the Tús scheme were only getting €22.50 extra per week added to their payments. I asked the Minister to consider raising that amount in the budget as it is insufficient to encourage people to participate in these schemes. Taking into consideration extra costs such as travel that people on these schemes incur, that is not good enough. While I welcome the €5 increase due to come into effect in March, that small increase in addition to the social welfare payment is still not sufficient when travel costs are taken into account.