Thursday, 1 March 2012
Community Employment Schemes
Question 6: To ask the Minister for Social Protection if she will make a statement providing further detail on her decision to shorten community employment announced in Pathways to Work; and if she is concerned that the shortening of CE will compromise its ability to offer meaningful training and qualifications. [11884/12]
As announced in the Pathways to Work programme, one of the five strands will provide greater targeting of activation places and opportunities for job seekers, especially those who are more than one year unemployed. My Department will continue to provide supports in the form of work experience and training through the community and voluntary sectors. There are 85,650 places through a variety of schemes of which 22,300 are community employment.
Community employment will play a critical role in this. The Government is determined that those who are unemployed will be assisted with the appropriate advice, training and work experience to enable them to take advantage of new job opportunities as the economy recovers. Community employment helps people who are out of work for one year or longer to maintain contact with local employment opportunities and to avail of training so that they can get these jobs when they arise. At the same time the programme helps the local community and reduces the impact of long-term unemployment on individuals and their families.
Under Pathways to Work I am prioritising one third of the places on CE schemes towards a shorter, more focused active labour market intervention. This will be undertaken in conjunction with the wider review of community employment schemes currently under way by officials from my Department. The CE part-time integration option of one year is likely to form the basis for this approach. The FÁS system has been using this system already. The option offers an applicant who is more than one year unemployed the opportunity to participate on CE for one year and to avail of training that can enhance their chances of employment. I expect that this period on CE will have a more intense labour market focus by both the scheme sponsor and the individual job seeker towards gaining employment.
CE participants are employed for 19.5 hours per week. Therefore, the option is open to them to participate in part-time courses provided by the VEC and FÁS. Progression to further education and training to obtain major awards will continue to be a key progression route for participants. In addition, participants have a range of education and training programmes available to them from the FÁS training side - which will become SOLAS - and the VECs, including evening courses during and after they leave CE.
I attended the launch of the Pathways to Work initiative to familiarise myself with the considerable change proposed. I was surprised to find the realignment of one third of the places on community employment schemes. My question is simple. There are 22,300 CE places at present. Of that, a number are termed "special CE". Does the realignment relate to one third of the total minus that figure or is it one third of the whole figure?
Has any thought been given to the effect this would have on child care facilities operating through CE schemes which take several years to reach the FETAC level 5 or level 6 that is required? Many CE schemes need a longer period of two or three years. One year simply does not suffice. Problems would arise if CE schemes were reduced to one year.
The Deputy referred to special places. I assume he has in mind ring-fenced places for CE schemes managed by community drug teams and services which, essentially, are rehabilitative in nature. In the review, I asked specifically that this particular CE provision remain ring-fenced, because it provides an important and particular service to people who have or have had a drug problem who are anxious to be involved in a programme of rehabilitation. In many cases these people ultimately become successfully involved in education and training and acquire qualifications.
That response deals with the drugs places but there are others related to child care, disability places and a whole range that has built up over the years. If these are deducted from the 22,000, how many of the CE places are realigned to the new one-year figure?
In child care, there is a specific budget within the overall budget for training. I do not want to prejudge the outcome of the review but child care will occupy a significant and important place with regard to both training opportunities for employment in both the public and private sector and in terms of delivery to a local community where access to good quality child care and after school care may be essential to facilitate people such as lone parents. I cannot give the Deputy the numbers now, because the review is in progress, but the provision of places for particular categories is an important element of the review.
Representatives of three community employment schemes in Wexford, Ferns, Grantstown and Tagoat, have contacted me. They are in a bad way and are very upset about the proposed cuts. I asked them for a breakdown of their costs and spending and I can say that they could give lessons to a number of businesses on how to manage money. I was amazed by how well their schemes were put together and by how well they did things. The Minister says that the troika is putting pressure on budgets and that it is looking for quality of training and value for money. I know the Minister alluded to this herself but the troika will not measure the social dividend and that is what these schemes are about. We should not look at these schemes in purely financial terms. In the overall scheme of things, they are not a massive cost to the State but cutting them will have dramatic social consequences for the State.
Will the Minister explain the contradiction between on the one hand, the shortening of the CE schemes and the opportunities for training for people on the lower end of the skills base who need that training and on the other hand, her drive to ensure that people with higher qualifications, such as professionals, nurses, skilled crafts people and so on, are driven on to training programmes that are many multiples below their existing skills base? Why that contradiction when what these people need is not a different type of training but a job in the profession for which they are qualified, a profession for which there is a basis and need, be it medical care, craftsmanship or whatever? How can she marry the two?
To return to what I said earlier, the Minister said in response to a previous question that the funding is there within the training spend. If the funding is there and the Minister is aware that the review to date has identified savings that will accrue to the State, and will know that towards the end of March, that is a win-win situation for the State. It can retain the CE schemes and still make savings. Therefore, I cannot understand why the threat remains against these CE schemes which have not only a social dividend but also a dividend for those who participate, with the opportunity to use their experience to gain gainful employment thereafter.
Given the transfer of CE to the Department of Social Protection, its importance, the large amount of money spent on CE, the large numbers of people on CE and the 1,400 supervisors employed, it would be very odd if the Department did not conduct a review of this important and significant area of social, economic and training activity. I am aware that many people have asked why we did not conduct the review beforehand. Unfortunately, it did not arrive in the Department until 1 January. Second, as the Deputies are aware, there has been a number of extremely critical reports done on CE which, as mentioned by Deputy Wallace, did not take into account the social delivery aspect of CE. We have over 1,100 CE schemes and they encompass a wide and varied range of activities. It is important for the Department to make itself aware of the breadth and width of CE schemes because some of the criticisms of CE schemes arise from the fact that they are seen purely and solely as labour market activation and progression. That does not tally with the reality of many of the CE schemes.