Thursday, 12 July 2012
Employment Support Services
Question 9: To ask the Minister for Jobs; Enterprise and Innovation the additional steps taken by him and additional measures he will put in place to promote employment for the 199,249 long term unemployed. [33867/12]
The Government is tackling unemployment generally through the twin strategies of the action plan for jobs and the Pathways to Work scheme. The aim of the action plan for jobs is to support the creation of 100,000 net new jobs by 2016, while the objective of Pathways to Work is to provide those who are unemployed with the appropriate training and skills to avail of the job opportunities which will arise as the economy recovers. The long-term unemployed are a priority target group for the measures in Pathways to Work.
While many of the new measures included in the action plan for jobs are not confined to those who are long-term unemployed, they will be of particular relevance to their needs. For example, the microenterprise loan fund will provide funds for people who wish to start businesses in their local economies but have been refused credit by the banks. Other measures such as the Revenue job assist scheme, which is used by employers to take on persons who are long-term unemployed, are being promoted both by extension of the coverage of the schemes in the Finance Bill and through the dissemination of information. The employer job (PRSI) incentive scheme has been simplified and extended. This scheme provides exemption from the payment of employer PRSI contributions for 18 months when a qualifying unemployed person is recruited.
Under Pathways to Work, the Department of Social Protection is committed to supporting over 85,000 job placement, work experience and back to education beneficiaries this year, including through the JobBridge internship programme. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, has announced 1,000 additional places on JobBridge this year. The Department of Education and Skills will provide more than 450,000 education and training places this year across the range of provision in the higher education, further education and training sectors, including through the Springboard programme. More than 3,500 people have graduated from the first round of Springboard programmes, which were put in place in 2011, and the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, recently announced a further 6,000 new places on the programme for 2012.
People cannot eat every section of the jobs action plan, nor will the Pathways to Work scheme pay people's mortgages. What people want to see are real jobs and not some kind of self-created score card the Government can tick off and feel it is succeeding. It is disastrous that we have 200,000 people who are long-term unemployed. At the personal level, this means a significant number of individuals whose confidence and ability to engage with society is reduced. Their feeling of self-worth is reduced and they find it soul-destroying not to be able to engage with the economy. From an economic perspective, the skills and experience of these individuals are not being harnessed. No matter the lengths the Government goes to with its score card, it is failing the people with regard to long-term unemployment.
A figure of 5,000 places was mentioned with regard to the JobBridge programme and it was suggested there will be 1,000 extra places. However, this number - 1,000 - is the same as the number of people who will emigrate between now and next Thursday. The proposals are completely inadequate to deal with the problem. The Government should instead look at the cost base for start-up companies, deal with upward-only rents and consider progressive taxes, targeted reductions of energy costs, reductions in red tape and reductions in insurance costs. It should also look at job activation programmes that have been used in Germany. As I mentioned earlier, it should decide that the banking industry will orient credit around the needs of business, rather than the economy being oriented around the needs of banks. Will the Government come out and indicate that it will introduce a multi-billion euro Government stimulus plan to kick-start the economy?
Based on my experience in business, I support the points made by Deputy Tóibín. There has been a significant focus by the Government and the European Union on reform, deregulation and the flexibility of the labour market, but the biggest challenges are still energy costs, upward-only rents and rates. There was much talk about rents and rates before the election but we have not really seen activity and stimulus in that area. Most of the employment in this country is in the domestic market but businesses are struggling. These are three crucial areas which would make such a difference. Energy is so expensive in Ireland. It would be very positive if, in some way, this Government helped businesses with energy costs, aside from the upward only rents, on which obviously the banks were not very keen.
We all acknowledge that over the past years this country has gone through major restructuring in terms of how the economy works. The Minister already stated that if all the eggs are in one sector and if it fails, it has a monstrous effect on the economy. We are trying to put in place a set of programmes which will allow people to upskill and retrain, so that we have a skillset. I mention the number of construction jobs alone which were lost. The only way we can get people back into the workforce is to upskill and retrain them but that does not happen within one, two or three months. We must allow time for that to take effect.
All sides of the House must acknowledge - let us be apolitical about this - that we have provided incentives on the Revenue side and on the employer side and we have allowed for credit to be made available through the micro-enterprise partial loan guarantee scheme. The Government is actively intervening to try to stimulate the economy and to create the right conditions.
I take the point made about the cost to business and a reduction in the regulatory burden. I would acknowledge that we need to do more on EU targets in terms of the cost of the regulatory burden but I would also say there is a discussion at Cabinet level in regard to local authority funding and the cost to business at local level. Local authorities cannot continue to rely, in the way they have done, on the ratepayers who have been squeezed in terms of funding local government. The Cabinet is discussing this issue. However, one must acknowledge that because of the tidal wave which hit us as a result of the collapse in the construction sector, in particular, which had fuelled the economy, we had to restructure the economy on macroeconomic grounds and put in place these types of programmes which do not bear fruit in the timeframe about which the Deputy spoke. It will take longer.