Tuesday, 17 November 2015
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Community Employment Schemes Eligibility
64. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection if she will consider widening the eligibility criteria for participation in Community Employment Schemes to facilitate adult dependents, those not in full employment, those on low hours or on low pay who do not qualify for Family Income Supplement, and those who are not in receipt of a Social Protection payment. [40186/15]
I ask this question to ascertain whether the Minister will live up to a commitment made in Pathways to Work 2014-2015, which stated that the Department would develop and evaluate options to extend employment services to people who are not on the live register and improve the promotion and communication of existing activation options, particularly for those who are unemployed or underemployed or whose caring regime is nearing an end.
All current schemes are kept under review in respect of how well they work. Community employment, CE, is the largest employment programme administered by the Department and is a valuable resource for both jobseekers and communities. The Deputy knows the work done by CE schemes in the Ballyfermot area. Currently, there are almost 22,500 participants and nearly 1,400 supervisors employed on the programme at a cost of approximately €373 million in 2015. As the Deputy will be aware, CE aims to enhance the employability and mobility of disadvantaged and unemployed persons by providing work experience and training opportunities for them within their communities. In addition, it helps long-term unemployed people to re-enter the active workforce by breaking their experience of unemployment through a return to a regular work routine.
Currently, to be eligible for CE, a person must be in receipt of one of a number of social welfare payments such as jobseeker's allowance or one parent family payment for 52 weeks. This is in keeping with commitments in Pathways to Work to target initiatives at those who are long-term unemployed.
However, it should be noted there is special provision for individuals who are stabilised drug users and ex-offenders. They are not required to be in receipt of a social welfare payment in order to be referred to CE by an appropriate agency.
The adult dependant of a social welfare claimant is not eligible for CE in his or her own right as eligibility rests with the main claimant only. Family income supplement, FIS, is not a qualifying payment for CE and CE participants are excluded from claiming FIS while employed on the programme.
Persons engaged in short-term, part-time employment may be eligible for CE if they have been employed no more than 30 days in the previous 12 months. If they exceed 30 worked days in that time, they fall outside the definition of long-term unemployed for the programme eligibility purposes, as they have proved themselves to be capable of finding and retaining employment.
However, it is worth noting that there is a range of options open to those who do not qualify for CE. In this context, the Department’s Intreo office staff will be happy to advise clients of the intervention that might best suit their individual needs. There is a significant drop, according to today's figures, in long-term unemployment and people who were in part-time work are going into full-time work, which is quite welcome.
We discussed this recently at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection and there is a range of people not captured by social welfare payments, for example, people who work two hours a day and do not have any family do not qualify for jobseeker’s allowance and would have to give up their work to get the allowance and to qualify to access to the CE schemes.
In respect of adult dependents there are cases where it would be problematic for people to have their payments separated in the home. This applies particularly to stay-at-home mums who want to re-engage with the workforce. If there is increased capacity because of the change in job availability would the Minister, instead of reducing the job activation places retain them at the current level to ensure that those who are unemployed or underemployed, or who have been out of touch with the workforce can get some training and access to training at an early stage, rather than having to go on to jobseeker’s allowance for long periods before they can qualify?
I thank the Deputy because it is not very often that Sinn Féin acknowledges that there is an increase in job availability but the numbers are improving. It is great to see people going back to work and when they do so it is certainly better for their families.
There are several schemes and training programmes available: springboard offers 9,000 free places; skillnet actively supports and works with businesses to address their current and future skill needs, which enables people to access its activities; the education and training boards, ETBs, run several education and training courses and there are other training schemes under SOLAS, the back-to-education programme and community traineeships. These programmes endeavour to maximise the number going back to work. I encourage people in that situation to engage with their local Intreo offices to make sure they are aware of what is available to them and what they can access. It is in all our interests to get as many back to work as possible and make sure they have the skills to take up those responsibilities.
I am aware of some of those courses but they do not capture everyone. There are people who fall through the cracks. I have referred such people to the Intreo offices and some have come back frustrated because there was nothing available. Some have been shown a career path or educational path to help them engage in the workplace or at least enhance their curriculum vitae.
The Minister of State mentioned the back to education allowance. There is a restriction on that in that one must be unemployed for nine months, therefore, there are specific instructions in this regard. I am trying to be positive. What I am saying is not a criticism. If the change we are starting to see continues at that rate, rather than reducing the numbers of job activation places we should hold them at that number and try to capture those people currently not on the live register. That would give them greater opportunities in the future, especially carers. A large group of carers who are caring full-time came to see me about this issue. Prior to the ending of care when people know in advance when it is ending they may want to engage for a short period in making sure there is a seamless transition from caring to work.
I accept that the Deputy is being constructive in his suggestion, and we have been working with the Carers Association. As people move back into work it opens up other opportunities because it gives the Government further flexibility. One of the positive measures the Tánaiste has introduced within the Department of Social Protection is that there is a constant review to ensure the schemes do what they say on the tin, so to speak. As more people go back to work there will be opportunities to look at other areas, and I will be open to looking at the area the Deputy mentioned also.