Dáil debates

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Other Questions

Labour Activation Measures

2:00 pm

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Anti-Austerity Alliance)
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31. To ask the Minister for Social Protection for further information on how the fit for work programme will relate to other labour activation measures such as JobBridge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11837/16]

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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The recently agreed programme for a partnership Government provides for a range of actions that are designed to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities. That is the vision and an example of the changes that will come up about under the Government. One of these actions is a proposal for the Departments of Health and Social Protection to work together to pursue a fit for work programme to support more people with an illness or disability to get back to work through early intervention.

The fit for work proposal is based on the findings of a pan-European study, which examined the impact of musculoskeletal disorders, MSDs, on an individual’s ability to work. The Irish module of this study was progressed by a coalition of key stakeholders and was led by Arthritis Ireland. The Irish College of General Practitioners, ICTU and the Health and Safety Authority also contributed to the study. It was a broad representative group.

Early interventions and developing return to work practices in the case of people with musculoskeletal incapacities is consistent with my Department’s approach to illness-disability income support, which aims to reduce the number of people progressing to chronic disability and long-term social welfare dependency. To this end, my Department issued a set of certification guidelines for GPs in 2015, which sets out defined periods of recovery for common medical conditions, including MSDs.

The certification guidelines build on the Renaissance project, which is an initiative of my Department since 2003. This has shown that early intervention reduced the incidence of progression from the acute simple low back pain to chronic disability in 64% of claimants. While specific proposals for a fit for work programme require further development and scoping out, I assure the Deputy that such proposals will be in line with the wealth of evidence, which shows that, generally, employment is good for one’s mental and physical health and well-being and, conversely, that unemployment is damaging.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Anti-Austerity Alliance)
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Can the Ceann Comhairle clarify how much time I have?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy has a minute for each supplementary.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Anti-Austerity Alliance)
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I thought I had 30 seconds to ask a question first.

The reason we tabled the question is a mysterious line appeared in the programme for Government committing to the introduction of a fit for work programme co-ordinated by the Departments of Health and Social Protection. It immediately rang alarm bells among the Anti-Austerity Alliance because a similar scheme is operating in Britain at the moment and other elements of the programme for Government were copied and pasted from the Tory Party handbook. I would like the Minister to clarify the nature of the scheme. Despite the nice words he just used, the same comments were made about JobBridge when it was introduced. It was intended to support and help people and it turned out to be an exploitation scheme. This scheme has huge potential to be even worse because it relates to the most vulnerable people with physical and mental disabilities.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank the Deputy and call the Minister.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Anti-Austerity Alliance)
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A range of questions have been set by the disability sector. It would be good if I could put one or two of them.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I am sorry; the Deputy cannot. The same time limit applies to everyone.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Anti-Austerity Alliance)
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What happened to the 30 second introduction?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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It is a different set of Standing Orders. We can talk about it afterwards.

2:10 pm

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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When people raise this issue, one must be concerned and I will be vigilant on this issue. It is not copied from the Tory handbook or any Conservative policy in England. This plan is completely different from the one used in the UK. There are many positive elements to this plan, including the involvement of groups like Arthritis Ireland which came on board on this issue. The key difference between this plan and the one in England is that our plan does not assess people. It is about early intervention and treatment. This is very important because the objective is to ensure that disabled people get an opportunity to enter the workforce. There are many talented people out there with a disability and we want to ensure they are given the opportunity but there is no compulsion involved compared to other projects in England.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Anti-Austerity Alliance)
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Will the Minister of State get a grip on reality? This is a labour activation scheme. It is not an early intervention scheme with people who are unable to work. It is an adult scheme. My question, which comes from the Disability Federation of Ireland which held a press conference this morning, relates to who will carry out the assessments regarding whether or not someone is fit to work. Will it be the HSE or will it be a private company, as has been done in Great Britain? The Government used a private company in its other labour activation schemes like Pathways to Work. What will the assessment entail? Will it be a medical assessment or a functionality assessment? For many people with disabilities, it is not a question of whether they are necessarily fit to work on a particular day but whether they can sustain a job and have the supports they need to carry on in a job.

The big danger relates to mental health. It is very clear that people who do not have a physical disability can easily be forced into jobs they are not fit for. It is very unfortunate that there has not been time to put the questions.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Everybody has the same amount of time.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Anti-Austerity Alliance)
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This scheme has not yet been raised in the Dáil.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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That is not my fault.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Anti-Austerity Alliance)
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In the form of the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, we have a case of the fox in charge of the chicken coop in terms of the social welfare budget-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Will the Deputy resume her seat?

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Anti-Austerity Alliance)
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-----but I hope that the new Minister of State for disability issues will not sit by and let disabled people be forced into schemes for which they are not fit or able.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Question time has run out.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Anti-Austerity Alliance)
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This is simply an activation measure. The Minister cited one disability organisation that he met with in respect of it. I think he is covering his tracks.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Will the Deputy please resume her seat?

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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I totally reject the Deputy's comments. If one looks at the details of the UK project, one can see that it was all about savings. Our scheme is not about that. Our scheme is about trying to help people with a disability or an illness related to a disability to enter employment. I said it was about early intervention and supports. Next week, the chief medical officer will again meet with Arthritis Ireland to hammer out these issues.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Anti-Austerity Alliance)
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Will the Minister of State answer the question as to who will carry out the tests?

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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The answer to the question is very simple. There is no way that I, as Minister of State for disability issues, would stand over any exploitation of people with disabilities. I will do my damnedest to defend and protect people with disabilities. If there are people who want the opportunity to enter employment, I will do my best. I have a vision over the next three or four years relating to employing people with disabilities. At the moment, most organisations aim for 3%. I aim to get every Department, and I said it at yesterday's Cabinet meeting, to go from 3% to 5% so the answer is that there will be no exploitation.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Anti-Austerity Alliance)
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Will the Minister of State answer the two questions I asked?

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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It will be about care, intervention and supports.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Will the Minister of State conclude?

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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We will do our damnedest to ensure that these people get some kind of employment and supports.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Anti-Austerity Alliance)
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We get one minute to ask questions. Can they at least be answered? The Minister did not answer on who will carry out the assessments. He will not even answer the question. The Ceann Comhairle is meant to make him answer the question.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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I mentioned the chief medical officer.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Will the Deputy please resume her seat and respect the order of the House in respect of how questions are dealt with?

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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I said the chief medical officer.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Anti-Austerity Alliance)
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The Minister of State did not answer one of the questions. Who will carry out the assessments?

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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I did. The chief medical officer.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Will the Minister of State desist please? The procedure relating to dealing-----

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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But, a Cheann Comhairle, I answered the question.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Anti-Austerity Alliance)
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The procedure is that questions are answered.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The procedure relating to dealing with questions is set down and applies to every Deputy equally.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Anti-Austerity Alliance)
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Will the Ceann Comhairle enforce it?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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There are no exceptions to be made for Deputy Coppinger or anybody else.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Anti-Austerity Alliance)
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Will the Ceann Comhairle at least enforce it?

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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I did try to answer the question.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Anti-Austerity Alliance)
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We get a minute to ask a question and the Minister of State will not answer it.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Coppinger is using up other Deputies' time.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Anti-Austerity Alliance)
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The Minister of State did not answer. Who will carry out the assessments?

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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The chief medical officer.