Wednesday, 20 September 2017
41. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to end reduced jobseeker's payments for those between 18 and 25 years of age and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39586/17]
46. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will consider in budget 2018 restoring both reduced rates of jobseeker's payments for those under 25 years of age in order that they are equal to those over 25 years of age and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39630/17]
The Government has continued the age discrimination for jobseekers introduced by Fianna Fáil. This has had and continues to have damaging consequences for young jobseekers. Are there any plans in the forthcoming budget to address the discrimination the Government presides over regarding young jobseekers?
I propose to take Questions Nos. 41 and 46 together.
Lower weekly rates for younger jobseeker's allowance recipients were first introduced in 2009 and extended in subsequent budgets. These measures were introduced to protect young people from welfare dependency. In many cases, they have had a very positive outcome because our youth unemployment figures have gone from here to here, which is very positive. I do not think it is just because the payments have been reduced but I do think it has been a factor. In short, the answer right now is "No". The simple reason for that is because if young people under the age of 25 do anything else other than receive jobseeker's benefit or allowance, they will get the full payment of €198 so if young people at home want to be carers or take part in a community employment scheme, back to education or training with their local ETBs, they have a variety of ways of increasing that payment from either €100 or €147, whatever the age happens to be, right up to €198. As of today, there are no plans to change that.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
Should a young jobseeker on a reduced jobseeker’s allowance payment participate on an education or training programme they will receive a higher weekly payment of €193 which is the maximum personal rate for jobseeker's allowance.
The CSO's August 2017 monthly unemployment report showed that the seasonally adjusted youth unemployment rate - persons aged 15-24 years - was 12.7%. While this remains a high figure, it is notable that it represents a decrease of 4.5 percentage points from 17.2% in August 2016.
I am committed to ensuring my Department continues to identify effective measures to incentivise and support young people in finding and securing sustainable jobs. The best way to do this is through engagement processes and by incentivising them to avail of educational and training opportunities thereby enhancing their employment prospects.
The National University of Ireland Maynooth is examining the effectiveness of the reduced rates in encouraging young jobseekers to avail of education, training, employment programmes and opportunities. Initial results of the research were published as a working paper and these are being considered by the Department.
The 2017 Estimates for the Department provide for expenditure this year on jobseeker’s allowance of €2.16 billion. The full year cost of increasing the age related reduced jobseeker's rate to the maximum jobseeker's rate of €193 per week is estimated to be just over €109 million in 2018. This estimate is subject to change over the coming months in the context of emerging trends and associated revision of the estimated numbers of recipients for 2018.
From March 2017, rates of jobseeker’s payments were increased for claimants of all ages as a result of measures introduced in budget 2017.
I have a very serious question for the Minister. Could she live on €100 or €102.70 - the €2.70 increase that was given to people under the age of 24 and a marginal increase if they were 25? I know I would unable to do so and I dare say she would be unable to do so but the Government expects people of that age to live on that amount. One of the consequences of this discrimination, which was introduced by Fianna Fáil and presided over by Fine Gael and Labour, is youth homelessness, which is a growing problem. According to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, in July, 826 people between the ages of 18 and 24 were homeless. A total of 789 young people were homeless in January 2017. There has been a 78% increase in youth homelessness over the past three years. Those figures are provided by Focus Ireland. It is a serious problem. Does the Minister agree with the organisations that see the direct link between the discriminatory cuts introduced by Fianna Fáil and presided over by the Government and the youth homelessness crisis in this State?
In response to the Deputy's question as to whether I could survive on €102 per week, the answer is "No". I am a 46-year-old woman with four children and a husband. If you gave €102 per week to my 18-year-old son at the moment, he would be absolutely delighted. Let me address the fact that the Deputy believes that this is discriminatory. It is not discriminatory. There are some EU member states that do not even allow young people under a certain age to access social welfare payments at all. All the Deputy has to do is go up to Northern Ireland where his party should be in power and where the payment is something like £60. It is £65 in the rest of the UK. Is it discriminatory in the UK? No, it is not. It is not discriminatory.
I absolutely have responsibility. What I am telling the Deputy is that there are no plans to change the payment as it stands but that if anybody between the ages of 18 and 25 wants to do anything else under social welfare schemes, such as be a carer, go back to school or undertake further training, they can afford to take the €198 per week if they want to change their practices.
It is absolutely discriminatory. What happens, for example, if somebody gets a job and then loses the job, but the job that he or she had and the earnings that he or she got from that were what enabled them to put a roof over his or her head, then that person loses the job through no fault of his or her own and then is back to the half-rate of a jobseeker's payment? That person is then homeless if he or she cannot go home, or possibly is left in overcrowded conditions. Yesterday, we were at a very good seminar organised by the Ceann Comhairle about mental health issues. One of the big focuses of that was the absolute crisis in youth mental health. Does the Minister think there might be any connection between youth homelessness, the serious problem in youth mental health, and the low incomes that young people who are not 18, living at home with their mums, but who are 18, 19, 20 or 21 who cannot do that, or the young people who are leaving the country?
It is categorically not discriminatory. If it was, somebody would have already taken and tested a case against it, and that has not happened. It has not because there is a choice for young people under 25 years of age so that if they need €198 to live on, they will move to one of the other schemes that is available to them to move to at any time during it. There are additional lower rates of payments for the people the Deputy has just described that it does not apply to. Anybody who had a job who loses it does not go back down to the payment of €102. People who are under 26 who have a qualified child stay on the higher rate of income. People who transfer to jobseeker's allowance immediately after exhausting their entitlements from jobseeker's benefit stay on the higher payment. People who make claims for jobseeker's allowance where the claim is linked to a jobseeker's allowance claim within the previous 12 months stay on the higher rate. The Deputy should know his facts before he comes in and makes sweeping statements that are completely untrue.
The reason that there is a lower payment here is to try to be ambitious for our younger people. It is to try not to box them off into what the Deputy would wish to box them into. It is to try to encourage them to do something other than staying at home and collecting a payment of €102 a week. Let them become a carer. Let them go back to school and undertake further education. Let them do community employment or some of the social inclusion schemes. They are all on offer with €198 payment. The biggest ambition that this Government and State should have for our younger people is work and full-time employment.
The Minister talks about facts and figures. I have presented her with figures. They are not my figures but those of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. In July of this year, 826 young people were homeless. I am sure they have aspirations. They do not want to be homeless. They do not want to be unemployed. They want to be out there. The reality is that the measures the Minister's Government is presiding over are impacting detrimentally on them. It is compounding the difficulties that they are experiencing. The Minister's own predecessor, Deputy Leo Varadkar, acknowledged that and made some minor changes in the budget last year because of the representations from Focus Ireland and other organisations. The reality is that no analysis was done. No research was carried out by Fianna Fáil when these measures were introduced. Will the Minister outline any research that has been done of the potential impact that these discriminatory measures are going to have? No, because there was no research.
That is the implication of what the Minister is saying. The reason young people have taken up employment is not because the Minister cut their benefits, but because young people want to go out and work. They want meaningful, properly paid work, which is very difficult to find, and work that will enable them to pay to put a roof over their heads is even more difficult to find for many young people. Slashing their payments when they are not able to find employment that will allow them to do that and putting them on this discriminatory rate as against when one reaches an arbitrary point of 25 years of age, before which one is expected to live on virtually half the money, is discrimination. There is no other way for it. For the Minister to imagine that is helping young people is preposterous.
I never ever said it was helping. Let me be very clear. There is nothing shy about me and I am well able to speak for myself. I would very much appreciate if the Deputy did not put words in my mouth or pertain to tell people that he knows what I am thinking or saying. I am very well able to say it myself.
The purpose of this lower payment is to encourage younger people to provide themselves with opportunities such as back to education, to provide community employment schemes or any of the activation measures that are available to support, assist and help younger people into employment and into the workforce. Let me point out something to the Deputy. It is working. One of the largest drops in unemployment has been in our younger people, and particularly in our younger graduates over the last number of years. The Deputy's ambition for younger people might be entirely different to mine, but my ambition for younger people who still remain on the live register is to help to work hard and to do everything that we can to support them into full-time, meaningful, well-paid employment. That is what we are going to focus on.