Dáil debates

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

JobPath Programme: Motion [Private Members]

 

8:50 pm

Photo of John BradyJohn Brady (Wicklow, Sinn Fein)
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I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

notes that:— JobPath was set up by Fine Gael and the Labour Party in July 2015, with the aim of assisting the long-term unemployed to secure and sustain employment;

— contracts to deliver JobPath on behalf of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection were signed with two private companies – Turas Nua and Seetec;

— between July 2015 and January 2019 some 205,000 people have engaged with either Turas Nua or Seetec following referral by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection;

— as of January 2019, over 21,000 people had been referred to JobPath for a second time having previously completed the scheme in full;

— as of November 2018, Turas Nua and Seetec had received €149 million of taxpayers’ money between them;

— as of November 2018, out of the 190,000 people referred to JobPath at that stage, just nine per cent (i.e. 17,100 people) had secured employment which had been sustained for at least one year, at a cost of €3,718 per person;

— where an individual is referred to JobPath for a second time, Turas Nua and Seetec received double payments; and

— JobPath has engaged with 24,185 people (as of October 2018) who are working part-time and also with people who have been referred to another job activation scheme;

further notes that:

— the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection has hailed JobPath as the most successful job activation scheme in the history of the State, however, the employment outcomes for JobPath do not reflect this claim;

— other job activation schemes are suffering as a result of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection’s preference to refer people to JobPath over all other community-based schemes;

— referrals to the Local Employment Service are down across the State and thousands of vacancies in Community Employment schemes, which provide vital benefits to local communities, cannot be filled; and

— research recently presented to the Oireachtas Committee for Employment Affairs and Social Protection from Waterford Institute of Technology concluded that ‘they (participants) felt actively and capriciously patronised, cajoled, threatened, manipulated and bullied’; and

calls on the Government and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to:

— immediately cease all referrals to the JobPath service and end the mandatory nature of the scheme;

— end the contract with the JobPath providers as soon as possible without any extension;

— properly resource and expand existing job activation schemes which are community-based, including:
— the Local Employment Service;

— Adult Guidance Services;

— Community Employment;

— Rural Social Scheme;

— Tús; and

— Job Clubs;
— invest in the Back to Education Allowance scheme, Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme, and any other available training and education schemes;

— end the use of ‘payment by results’ models in job activation schemes;

— examine the significant international research on the consequences of sanctioning, including the short-term impacts, such as poverty, and the long-term impacts on health and well-being; and

— focus on an ‘individual first’ approach rather than the ‘work first’ approach pursued by JobPath, acknowledging that one size does not fit all and some jobseekers would benefit more from upskilling through apprenticeships, education, training and work experience rather than an ‘any job will do’ attitude.

I am delighted to bring this motion before the House in order to give us an opportunity to discuss and debate the much-discredited JobPath programme which was rolled out in 2015.

Turas Nua requested that he change his name on his CV so that he would not identify as a Traveller. This was done against his wishes.

Turas Nua applied for a job for her in a remote call centre, a one and a half hour drive each way with no bus service available. Despite her objection that she had no means of travelling to work there, she was advised to make friends and car pool. She was five months pregnant at the time. When she complained she was threatened with sanctions. Around this time she became homeless, staying on her parent's couch.

A qualified architect was forced to hound potential employers. When this failed, Turas Nua instructed her to dumb down her CV so that she could find other types of work.

These are just some of the experiences shared by JobPath participants with researchers from the Waterford Institute of Technology. They concluded that JobPath participants felt actively patronised, cajoled, threatened, manipulated and bullied, which is a far cry from the Minister's claim that JobPath is the most successful job activation scheme in the history of the State. In reality, JobPath providers are not helping and supporting unemployed people, as the Minister's amendment states. Our evidence suggests that staff at JobPath do not have the necessary skills or training. That company is simply making money on the backs of unemployed people.

It is not about the needs of the individual, but a work-first approach. As the Minister's predecessor, An Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, said, people must give up their ambition of a dream job and in essence take any job. When it comes to the privatisation agenda pursued by the Minister's Department, in terms of contracting out the service, the Minister consistently compares it with the local employment service, LES. It is true that the LES is contracted out, but the LES is not based on a payment by results model. That is what is at issue here. The Minister has completely overlooked this. To compare JobPath with the LES is highly insulting to the highly trained and qualified people working within the LES. Not only does the Department hand over an initial fee of €311 - which the Minister will refer to as a "small registration fee" - for every individual who signs up to JobPath, that money has been handed over twice in the case of over 21,000 people her Department has referred to JobPath twice. That is not a small amount, particularly when it is paid on the double. Turas Nua and Seetec must be laughing all the way to the bank with the €160 million they have been paid to run these schemes in their back pockets.

A total of €3,718 in taxpayers' money is handed over to Turas Nua and Seetec for every job sourced that lasts at least 52 weeks. That is €3,718 for every person per job. It is a ludicrous amount of money. JobPath providers are not engaging with individuals to help and support them, they are doing so simply to make money. They are private companies and their sole aim is to make a profit.

The amendment tabled by the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the press release she issued earlier both state that 41,000 people have found full-time jobs. How long have they lasted in those jobs? How long have those jobs lasted for them? Have they lasted more than 13 weeks? Can the Minister provide a breakdown on the number of these jobs that have been sustained for more than one year? In November, the Secretary General of the Department informed the Committee of Public Accounts that out of the 190,000 referred at that stage, only 17,100 had sourced employment that lasted for at least one year. That represents a mere 9% of participants. The Minister consistently mentions the low level of complaints when praising the success of JobPath but fails to acknowledge that those referred to JobPath are threatened with cuts to their jobseeker's payments from the first communication they receive. Why would a person under constant threat of sanction or under the threat of losing the only source of income he has make a formal complaint to the Department? To date, over 14,000 JobPath participants have had a penalty rate applied. In many counties, the figures exceed 10%, 11% or 12%.

There are other job activation schemes that are community-based and reputable long-standing schemes. The Minister's amendment states that the funding and staffing for the local employment service offices have been maintained. Again, the Minister misses the actual issue. The number of referrals has not been maintained. The numbers are down throughout the State.

Those working in the local employment services could tell the Minister that supporting the motion would not mean that the long-term unemployed will suddenly miss out on the opportunity to source employment. Schemes run by the local employment service, adult guidance service, jobs clubs and community employment organisations are precisely the schemes that brought us to full employment during the Celtic tiger era, long before JobPath every came into existence. They were the success stories, but the Minister has bypassed them to line the pockets of Turas Nua and Seetec to the tune of over €160 million.

The motion is not about calling for JobPath to be cancelled; it is calling for an end to the referrals to JobPath and an end to the mandatory nature of the scheme. Why the Minister decided to release a press statement based on the cancellation or suspension of JobPath, which is mentioned nowhere in the motion, is completely beyond me. It begs the question as to whether she actually read the motion.

I look forward to the debate and to the contributions of Members on all sides. I hope we will get full support for the motion Sinn Féin has brought forward to deal with and do away with the much discredited JobPath programme.

9:00 pm

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
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JobPath was described today as short-term, coercive and ruthless by several academics from Waterford Institute of Technology. A submission was presented to Deputy Brady by over 29 community-based groups who run the community employment scheme. They have a similar view of the scheme. People who use the system and who use other systems have a view of JobPath that is the polar opposite of the Government view. The Government likes to pretend that JobPath was a success when in fact it was a failure. The Government likes to pretend that people have had a good experience. Some may have had a good experience but many people have not had a good experience. In fact, many people who have come to me who have been through the JobPath programme have used words such as "coercive" and say they have been threatened and that they have had a bad experience with the process.

It is clear - I make no bones in saying it - that the Fine Gael Party has no interest in workers' rights. Thus, it is no surprise that those in Fine Gael continually pretend that this is a fantastic scheme while ignoring the labour activation schemes that actually work. The reason the Minister likes to put this up as a scheme that works, the reason she claims it is such a fantastic scheme, is because it represents the privatisation of labour activation schemes. Two private companies get €150 million in taxpayers' money to roll out schemes that many are uncomfortable with and in respect of which many people have had a bad experience.

Certain facts had to be dragged out of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection at the Committee of Public Accounts. Deputy Brady and others have been calling for these figures year in, year out. He has sought details on the actual cost, what these companies get and how much the costs are per individual. After a great deal of cajoling and work we got the figures at the Committee of Public Accounts from the Secretary General of the Department. The cost is a total of €3,718 per job seeker. The Minister can smile if she likes but I was at the Committee of Public Accounts and I asked the questions. We were stonewalled but eventually we got the answers. Two private companies receive €150 million. This is despite the fact that only 7% of JobPath clients were still in employment after 12 months. Yet, the Minister claims that it is a fantastic success. These figures relate to a time when unemployment was falling in any event. Yet, we give €150 million to two private companies to roll out a programme that people have serious concerns with.

I commend the motion to the Minister. The Minister should take her head from out of the clouds and recognise that there are major problems with this scheme. I call on the Minister to listen to the people we listen to on a daily basis and take on board what is in this motion. For once, Fine Gael should accept that this is wrong and that it is not good for workers' rights.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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I do not have long to speak but I urge the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to withdraw the amendment and consider the points being put forward. The Minister cannot call the scheme a success when fewer than 9% of people have sourced jobs that last longer than 12 months. They are not good permanent or decent jobs. They are not jobs that people go looking for. There are schemes that work. I am unsure whether the Minister runs advice clinics in her local area or if she speaks to people who come to her office. Maybe people do not come near her because they realise there is no point. Anyway, in my office I see people every day. The words used by my colleague included "short-term", "coercive" and "ruthless". These are the words used to describe the scheme that the Minister says she is proud of. I have no idea how the Minister can be proud of something that is short-term, coercive and ruthless. The programme leaves the people who participate - not through their choice - feeling degraded. It is not a positive experience for people. If it is the case that they will not say this to the Minister, perhaps they do not believe they will get a good hearing. Certainly, they say it to me and to my colleagues. I know they have no hesitation in saying it to the people who run advice clinics throughout the country. These schemes are not working. Not only are they not working and costing the State a fortune but the Minister is trying to privatise labour activation when there are schemes that work. Such schemes leave people with a positive experience and feeling empowered and ready to re-enter the labour market. However, this is not one of those schemes. For the Minister to come in an defend it is to go against what people are telling us about the reality they experience as part of this privatised labour activation model. The terms used by academics to describe the programme were "short-term", "coercive" and "ruthless". The Minister should reflect on that before she takes to her feet to defend it.

Photo of Gerry AdamsGerry Adams (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta John Brady as a chuid iarrachtaí thar na blianta teipeanna na scéime JobPath a nochtadh. JobPath was introduced in 2015 by the then Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton. Sinn Féin believed then - we have been proved right since - that this scheme is more about massaging the unemployment statistics than delivering for those seeking employment. It is also about privatising public services.

Sinn Féin has consistently highlighted serious concerns about its processes. We have repeatedly expressed our concerns about the delivery of JobPath by two private companies, Turas Nua and Seetec. Figures released late last year revealed that of almost 200,000 people referred to JobPath, only 9% had secured employment for at least one year. That is an appalling record of failure at a significant cost to the taxpayer. The only beneficiaries of JobPath have been the two private companies. Turas Nua has received €76 million and Seetec €73 million of the people’s money.

The experience has been deeply unsatisfactory for the thousands who have been forced through this scheme. I have heard first-hand accounts from citizens in my own constituency. In one instance, a mother with young children was required to organise and pay for childcare to attend JobPath offices just to do an Internet job search. Another woman had her jobseeker's payment cut by €25 for not signing a personal progression plan, despite having attended all the sessions in the course. That makes €76 million for Turas Nua and €25 taken from a young woman. These cases are not unique to Louth.

My colleagues referred to research by Dr. Ray Griffin and Dr. Tom Boland from the Waterford Un/Employment Research Collaborative, which concluded that the impact of JobPath on individual lives is decidedly negative. Not one of the 121 people interviewed by the Waterford researchers reported a positive experience. On the contrary, they describe a scheme that is patronising, threatening, bullying and manipulative. JobPath should be abolished funding should now be provided to those organisations like community employment, the Local Employment Service Network and adult guidance services which have a much better record of assisting citizens in search of employment. I commend this motion to the Dáil.

9:10 pm

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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I will cover some of the human side of the issue. One of my constituents wrote to me and asked me to read the following letter to the House:

Hey Pat, I started in Turas Nua the start of December, unsure of the date, this is my 2nd time doing this scam just like many others. I attended the 1st appointment which took roughly 2 hours. My next appointment was for the 1st week of January which I attended to be told when I got there that my adviser was sick. So I asked the secretary to inform the adviser that I can not be there any time after 12. She asked why so I explained how my 80 year old mother gets sick in the afternoons (which she genuinely does) and I am the only one around to be with her. I then get another appointment for the following week at 1:30 so I rang three days before hand to inform him that I will not be attending as its after 12:30. I told him the latest I can push it is 1 p.m. His response was you come when we tell you come - I will not repeat his response here - He then asked had I filled out carers allowance forms and had I sent them in. I said ya otherwise I would have lost it! I haven’t. I did not claim for it when I was caring for my father up to his death and nor will I he for my mother. I also informed him that I am available 7 days a week up to 12 possibly to 1 some days. So I am engaging but he clearly is not! then get a appointment for next Tuesday at 11:30 which I have no issue with. However then yesterday he sends me 2 more appointments 1 for the following Tuesday and the next, 1:30 to 4:30 for so-called courses which are just a waste of my time. I have attached the appointment letters below. Have I any rights here whatsoever? Because I'm not jumping through hoops for no private for-profit company and nor will I be bullied or threatened by them.

I wanted to humanise the issue because I receive these types of emails once or twice weekly. I appeal to the Minister to withdraw her countermotion and to please support the motion.

Photo of Dessie EllisDessie Ellis (Dublin North West, Sinn Fein)
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The JobPath scheme has proved to be lucrative for a number of private companies. This is a scheme that comes at a significant cost to the taxpayer. Up to the end of last year, fee payments made to the two contractors, Seetec Employment and Turas Nua, which deliver the scheme, had amounted to €149 million since 2015, a shocking amount that could have been better used to assist people back into employment. Seetec Employment and Turas Nua get money every time a person signs a personal progression plan. In addition, the two companies are paid job sustainment fees.

I have concerns about both the operators of the scheme, the results, or in reality the lack of results, of the scheme and the substantial costs to the taxpayer in running this scheme. Unemployed people do not have, nor can they expect to enjoy, equal rights and considerations as those enjoyed by working people, but JobPath seems to treat people almost as second-class citizens. I have heard of many instances where people are sent to jobs they clearly have no aptitude for or interest in and which are not remotely relevant to the qualifications and skills they have. People will have legitimate reasons they cannot participate in the scheme. If they are on the scheme and miss a day here or there, they face a range of sanctions such as closure or disallowance of the their jobseeker's claim. They can also be sanctioned by losing a portion of their welfare payments. The portion of their benefits lost can have an impact on individuals and their dependants. These people are struggling to pay bills and feed their families or keep a roof over their head.

It is a failed scheme and needs to be phased out. The primary beneficiary of the scheme seems to be the private companies making the big bucks, because it does not seem to be the unemployed people.

Photo of Regina DohertyRegina Doherty (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to address the House on the important role that the JobPath service has played, and continues to play, in the provision of activation services to the long-term unemployed. Deputies have seen and heard the countermotion tabled by the Government and I wholeheartedly endorse its wording.

The Government and its immediate predecessor have worked tirelessly to address the crisis levels of unemployment brought about by the most recent recession. In January 2012, Ireland’s unemployment rate stood at 16%. Guiding the Government’s approach to this rate of unemployment was the Action Plan for Jobs, the Pathways to Work strategy and more recently the Action Plan for Jobless Households. A key element of these strategies was ensuring that those who found themselves unemployed were given access to a supportive activation service that was tailored to meet their specific needs. My Department in the period 2012 to 2015 transformed its approach to supporting jobseekers both in establishing the Intreo offices and in the adoption and roll-out of a new activation model.

The Intreo activation model supplemented the existing activation services operated by the local employment service, LES, and job clubs. However, the scale of the economic crisis meant that the system’s activation capacity was insufficient to deal with the volume of jobseekers. The result was that case officers in Intreo and the LES had caseloads in excess of 2,000 jobseekers to one case officer. This was unfair, unsustainable and unacceptable. Additional capacity had to be sourced. The Department increased the number of Intreo case officers but on its own this was not sufficient.

In 2015, the JobPath service was developed and became operational. This allowed all jobseekers to have access to a case officer, a mediator or an adviser with the aim of developing a personal progression plan tailored to their specific needs. The ratio of case officers to jobseekers is now in line with international best practice and stands at approximately 120:1. This increased investment worked. Ireland’s unemployment rate in December 2018 stood at 5.3%, a reduction of two thirds from its peak six years previously. Furthermore, long-term unemployment has fallen from almost 10% in 2012 to its current level of 2%, a remarkable reduction of almost four fifths in a relatively short period.

However, the reduction in the long-term unemployed rate is even more impressive when considering that long-term unemployment has averaged 4% over the extended period 1992 to 2018. Today’s rate, despite the worst economic recession in our history, is currently less than half the average over a 26-year period.

JobPath combined with this Government’s economic and activation strategies has contributed substantially to this transformation. Key to this success is ensuring that all the unemployed for the first time in Ireland had access to a dedicated individually tailored activation service, which aims to support their transition into employment.

Almost 206,000 people have engaged with the JobPath service, of whom approximately 48,000 are still engaged. Since 2015, 41,000 persons have gained full-time jobs while engaged and a further 5,000 have found part-time employment. These figures should be regarded as minimums, as they will only increase as more individuals who are still engaged in JobPath continue to find employment.

Last year, the Comptroller and Auditor General presented the results of a review conducted by his office of the JobPath service. Having conducted the examination, he had no recommendations to make to us but noted that JobPath was delivering on its targets, which is a significant finding in itself.

Questions have been raised concerning the nature of the "payments by results" system and the overall costs of the JobPath service, but it is important to reiterate that a cost to date of €160 million for 206,000 participants equates to less than €790 per individual. This compares favourably with our other activation services where the cost is closer to €1,000. Uniquely, the JobPath contractors have had to bear all of the costs upfront. The JobPath model has reduced the risk to the State and increased the capacity of Ireland's public employment service to engage with individual jobseekers effectively. The model ensures that JobPath providers are incentivised to assist people into sustainable full-time employment.

I am aware that claims have been made to the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection about high levels of dissatisfaction reported by jobseekers engaging with the JobPath service. The motion references researchers from Waterford Institute of Technology, WIT, who have interviewed 121 people since 2012, of whom only 25 had reported an experience of JobPath. The researchers relayed anecdotes from the participants. They did not seek to substantiate these anecdotes, nor did they claim to. Officials in my Department have been in touch with the researchers and asked for more detail so that we might examine some of the serious allegations related to the committee, but the researchers have declined to provide any more information to date.

My Department measures the satisfaction levels of those who use our JobPath service. More than 6,000 customers have been interviewed by independent researchers in the past three years regarding their experiences with JobPath. The average score across all areas of 4.15 out of 5.0 reflects consistently high levels of satisfaction. Furthermore, of the 206,000 people who have engaged with the service, there have only been 836 complaints. That amounts to less than half of 1% of the 206,000 participants.

Each JobPath contractor has comprehensive complaints systems with varying levels of escalation. If a customer is not satisfied with the response from the contractor, he or she can escalate it to officials in my Department. This has only happened on ten occasions. If the customer is still not satisfied, he or she can escalate it to the Ombudsman. That has never happened. However, if we were to listen to some of the commentators such as Sinn Féin and others, one would imagine that the Ombudsman's office was inundated with complaints of the horrors allegedly inflicted by a service that is helping people to gain full-time employment and to break away from the cycle of long-term unemployment and, in particular, reliance on social welfare. That is what the JobPath service is about. It is about assisting those persons who are long-term unemployed to return to the workforce.

It is a duty of this Government and society to assist people who want to find work to do so. It is an obvious fact that the most decisive factor in individuals improving their economic circumstances and being lifted out of poverty is to secure employment and reduce their dependency on welfare. The impact of a successful return to employment on the individual is enormous and, in many cases, can be life-changing.

Regarding the motion, the Government will not walk away from its contractual commitments. The immediate cancellation of the JobPath service would result in a significant diminution of the services we now provide to the long-term unemployed, the loss of 600 jobs among JobPath staff - the staff I have met in my travels up and down the country are passionate in their roles and dedicated to the people they serve - and the absence of due cause warranting such a cancellation prior to 2021, thereby exposing the State to significant financial liabilities.

9:20 pm

Photo of John BradyJohn Brady (Wicklow, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister should have read the motion.

Photo of Regina DohertyRegina Doherty (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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Furthermore, we must have this service in place for the people who need it. Unfortunately, there are still many thousands of people who are long-term unemployed and need the service that is delivered by JobPath and other providers. The contracts will operate as agreed.

Looking to the future for activation services, my Department is examining all of its options for contracted activation provision from 2020 onwards. We will identify best practice across a number of considerations, including the quality of one-to-one intensive engagement, the value of a State-wide service, the contracting models and the procurement methodology. In line with the commitment in the Government's Pathways to Work strategy, my Department will be examining options to maximise provision of activation services to all groups, including those that have been more difficult to reach in the past. In developing best practice, appropriate consideration will be given to the value of expertise gained through the long experience of working with communities and the wider value of activation services and their impacts in terms of community development and social inclusion.

I have presented the facts about JobPath and I would challenge those who claim to have other information to present the facts, as opposed to anecdotes, that support their claims. JobPath has made a significant contribution to this Government's success in bringing our unemployment figures down from the height of the recession to where they are today.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I call Deputy O'Dea, who I understand is sharing time with his colleagues.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Limerick City, Fianna Fail)
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I am sharing with Deputies Curran, Butler, Scanlon, Lisa Chambers and Ó Cuív. How long do I have?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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That is up to the Deputy. There are 20 minutes in this slot in total.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Limerick City, Fianna Fail)
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I listened in great amazement to the Minister's contribution. No one believes that unemployment dropped from 16% in 2012 to 5% now because of JobPath's introduction in 2015.

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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She does.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Limerick City, Fianna Fail)
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It is beyond belief that the Minister would attempt to make such a claim in the House.

I have always had instinctive reservations about the idea of the private sector being involved in job activation on behalf of the State, as there is obviously a conflict between the company providing the service, whose main objective is to make profit, and the needs of the individual whom the company is supposed to serve. Naturally, the profit motive takes precedence. Labour activation is a situation where the individual, particularly someone who has been long-term unemployed, should be front and centre.

Anyone who studies how JobPath has functioned for the past number of years will conclude that the pay by results, rigid, one-size-fits-all model is not working. The profit motive predominates. As a result, countless people have been forced under threat of sanction into jobs that are unsuitable, low skilled, no skilled and inappropriate. In the vast majority of cases, they are also very low paid.

I am told that what we have introduced is based on the Australian model, but the difference is that, in Australia, the relevant Department has taken great pains to ensure that the scheme is monitored and people are protected against abuse. There is no such monitoring system in Ireland. I am informed that JobPath is subcontracting out some of its work.

The arrival of JobPath on the Irish labour activation scene has been accompanied by something that is relatively new to the social welfare system, namely, sanctions. There has been an explosion of sanctions from 359 in 2015 to almost 11,200 in 2018. More than 55,000 people have been sanctioned since the arrival of JobPath. In evidence given to the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection recently, Dr. Tom Boland of WIT pointed out that those sanctions had been there but had become much more oppressive and punitive with the arrival of JobPath. When a JobPath company recommends someone for sanction, we have the totally unacceptable situation of the Department acting as a rubber stamp. It does not investigate the matter at all. Two private companies are earning loads of money from the taxpayer and effectively have the power to sanction our citizens and deprive them of all or part of their social welfare payments without the slightest intervention by the Department. That is not acceptable.

All this has been done, unfortunately, at the expense of services that were properly provided by the State. I note the Minister states in her speech that unemployment was so high in 2015 that we needed extra resources. The community employment schemes, Tús, the rural social scheme and the LES were the resources which the State had and the obvious answer was to invest properly in those resources. If the Minister did, she would have got a much better result, and more cheaply for the taxpayer, because 29% of those who go through the LES system are employed after a 12-month period whereas 9% on JobPath get employment that lasts more than a year, with all the taxpayers' money being spent on this system going into the pockets of private operators. The uplift in the economy alone would have guaranteed that 9%, if not more, would have got jobs anyway. What function exactly has JobPath performed over the past four or five years?

It is ironic that the Indecon report, which was commissioned by the Department to tell the Minister what to do now that we are in a much better situation in the labour market, made two recommendations on the LES. It recommended that the LES should now, because of the significant drop in unemployment, concentrate on the long-term unemployed. Was that not what JobPath was set up to do? This country cannot afford to have two agencies - one public and one private - concentrating on that particular sector of the unemployed. The LES can do the job perfectly well.

The Indecon report also suggests that with the drop in unemployment the resources being made available by the State to the LES should be reduced. I do not agree with that. Unemployment has dropped but underemployment is still quite considerable in this country. Many are in precarious uncertain jobs, many are not employed to their full capacity or ability, and many want to upskill. Upskilling should be a fundamental part of labour activation. We have the opposite here. We have down-skilling or de-skilling where people are trapped in these low-paid, low-skill jobs which they must take up on pain of sanction. We should continue to invest in the LES. It still has a considerable job of work to do, particularly for those on the margins. It would be perverse in the extreme if the Minister was to reduce the resources available to the LES in order to keep these two private companies in operation. That would be utterly unacceptable.

The Minister will be aware that a similar motion to the one tonight was put down in the Seanad recently and my party sought to amend it by asking the Government to do certain things to improve the operation of JobPath. We did that in an attempt to be reasonable but, apart from one change, namely, the right of somebody on JobPath to apply for a CE scheme if such was available, nothing has been done. Meanwhile, the racket continues.

I heard the correspondence that Deputy Buckley read out. I could plaster the room with such messages from all over the country which I constantly get, and they cannot be all wrong.

It is time to focus on the resources available to the State. Let them concentrate on the long-term unemployed. Let them concentrate on getting people out of precarious employment into a better type of employment. Let them concentrate on upskilling. It is time to give this particular scheme a decent burial. My party will be supporting the motion.

9:30 pm

Photo of John CurranJohn Curran (Dublin Mid West, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate and I thank Deputy Brady for putting the motion down. As Deputy O'Dea indicated, Fianna Fáil will be supporting this motion.

As the Minister will be well aware, this issue has been on the agenda of the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection for quite a while. This debate is quite timely because the Minister indicated that an interdepartmental group is reviewing community employment, the Indecon report on LES and job clubs has recently been published and JobPath's natural run is coming to a conclusion.

In her opening statement, the Minister attributed much of the success in the reduction in unemployment to JobPath. No doubt JobPath had a role to play in it but the underlying cause was the growing economy. There were entrepreneurs in this country who took advantage of the opportunity of a rising economy and they created the jobs. JobPath may have had a role in facilitating some getting those jobs but we need to be clear it was the economic conditions of the country that created those jobs.

The Minister published many statistics but one of the points is missing. She talked about the number of people who have engaged with JobPath and those who were involved for so long, but nowhere has she indicated, which is in motion put down by Deputy Brady, how many people have maintained a job for a year or longer. That is not in the Government amendment. That is quite significant. We can use the statistics any way we want.

In the Government amendment, the Minister makes reference to the fact that the most decisive factor in individuals improving their economic circumstances and being lifted out of poverty is to secure employment. That is not enough. It is the type of employment and whether the employment is of a level sufficient that is decisive. With JobPath, the type of job those we have met got have not in many cases tied in with the level of skills and expertise they have. There is not that joined-up thinking. While JobPath has seen a significant number of people engage with it, according to the numbers the Minister has given in a quantitative way, the qualitative analysis of the types of jobs people have got has not been clear by any means.

There is no question that while it was being rolled out, JobPath had a negative impact on other schemes, such as community employment and LES, all of which were deprived of applicants. That is a fair comment to make. The Minister may or may not agree with it, but all those schemes found it more difficult because applicants were being diverted, by and large, to JobPath.

I will make one final point on LES. The Indecon report was published recently and it made a number of recommendations. One recommendation that should be looked at concerns the long-term unemployed. We need to look at geographic areas that have sustained long-term intergenerational unemployment. There is significant scope for LES to develop its services there and I note that the Indecon report talks about those programmes being funded on a multi-annual basis.

Photo of Mary ButlerMary Butler (Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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Fianna Fáil is supporting this Sinn Féin motion on JobPath and I thank Deputy Brady for bringing it forward. It is timely. My party is, of course, in favour of measures that support bringing people back into employment. However, we recognise and are concerned that JobPath has been the subject of substantial and sustained criticism.

Over the past number of years, Fianna Fáil has sought to improve JobPath and highlight its serious misgivings about the scheme. Given the ongoing criticisms that have been levelled at JobPath and the fact the numbers participating in the labour market have increased substantially, it is now time to wind down the operation of this activation scheme.

One of the first issues I dealt with in relation to JobPath was the random selection approach to the person. Unfortunately, not everyone on jobseeker's allowance - a small number of people - is in a position to take up full-time employment. There may be a number of factors that prevent people from entering into or remaining part of the labour market. These factors may include: family breakdown, alcohol or substance misuse, health issues, including mental health, and literacy problems. I recently met a representative of the National Adult Literacy Agency, NALA, and I was astonished to hear that one in six adults finds it hard to read and understand a bus timetable or medicine instructions, for example. The high cost of childcare, the lack of adequate public transport and precarious work are also barriers that can prevent people from entering the labour market. Therefore, the one-size-fits-all approach to activation is not suitable to everyone's needs.

As a party, we also sought to improve the activation scheme as much as feasibly possible. For example, as Deputy O'Dea stated, last year we secured a change to the scheme whereby an individual could engage in a CE or Tús scheme while on JobPath.

The contribution to local communities of these CE schemes, including working with sports clubs, church groups, meals on wheels, the elderly, youth education support schemes, Tidy Towns and heritage projects cannot be underestimated.

It is unacceptable that any individual should have been placed in a situation such as one that was discussed recently in the committee. I believe that the time has come to wind down the scheme because we have a huge number of people now in work.

9:40 pm

Photo of Eamon ScanlonEamon Scanlon (Sligo-Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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A very significant amount of public money has been spent on JobPath. We were told it was €150 million. However, only 9% of those who were referred to the scheme have been in employment for 52 weeks. This represents a poor outcome for those who have participated on the scheme and poor value for taxpayers' money. Given the significant demands on public finances the Government should be more diligent in ensuring that private companies contracted to do work on behalf of the State are actually fulfilling their duties.

We have talked about this matter many times in the Dáil and I believe it is time for a change. The Minister, Deputy Doherty, referred to the 600 people. The only definite jobs here are those of the 600 people employed to provide these services. I am sure they are committed and professional people but unfortunately the scheme is not working.

People who are over the age of 55 and into their 60s are being put onto these JobPath schemes but to be honest these are people who have no chance in this wide, earthly world of getting a job. It is a form of elder abuse to put people over the age of 60 into these schemes and expect them to go out and try to get a job. We all know that they have no chance of ever getting such a job. It is wrong that this is happening.

I put it to the Minister that it is an awful lot of money. When I left school 30 of my classmates went on to AnCO, FÁS and those types of training schemes. Those people went and learned a trade, whether it was electrical, block laying, carpentry or plumbing. They went on to create jobs for themselves and a lot of work for many other people also. This is where the emphasis should be. We are aware of the great shortfall in the numbers of tradespeople. They will be needed because houses and factories have to be built. There is, however, nobody to do the work and this is where the emphasis should be. Let these people train the younger people who are fit to do this work. Emphasise that aspect and leave the older people on their community employment schemes where they do work which they feel is valued in their local communities, and where people appreciate the work they do. Do not force them into this false perception that they are going to get jobs. They are not going to get jobs. The Minister knows that and I know that.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister said that she had presented the facts about JobPath. I argue that she has actually presented a particular version of the facts. The Minister said that 206,000 people have engaged with JobPath and, of those, 41,000 went into full-time employment and 5,000 went into part-time employment. Of the 41,000 in full-time employed only 9% went beyond 12 months. These figures also mean that 160,000 participants got no employment whatsoever. I believe that this is the more significant number. The Minister said that it came to €790 of taxpayers' money per individual. I would look at this in a different way. If we take the 46,000 jobs that were created - a figure presented by the Minister but which I would say is arguable - this means it cost €3,478 per individual who went back into work, and only 9% of those worked beyond 12 months. The facts that the Minister has presented, if taken in a different way, can present a very different picture that serves to illustrate that JobPath is not working.

The initial intention of JobPath was to create a situation to get people back to work, and of course we support job activation measures. Those people who can work should work, and nobody is suggesting otherwise. Part of the focus of JobPath was to get people off the live register, and it suited the Government to get those figures down. It is deeply concerning when the Minister says that 6,000 customers were interviewed to see what their experience of JobPath was like. Citizens engaging with the State to get back to work should never be referred to as "customers". They are citizens. Therein lies the inherent problem. We have two private companies - Seetec and Turas Nua - doing the job that the State should be doing. Yes they are doing a job contracted for by the State but they are also private companies operating to make a profit. I have no difficulty with companies seeking to make a profit but I have a serious difficulty with private companies doing work the State should be doing. I ask the Minister to reconsider her amendment and to see that the time has come to put JobPath behind us.

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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I compliment Sinn Féin on the motion. I generally find the staff of the Department helpful, courteous and understanding. There seem to be instructions, however, coming from on high all the time to take a draconian, Victorian view towards people who are unemployed. There seems to be a view out there, coming from the very top of the Minister's Department, that there are plenty of able-bodied people who are mentally and physically able to work who are too lazy to work or to look for a job. I do not believe that.

Reference was made to the drop in the unemployment figures. If 100,000 jobs are created in the economy the likelihood is that 100,000 people will take up employment. It is as simple as that. The figures for unemployment are going to come down. The idea that the Minister can claim that all of the decrease in the unemployment figures is due to JobPath is absolutely and scientifically fallacious.

I am totally in favour of rote calling people in on the basis of severe penalty if they do not turn up. Perhaps the Minister does not have the same contact with the people on the ground that some of us have week in and week out in our constituency clinics, but for a large number of people in my constituency who are getting called in, JobPath was a kind of purgatory a person went through until he or she was allowed on a CE or the Tús scheme. People would suffer it. People who would not need a CV to get a job, because they were likely to get jobs locally, were spending days working with computers when they had no knowledge, no interest and no skills in that direction.

What really scares me is that we know the likelihood is that this motion is going to be passed as put down by Sinn Féin because, I presume, we will get support for it from the Independents 4 Change and People Before Profit. The Minister has obviously just torn it up and said, "Sorry, that is rubbish, I am going ahead with this contract again." That is total and utter disrespect for Dáil Éireann. I hope that when the Minister's amendment is defeated she will have the good grace to say, "The will of Dáil Éireann is that I do not renew the contract."

Photo of Brendan  RyanBrendan Ryan (Dublin Fingal, Labour)
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The Labour Party will be supporting the Sinn Féin motion. The devastating crash caused disastrous economic mismanagement that saw unemployment peak in late 2011 at 15.9%, with hundreds of thousands of people losing their jobs, emigrating or being underemployed.

The crisis of record high unemployment has largely been addressed but much work remains to help more people back into work and education. I believe that the JobPath approach is no longer needed. The pressure from the troika to set up JobPath came in the context of very high unemployment. The greatest concern for policy makers and politicians was the prospect of a generation of workers becoming long-term unemployed and lost to the world of work, as happened in the 1980s. Thankfully that has been avoided.

It is our view that public and community services are much better placed now to deliver the tailored supports to workers, rather than for-profit entities like Seetec and Turas Nua. The Department should go back to fully supporting the local employment service network and resourcing community employment schemes, along with education and training programmes to help those most distant from the workforce to re-skill and equip themselves for work.

The Labour Party is justifiably proud that due to the work we started, unemployment has fallen for 25 straight quarters in a row. That is one of the biggest reductions in unemployment ever in the developed world.

The crisis of unemployment saw many different approaches applied to get people back to work. Under Pathways to Work and An Action Plan for Jobs, hundreds of measures were taken. Much more needs to be done, but some of those measures can now be retired. The success of schemes like JobsPlus, community employment schemes, the back-to-education payment, Momentum and Tús in keeping people’s skills relevant and helping them back into work has worked. The business case for JobPath no longer exists.

At the peak of the crisis, 321,900 people were unemployed with a long-term unemployment rate of 9.5%. Thousands of people were underemployed and emigrated. JobPath was a creation of the time when unemployment was significantly higher, and was expected to remain high for some time to come.

None of the experts in the Department, the troika or anyone else expected the job-rich recovery we have witnessed. Many critics claimed for a long time that these were not real jobs at all and that the employment figures were false or misleading. According to figures published earlier today by the CSO, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate stands at 5.3%. While that remains too high, there is no justification for continuing the commercial contracting of activation services under JobPath. According to the CSO figures, 127,300 people are out of work. Unfortunately, no breakdown as to duration is available in those figures, the most recent data available from the more comprehensive labour-force survey sets out that there were 50,200 long-term unemployed. However, that figure will have fallen in the meantime. As such, there is no justification to continue a programme of the scale of JobPath to address long-term unemployment. There is more than adequate capacity within Intreo, the local employment service and activation schemes. In early 2016, there were more than 125,000 long-term unemployed but the numbers will continue to fall. Any analysis of the facts relating to employment and the activation supports provided under Intreo shows there is sufficient capacity to support those who need assistance.

It is disappointing that since the contract for JobPath was awarded in 2015, there has been no comprehensive external evaluation of the service. That is why I emphasise the support of the Labour Party for local employment services and particularly for the one-on-one approach they adopt. The individualised supports they put in place for those seeking employment, especially those who may have disabilities, low educational or training qualifications or criminal records. The recent Indecon report demonstrates the effectiveness of the on-the-ground approach of local services. Unfortunately, no similar study is available on JobPath. After three years, it is bizarre that no independent data is available on the performance of the service.

There is a fear out there which I hope the Minister can allay tonight. This is that the next series of tenders for local employment services will be a national one which excludes local partnerships and, by default, privatise the service to the likes of Seetec. Under the current JobPath contract, the last referrals will be made at the end of 2019 with a two-year work-out period to 2021. The Minister should provide a commitment to the effect that Fine Gael will not extend the period for client referrals by two years as provided for in the terms of the contract. I hope the Minister will give that assurance. The one-size-fits-all approach of JobPath is no longer appropriate. It is time to return to the tailored approach that has a proven track record.

I want to discuss the culture within Seetec. It has been unacceptable. I have received several complaints from constituents. They are people of the highest calibre I know personally and whose feedback I trust. This is not anecdotal nor is it hearsay. These are people I know and trust. One 60 year old woman with little formal education and definitely no computer skills was forced to sit in front of a computer to look for work. She was threatened that if she did not turn up on the next occasion to do the same, her money would be cut. People have been told to give up part-time jobs. A man on a short-time week ahead of redundancy after 30 years of service was told to give up that job. There was wholesale bullying of participants. Whether the Minister accepts it is immaterial; it is a fact as people here know. People left rooms in tears at the bullying approach of some of these people and that is not acceptable.

It is time to bring JobPath to an end. Its culture is unacceptable. It might have been an experiment worth doing at a certain time when particular pressures obtained, but it is time to abandon it. There should be no further referrals and there should be no extension of contracts. I ask the Minister to bring it to an end at the earliest opportunity. I was disappointed at the last page of the Minister’s opening statement where she discussed the future. She said she was looking to the future for activation services and that her Department was already examining future options for contracted activation provision for 2020 onward. It suggests to me at least that she plans to continue JobPath. If so, I am extremely disappointed.

9:50 pm

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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There must be some logic behind any scheme of this nature. I have looked for the logic behind the comprehensive JobPath scheme. Having done so and listened to the evidence presented to the joint committee and considered the relevant statistics, it appears that the whole project is based on the belief that the problem with unemployment is unemployed people. Having come through the 2008 recession and the cuts and austerity of the years which followed, it is incredible that anyone would suggest that the mass unemployment and emigration was caused by behavioural deficits in individuals looking for work. Nevertheless, that is the logic behind the JobPath scheme. If someone is unemployed, it is his or her own fault and we will help, punish, force, cajole and twist that person's arm until he or she is back in employment. Underlying this is an assault on standard employment rights, pension entitlements, security, stable employment and the massive growth in low-paid jobs. This is not a reference to the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, but the true attitude of the Government was shown clearly in the Taoiseach's class bias during his campaign to become leader of Fine Gael and his reference to welfare cheats cheating us all. He referred to those who pay for nothing and get everything and said he was the one who represented those who got up early. The Taoiseach did not conceal his class contempt, unlike this scheme which pretends to help the unemployed while hiding behind a punitive screen. For many, it intimidates, causes mental health problems and is very scary.

In 2011, at the height of the recession, there were 359 welfare sanctions. In 2017, there were 16,451. Those figures are from the Minister's office. That is no accident. It is a direct result of labour activation programmes that come at a time when the numbers unemployed have fallen dramatically. In reply to a parliamentary question I submitted to the Department last January, I was told 6,500 people had been sanctioned directly as a result of JobPath. In other words, their dole money was stopped or deducted for failing to co-operate with service providers. They were not sanctioned for being abusive, violent, aggressive, for failing to co-operate or for being unable to demonstrate that they had sought work. We have heard many examples from around the Chamber this evening and will hear more. These are mind. For many, the sanction was the result of a refusal to sign a personal progression plan notwithstanding the fact that they have no legal obligation to do so. For some, it was for failing to show up for an interview. I have brought to the Minister's attention previously the case of a Traveller woman was able to provide evidence that she missed an interview as she had to spend the day in Crumlin Hospital with her child. Nevertheless, she was sanctioned for doing so. One man on a back-to-work scheme was given the wrong information by Seetec on where to go and lost money as a direct result. When he complained about the personal adviser appointed to his case by Seetec, he was threatened with further sanction.

Last year, the State paid two private companies €84 million to operate the JobPath scheme. In the Minister's words, Seetec and Turas Nua were paid to provide intensive individual support to the unemployed. I refer in that regard to the examples I have just provided. It is interesting to note that while both companies have been contracted to deliver JobPath based on their skills, ability and experience, they have subcontracted the programme from the outset to additional companies. Seetec has subcontracted PeopleFirst Ltd. while, more interestingly, Turas Nua subcontracted to two companies, namely, Working Links and FRS Recruitment. Working Links and FRS Recruitment are, in fact, a joint venture which make up Turas Nua. As such, Turas Nua has subcontracted back to itself. There must be an accounting trick being played there but that is what has happened. Under the scheme, there is no obligation on the companies to report to the Department that they are contracting out.

Like many colleagues in the House, I have been contracted by people whose experience is very different to the gloss put on JobPath by the Department and various Ministers. There have been incidents in which people have successfully applied for training courses or were about to go on community employment schemes only for Seetec to call them in on the same day and refuse to release them. Seetec has insisted that these individuals have already started on the JobPath scheme and cannot do useful work on community employment schemes. This is particularly vindictive when a person has been accepted for a course involving an educational element and class attendance. It may not be the kind of work the person wants, but he or she is willing to be educated, reskilled and trained.

In contrast, JobPath is more concerned with getting people into whatever low-paid job it can find for them, regardless of their suitability. It is very questionable as to whether they find people real jobs.

When questioned by me in the Dáil, the Minister spoke about an independent survey that indicated high levels of satisfaction with the scheme. We are very sceptical about the survey. A truly independent survey, by two academics from Waterford Institute of Technology, showed the scheme is becoming more alienating and more punitive and welfare recipients feel degraded and coerced by the process and experience anxiety and depression.

JobPath does not help people get back to work. When jobs are available in the economy unemployment falls. It is that simple. What JobPath is about is punishing the unemployed and pushing them into the jobs that are low paid with low hours and poor conditions. More people were put into JobPath at the same time as unemployment figures started to fall. The growth in job figures is based on a boom in the low-paid, low-hour precarious employment industry, with jobs with little security, no pensions and no sick schemes. A total of 150,000 workers are on the minimum wage or lower. Between 20% and 30% of our workforce is classed as low paid, one of the highest rates of low paid in Europe and the highest low paid rate for full-time employees, at 17%. This is the real rationale behind JobPath, to make jobs palatable to the employer and low-paid, low-hour precarious jobs more appealing than a basic welfare society, and to humiliate and bully people into these sectors and jobs. It represents the start of the privatisation of social protection, with private companies doing the work that should be done by the public service. In England, these companies have a record of being accused of fraud and bullying in the operation of similar schemes.

We support the Sinn Féin motion. We need to end the scheme and end the largesse of the State being passed on to Seetec, Turas Nua and other subcontracted companies. If we want to help the unemployed, and I assume we do, we should divert the wasted resource that is swelling the accounts of private companies into education and improving the skills of the unemployed and creating a working environment that respects and pays workers a living wage and gives them a future that is secure and not dependent on the profit margins of their bosses.

10:00 pm

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, Independent)
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I support the motion and I welcome the debate on JobPath. The fact the Comptroller and Auditor General, Seamus McCarthy, told a committee meeting that only 7% were still employed after 12 months in the Seetec and Turas Nua service speaks for itself. It was also reported that 9% of people, that is, 17,100 people, were still in work after 52 weeks. The figure after 26 weeks is 14%, 12% after 39 weeks and 17% after 13 weeks. This is in the for-profit labour activation scheme. On the other hand, according to the Indecon report, the local employment service successfully achieved full-time employment placement for 30% of those referred annually. In addition, while working with lower qualification levels and those most in need of employment supports, the local employment service has progressed the majority of its remaining caseload to part-time jobs and other pathways to work, such as further training and employment schemes.

We must ask why, in 2015, Fine Gael and the Labour Party introduced JobPath and forced people through it to get to the workplace. It was about privatising our services. It is an ideological approach to our services. There were choices. We could have resourced local employment schemes, adult guidance schemes, community employment, the rural social scheme, Tús and JobsPlus but a choice was taken to hand our employment services to private labour activation schemes. I support ending the contract for JobPath and the other points made by Deputy Brady and in the Sinn Féin motion.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I thank Sinn Féin, in particular Deputy Brady, for tabling the motion and I have no hesitation in supporting it. I am sorry the Minister has left. I know that for various reasons Ministers must leave because, as has already been referred to by a Labour Party Deputy, what the Minister said was worrying. She stated she is looking to the future for activation services. She stated the Department has already examined future options for contracted activation services. This is particularly worrying in view of the fact it seems the majority of the Dáil will vote in favour of the motion and have expressed great concern about the activation programmes.

Another worrying aspect of her speech is the manipulation of figures. Whoever wrote the speech told us it works out at €790 per individual. That figure is totally disingenuous, to put it mildly. The figure given to the Committee of Public Accounts was €3,718 per job created. When we are going to play with figures like this it is difficult to have trust.

Why was the scheme introduced in the first place when the Labour Party was in power with Fine Gael? I have no idea. The justification that it was worth the experiment, which was said a few minutes ago, beggars belief. What should have happened at the time was the existing schemes should have been properly resourced but that did not happen. Of course, it was an ideological decision to privatise the service. At this stage, the Government should gracefully put up its hands and realise the experiment has not worked. It has been referred to as an experiment and it simply has not worked. It is expensive and not worth it. It also undermines communities. There are other difficulties but this is my main difficulty with it. It particularly undermined the community employment scheme and the other schemes to which we have referred. These schemes are about a lot more than employment. They are croílár na gceantar, the heart of the community, that function on every level, including providing crèche services, and communities could not survive without them. It is particularly worrying that this aspect was left out of the Minister's speech. She seems unable to grasp the importance of these organisations.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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Prior to Christmas, I raised this exact issue with the Taoiseach on Leaders' Questions. Based on 2015 and 2016 figures, I revealed that JobPath increased the chances of gaining full-time employment by only 2% for unemployed people. This was based on the Department's figures. It surely is a great return on the money invested in it. Figures for part-time work are better but this means that work for these people is often in seasonal, precarious and low-wage employment. So low are these wages that the State regularly steps in to subsidise the income through the family income supplement, part-time jobseeker's benefit and jobseeker's allowance. This is very common in Donegal.

JobPath is a reflection of where Ireland's welfare policy is going. Instead of social welfare being seen as a right it is now seen as a transaction and the entitlement to welfare has been replaced by a quasi-contract called the record of mutual commitments. Those who do not engage with the service are sanctioned. Those aged under 26 suffer twice due to cuts made to jobseeker's payments for younger people.

Fine Gael is actively undermining the social welfare system to justify outsourcing social services to private companies. The private sector, in turn, further undermines the social welfare system. Social welfare services, such as the local employment service, adult guidance services, community employment, the rural social scheme, Tús and job clubs have been in decline since Fine Gael came to power. Despite this, recently commissioned research by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has revealed that local employment schemes successfully achieve full-time employment placement for 28.8% of those referred to them annually. The local employment scheme model is better value for money, costing €2,544 per full-time employment placement compared with €3,718 per person under JobPath's payment by results model.

These figures defy any Government justification for the existence of JobPath and prove that adequately resourced employment schemes within community settings work for recipients. JobPath should be shut down and the money reinvested into State services. Ireland must move away from encroaching privatisation of social service provision and re-establish the notion of social welfare as an entitlement and a right, not a transaction. Unfortunately, we need to get rid of this Fine Gael Government and its Fianna Fáil supporters for that to happen.

10:10 pm

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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I welcome this motion and commend Sinn Féin on putting it forward. I have great doubts, however, that anything will be done about the issues many Deputies have raised tonight. I am afraid this will all fall on deaf ears, as has happened before. However, I hope that will not happen tonight.

The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, has hailed JobPath as the most successful job activation scheme in the history of the State. The employment outcomes of JobPath do not reflect this in reality. As of November 2018, 190,000 people had been referred to JobPath, of whom only 9% were able to secure employment that lasted for one year or longer. The Government is deceiving people about the true numbers in gainful employment. When people go on a JobPath scheme, they are taken off the live register, which reflects the unemployment level. People should be taken off the live register when they gain proper employment and are no longer in receipt of a payment from the State and not before.

There is a problem with people being referred to JobPath for a second time. As of January 2019, more than 21,000 people who had previously completed JobPath had been referred to the scheme for a second time. When this happens, Turas Nua or Seetec receives a double payment. We need to keep a close eye on this issue to ensure the system is not being abused. I have heard at first-hand from constituents who are frustrated at having to complete a second JobPath scheme. These people want to further their education and job skills and return to the workforce but the system is holding them back.

We also need to consider people living on islands who are expected to travel unrealistic distances to JobPath courses. People living on an island must get a ferry to the mainland and then try to catch a bus or thumb a lift to the location of the course, which could be miles away. It is completely unrealistic to expect islanders to be able to travel such a distance every day. No consideration is given to the fact that no matter how hard they try, people living on islands will not be able to make it to a course on time because of ferry times and the need to get another mode of transport once they reach the mainland. In one case in west Cork, the ferry does not leave an island until 9.30 a.m. The man who contacted me is supposed to be about 30 miles away attending a course at around the same time. He gets there at around 11 a.m. and his unemployment benefit has now been cut to rags. That is absolutely insane. No understanding is shown and the rules are draconian.

The Department's preference to refer people to JobPath as opposed to community employment schemes, rural social schemes and the Tús scheme means these schemes are suffering. Thousands of vacancies in community employment schemes cannot be filled as a result. It is important to note the vital benefits such schemes provide to local communities. I commend all workers in community employment and those on the ground who are giving their time voluntarily to ensure the schemes run smoothly. I wrote to the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection in July 2018 outlining that people in community employment and the Tús scheme were only getting €22.50 extra per week added to their payments. I asked the Minister to consider raising that amount in the budget as it is insufficient to encourage people to participate in these schemes. Taking into consideration extra costs such as travel that people on these schemes incur, that is not good enough. While I welcome the €5 increase due to come into effect in March, that small increase in addition to the social welfare payment is still not sufficient when travel costs are taken into account.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I am also delighted to speak on this motion. I commend the excellent work of Deputy Brady. He has doggedly pursued this issue with the Minister for some time now. She is not listening, however. There is no doubt about that. Turas Nua operates according to a bullying and coercive model. While I accept that individual staff may be sympathetic, the generally held view is that people are being put under incredible pressure to take up employment in areas in which they have no interest. This is completely demoralising. The Minister of State should know that but the Fine Gael Party does not know anything about ordinary people. I know political staff members in this House who are being hounded by Turas Nua and effectively being told that despite working three days a week in this institution, they must continue to attend ridiculous sessions where they are questioned on whether they can use email or draw up a curriculum vitae. That is nothing short of intimidation.

The Minister of State is reading something on his phone. I am glad he can do that. What I have spoken of is typical Fine Gael bullying and intimidation of ordinary citizens. It is all about the Government and let everybody else - the peasants - eat cake. This is an absurd waste of time and resources. I asked the Minister last year whether Turas Nua was a private limited company, what payments were made to it to operate its contract with the Department and the period for which such payments were made. The Minister, in her typically arrogant fashion, replied that Turas Nua was a joint venture between FRS Network, the farm relief service, which puts up fences, calves cows, lambs sheep and does great work, and Working Links. I was informed, however, that it was not intended to publish individual payments to the JobPath companies as these were "commercially sensitive" and to do so would place the State at a disadvantage in respect of contracts now in place and future recruitment that might be undertaken. That is a load of codswallop. It is a drivel. This kind of pathetic lack of transparency is just one of the reasons I am supporting the motion. That answer is disgraceful. It shows the empathy the Government has with ordinary people.

I salute the people on community employment and rural social schemes. More important, I support the people and voluntary bodies that run and operate all of these schemes. They are ordinary working people who give their time freely. That is being hijacked. The Government was warned about similar things across the water in England where the same kind of cabal operated. It took over this scheme and destroyed it, as the Government knew well. It was not confused and it knew what it was walking into but it suited Fine Gael's neoliberal agenda and to hell with ordinary people.

Fine Gael is the party of big business and the people with daffodils up the boreens and big trees in big lanes, in other words, the Blueshirts. The people on schemes are to be put back to where they were before and to hell with them. The Government has ruined people's lives. People have taken their own lives and have been tormented, destroyed and demoralised by the way they have been treated. It is nothing short of a disgrace that the Government gets away with this. It is a shame the Minister could not stay for the debate.

The Government bandwagon was wheeled into Tipperary town last Friday. Some 867 people on jobseeker's benefit were written to and told that if they did not turn up at a jobs fair or public relations campaign for Fine Gael election candidates, their payments might be cut. That is a disgraceful way to intimidate citizens in the year of the centenary anniversary of the ambush at Soloheadbeg when people fought for our freedom from the British. Fine Gael imported this cabal into the country from England. It has given this scheme to FRS and other people in Tipperary to implement. It is nothing short of an outrage that people are being bullied and intimidated instead of being given meaningful jobs.

On the flipside, last week we had two Ministers down in Tipperary. The Taoiseach told me 900 people were invited. Was I not invited? I would not be next, nigh nor near the event. There is intimidation, bullying, discrimination and abuse of people who cannot get proper work. Some of them have medical or mental health issues. The event in question was fine for Fine Gael. It is nothing other than the party of the big people and to hell or Connacht with everybody else. Cromwell is back in the form of the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty. The Minister of State, Deputy Breen, is not far behind her. Being from Clare, he should know better. In rural parts of Clare such as Parteen there are marginalised people. How will they travel to these places? It is shameful and disgraceful. I support this motion.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Eugene Murphy has been given time by the Social Democrats.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Roscommon-Galway, Fianna Fail)
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Last September, thejournal.iereported that 11,000 jobseekers were forced to do the same programme twice. From reading the Minister of State's script this evening, that figure seems to have risen to more than 21,000. I assure the Minister of State, from speaking to people since I was elected to this House in 2016, that one of the most hated schemes ever introduced by a Government was JobPath. When asked about the scheme by constituents, I always said I would make representations about it as I was genuinely worried about the state of mind of some of them. People were being asked to travel 20 miles or 30 miles out of their way without transport being available. Public transport is not available in many areas and some people on the JobPath scheme could not get to work.

When they approached me, they always asked me not to make a complaint because they were afraid that it might be put down as a mark against them.

I have utter intolerance for the scheme and fully support Deputy Brady and Sinn Féin in tabling the motion. Since JobPath was introduced in 2015 by the former Fine Gael-Labour Party Government, which I accept may have been a genuine effort at the time to do something, many Deputies who were then Members of the House, as well as those elected in 2016, have on numerous occasions stated that the scheme was not working. I know from many of the people I represent that they despise the scheme. The amount that two private firms are given to implement the scheme is appalling. If I am not mistaken, it is approximately €160 million.

There were fine FÁS schemes, Tús schemes, CLÁR schemes in the country, although I acknowledge there were and are shortcomings. I urge the Government to scrap JobPath, revisit those community-based schemes and put the money back into them. A guy or lassie in the local village might be asked under JobPath to travel 20 or 30 miles without transport to somewhere, but if he or she could go on a local community FÁS scheme close to home, would that not make perfect sense?

Fianna Fáil has recognised that full employment is the optimum, and it sometimes recognised that during the engagement period with the JobPath service, but this service is not the way to go. After more than three years, it is time to scrap it, bin it and, as other Deputies have said, treat people with respect. I agree with other contributors to the debate. The one-size-fits-all approach that the Government takes at times is not the way to treat human beings. Not everyone who leaves JobPath does not want to work. In many cases, there are genuine reasons. There must be a better way for people.

My party and I will fully support the motion. I hope the Government parties will see sense and withdraw its amendment because it is turning more and more people against them. Many people just do not fit into certain categories, and elected representatives and Governments must acknowledge that. In this case, however, the Government does not acknowledge that the scheme is a fiasco. It is an unacceptable disaster that treats many people in society in a negative and derogatory way.

The Minister of State is a reasonable man. In my dealings with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the officials who work there are genuine and helpful, as I had intended to say when the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, was present. I know that from dealing with them every day, as do my staff. Nevertheless, we must send a clear message to scrap the scheme. It is not workable or acceptable, and I commend Deputy Brady on his motion. I am delighted that my party and I will support the motion.

10:20 pm

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
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I thank my colleague, Deputy Brady, for bringing forward this important motion. Everyone of us is contacted by constituents, weekly or even more often, stressed or terrified because they have been forced by JobPath to go on courses that have no relation to what they want to do with their lives or what they had hoped to achieve with their lives.

The Minister of State lives in a constituency adjoining my own and he will understand. I wish the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, was present but she is not. Eight of the country's top ten unemployment black spots are in Limerick city and it is a national disgrace that this has not been challenged. If I thought for one second that JobPath had made any impact on unemployment in Limerick city, I would be jumping up and down in the Chamber demanding it be retained, but I am 100% sure it has had no impact on the statistic. Rather, it focuses on people who had good jobs for a number of years and, unfortunately, lost their jobs or people who wanted to apply for a community employment scheme but were not allowed. It also focuses, as was mentioned, on people with various issues such as childcare or on people in rural areas with a lack of access to transport who are brought to the same pointless meetings, week in, week out. One person's job had been helping other people find jobs, type up curricula vitae, CVs, and so on, but he was forced to learn how to write a CV. How ridiculous is that? If he had not done it, he would have been sanctioned, as the Minister of State will be aware.

The scheme is straight out of the Margaret Thatcher-Tory playbook, as the Government knows. It is not just Sinn Féin which is of the firm opinion that JobPath has utterly failed. People who lose their jobs and try to return to the workforce need help, support and guidance but, unfortunately, most are left wanting after their engagement with Turas Nua and Seetec.

I did not have to hear the presentation in the AV room earlier to realise how bad the situation was because I deal with the people involved daily or weekly. We heard from Dr. Tom Boland and Dr. Ray Griffin from the Waterford Un/Employment Research Collaborative at WIT, and they gave a damning account of the JobPath programme, describing it as an expensive construction of a negative experience. They outlined how the people they interviewed engaged with JobPath and signed up for jobs totally unsuited to their abilities, and that the private companies running the programme did not take account of family circumstances, such as having to care for relatives, and made threats to cut people's social welfare payments.

In my previous role on a council, I was involved in a partnership and the council was part of a good LES scheme. The Government could have funded that but as it took a leaf out of the Tory book; it wanted to fund private companies with more than €160 million, which is double the cost of the LES scheme.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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JobPath has been an abject failure for the people who have engaged with it, virtually throughout Ireland. In my constituency, everyone engaged in the JobPath process with whom I have spoken has said so. I am not just talking about those who have entered the scheme and found that it did not work for them because they did not find the kind of job they wanted. People who found jobs they wanted said they would have got the jobs anyway and that JobPath had nothing to do with it. The figures mentioned in the Government's amendment outlining the people who have found jobs and the success of people finding employment have nothing to do with JobPath. The vast majority of them would have found jobs in any event. The Government has recklessly wasted millions of taxpayers' euros on a scheme that is a failure, and it needs to admit this. In fact, I do not care whether it admits it. Its members can stand up in the Chamber and say it is grand, but in the next couple of months, the Government should slowly put it away and we can all forget about it. It needs to happen quickly.

Many people who may be in a precarious position in life and who find it difficult to get a job need support rather than pressure. As we all know, it is a fine line between how one interprets support and pressure, but everyone in that circumstance whom I know and who has engaged with JobPath has found it a pressurised process that has put them in a position where they are unable to face looking for a job they want because it has destroyed their confidence, not enhanced it.

There is also an issue with people slightly more advanced in life. A woman who lives near me ended up in one of the situations I have outlined. For 12 years she looked after her elderly parents, but in her early 60s she found herself alone at home, after her parents had died. She had not worked in a job for many years since she worked in a shop for a while in her younger days. JobPath contacted her but the job it wanted to give her was at a KFC fast-food restaurant 14 miles away and she had no car to get to it. It was ridiculous. We must all acknowledge that kind of problem.

Approximately two years ago, I told the House that I had watched a film, "I, Daniel Blake" by Ken Loach, at the cinema. It was based on the premise that a similar type of model which was used in Britain for a long time was a failure that failed the people it set out to help. It is time to quietly fold up this tent and take it away because it does not work for anyone.

Photo of Denise MitchellDenise Mitchell (Dublin Bay North, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. JobPath is nothing more than an attempt to privatise and outsource our social welfare system, and it has been an utter disaster.

These companies are only interested in making a profit and they get paid a registration fee for every jobseeker on their books. I spoke to a former employee of one of these companies and she told me staff were very clearly told to focus on the more highly skilled individuals in the scheme. I asked the reason for that and her response was that such people would probably find a job anyway, and if they did, Turas Nua and Seetec could collect their payment for that.

I raised before in this Chamber how teachers working part-time as substitutes, along with other skilled workers, are being forced into jobs that do not suit them simply so these companies can collect their job sustainment fee. Instead of participating in a box-ticking exercise and forcing people into any job, even if it does not suit them, we should have more focus on further education, upskilling and genuine supports for our unemployed. This scheme is a complete and utter joke and it has been since day one. We need to end the privatisation of our social welfare system.

10:30 pm

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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During the recession, tens of thousands of people lost their jobs and found themselves relying on social welfare until they found new employment. Now, according to the Government, the economy is booming and unemployment is falling, so we need to ask why these activation schemes continue to be necessary, especially if there is supposed to be a job for anybody who needs one. Sinn Féin supports all efforts to help people get back to work, whether it is through retraining, aiding job searches or engagement with community employment and similar schemes.

This motion specifically relates to JobPath, and the scheme's operation raises serious questions about how we treat people in the State and help them get back to work. It also raises serious questions around transparency, value for money and outcomes for jobseekers. We need more information on who has been targeted by this scheme. The majority of those who have encountered this scheme have reported harassment and feeling bullied or intimidated. It has not been a positive experience by any description. Instead of JobPath, the Department would be better off offering encouragement and assistance to the long-term unemployed so they can access the workplace. They need support to build their skill set and confidence.

The privatisation of work activation schemes is typical of Fine Gael policy and it does not represent good practice for jobseekers; it certainly does not represent good value for the State. The big winners here are Turas Nua and Seetec. As many Deputies have noted, these companies have received more than €150 million of taxpayers' money between them but there is a lack of transparency around much of the reward they receive for each participant. Only 9% of the people on the scheme have secured employment for at least one year, demonstrating JobPath's poor value for money. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, has argued JobPath is the most successful job activation scheme in the history of the State, which demonstrates how detached she is from the reality. I disagree with her and see JobPath as nothing more than a racket.

I urge all parties to support this motion as we need to end JobPath and invest in community-based employment activation schemes, community employment schemes, jobs clubs, Tús, adult guidance services and other initiatives. Such schemes put jobseekers first rather than private business. Community employment schemes represent a good activation model and such schemes benefit both the participant and the local community. The Government probably is not interested as there is no money-making opportunity for private companies in such schemes. We need to ensure people can be supported and they find engagement with good quality and sustainable work. JobPath achieves none of those goals.

Photo of Pat BreenPat Breen (Clare, Fine Gael)
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I thank everybody for contributing to the debate this evening. Some contributions were very interesting and helpful. The Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, eloquently set out the facts about provision of the JobPath service, including performance, the high customer satisfaction level and the low number of complaints. The Comptroller and Auditor General devoted a chapter in his report to the scheme last year and did not identify a requirement to make any recommendations on how the service, contracts and payments are operated by the Department. Many observers would view this as a clean bill of health delivered by the State's auditor.

The scheme's performance has been above expectations, with 46,000 people gaining jobs, and there is an innovative payment-by-results system where the contractor carries all the upfront costs. There are high levels of satisfaction and low levels of complaints. Nevertheless, we heard anecdote and allegation coming without substance being presented as fact by some Members. Simply put, their arguments are that they do not like JobPath. It is not about examining the outcomes for each one of those individuals who got a job or having a concern that citizens have an expectation to receive assistance when unemployed, including financial support and help in finding another job so as to re-enter the workforce. It is not even that the introduction of the JobPath service brought with it increased capacity in activation services across the board, allowing a significant reduction in ratios of almost 2,000 jobseekers to every one case officer to a figure closer to international best practice of 120:1. The introduction of reduced referrals for the local employment services in 2016 allowed for a more intensive engagement with jobseekers while keeping funding and staffing at previous levels. This was a plus for both staff and jobseekers but it has been presented as a diminution of services.

Matters raised have included the nature of the payment-by-results system and the overall cost of the JobPath service. It is important to reiterate that a cost to date of €160 million for 206,000 participants is less than €790 per individual for at least a 52-week service. This compares favourably with other activation services, where the cost is closer to €1,000. Uniquely, the JobPath contractors must bear all the upfront costs, thereby reducing the risk to the State and ensuring that the companies must deliver results in order to recoup costs.

Turning to employment support schemes such as community employment and Tús as a public employment service, the Department's main focus must be to remain on activation and progress as many participants as possible from these schemes into full-time and sustainable employment. Participation in community employment and Tús is for a fixed period and these placements cannot be considered as full-time sustainable jobs. There are participation limits in place to ensure that as many unemployed people as possible are able to benefit from these schemes. Recently, the Minister announced the establishment of an interdepartmental group to examine the future of community employment social inclusion schemes, with a view to ring-fencing social inclusion places and allowing services within the communities to be maintained.

Following an earlier analysis of the community employment programme, a two-strand approach was adopted in 2017 and all community employment placements were categorised in two strands, including a social inclusion strand, with an acknowledgement that not all community employment places were the same. This provided an opportunity for those who are very distant from the labour market to work and deliver services in their local communities, as some speakers have already said. The job activation strand related more directly to employment opportunities for participants who were long-term unemployed with a view to providing more experience relevant to the labour market. There are currently just over 21,000 participants in the community employment schemes, with 30% to 40% of the placements categorised in the social inclusion strand. However, as the number of community employment places is benchmarked to the numbers on the live register, it is expected the number of places on the scheme will reduce unless the current set-up is reviewed.

Recognising that as unemployment lowers there will be less demand for activation schemes, the Minister wishes to make a strong distinction between activation schemes and the social inclusion category. These social inclusion placements require a separate focus to ensure that those who are very distant from the labour market and who are interested in working and delivering services in their communities have an opportunity to do so. The work they provide within their communities is essential and participants may include vulnerable adults who need additional supports such as older, unemployed workers, persons with disabilities, Travellers and homeless people.

The Minister wishes to ensure that we maintain and support this valuable service. Therefore this interdepartmental group will explore how we can deliver and maintain these social inclusion services as well as identifying the correct organisational and governance arrangements for the future and which Department should host the community employment social inclusion schemes, including drug rehabilitation and childcare schemes. The Minister expects the work of the group to be completed quickly and intends that a report with recommendations would be presented to Cabinet within the next three months.

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection also supports some 3,350 participants on the rural social scheme and 139 supervisors who are engaged in supporting almost 2,000 community projects. In 2018 the Minister announced an additional 250 places as part of the programme for Government commitment to rural Ireland. Overall there has been an increase of almost over 30% in the places available under the rural social scheme since 2017, from 2,600 to 3,350. Tús has seen a total of more than 53,000 participant places delivered by local development partnership companies since its introduction in 2011. The 12 month duration of the Tús contract was set to ensure that weaknesses identified in other work programmes resulting from longer duration placements were not replicated. It is considered that the existing 12 month placement period is adequate to meet the objectives of the initiative and after three years a person can become eligible for a further 12 month placement on Tús. There are no current plans to extend the duration of placement beyond 12 months.

I can confirm that there is no restriction on the number of places available to support jobseekers through the back to education allowance.

Sanctions are a common tool in use in many countries. A sanction in the form of a penalty rate may be applied by a deciding officer of the Department if a jobseeker fails to engage without good cause with the activation process. Deciding officers carefully consider all the facts and circumstances of each case while considering the application of a penalty rate. This process includes written and verbal warnings and an opportunity for the jobseeker to engage with the service prior to the application of a penalty rate. If dissatisfied, a jobseeker may appeal any decision to the independent social welfare appeals officer. Critically the normal rate of payment is reinstated as soon as the jobseeker complies, as requested, with activation measures. The number of penalty rates applied at any one time is extremely low, only 1% of those referred to activation services. The activation service, be it JobPath, Intreo, or the local employment service has no bearing on the rules that are applied and the contracted provider has no role in the application of sanctions. This is solely a matter for the officials in the Department.

In respect of any specific matters raised this evening which require further examination and investigation, I am sure there will be a follow-up, either by the officials directly or by officials getting in touch with the Deputies for further information so that matters can be investigated. To this end I encourage Deputies where they know of an individual's circumstances which warrant examination to supply the necessary detail to the Department. I thank all those who contributed to this debate. The salient points raised will assist the Minister and the officials in the current scoping exercise for activation services in 2020.

10:40 pm

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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I dtús báire, ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a chur in iúl as a bheith in ann labhairt ar an rún seo anocht. Tréaslaím le mo chomhghleacaithe, Teachta John Brady agus Teachta Denise Mitchell, as an cheist seo a chur chun tosaigh sa Dáil anocht. As the Minister of State is aware, JobPath began in July 2015. It was heralded at that time by Government as the panacea to the problem of unemployment and getting jobseekers back to work. Yet JobPath has been blighted and marred by controversy since its inception because rather than providing proper investment in community-based job activation the scheme facilitated the transfer of taxpayers' money to private companies which have been tasked with administrating it, Turas Nua and Seetec. These two companies between them have received €149 million of taxpayers' money as of November last.

In Donegal my constituents speak to me time and again of the indignity of being "simply like another number" in JobPath. Some claim that there was little consideration ever given to their needs or the valuable skills and experience they can offer and bring to the workplace. That sums up JobPath in its entirety. Níl aon aird á tabhairt ag JobPath ar riachtanais na ndaoine atá ag freastal air. Maíonn rannpháirtithe gur scéim neamhphearsanta amach is amach é. The fact that just 9% of those referred to the programme as of November last year secured employment through a minimum of 12 months also speaks volumes.

Separately, we know that JobPath's effect on other schemes is also alarming. Community employment schemes, for example, have experienced cut after cut under this Government. In my county, Donegal, between 2012 and 2016 the number of projects supported was reduced by almost 18% placing Donegal among the top five counties for CE schemes cuts both in terms of numbers of projects, losses and overall percentage reduction of projects. When will the Minister of State accept and admit that JobPath has failed jobseekers? While he says tonight that this will help the Minister in future deliberations, the Dáil is telling him tonight that JobPath must end. Rather than line the pockets of private enterprise I call on him to support this motion tonight and call for the immediate cessation of any further referrals to the service. The privatisation of job activation was wrong. It was wrong when it was established under the Labour Party in 2015. It is wrong now and it must be brought to an end. I call on all Deputies to support the motion brought forward by Deputy Brady tonight. In doing so we will send a clear signal to jobseekers that we as legislators support them and stand by them. That is the message the Dáil is sending this Government tonight. It needs to listen to the majority in this House if it cherishes democracy.

Photo of John BradyJohn Brady (Wicklow, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the people who made the effort to come and sit in the Visitors Gallery this evening and listen to the debate. Many of them have worked extensively on this issue since it was first rolled out in 2015. Many work in the services that actually do work, such as the adult guidance services and the local employment services, LES, the length and breadth of the State. They are the people I listen to, as well as those who walk in and out of my constituency office daily to talk about JobPath.

Sometimes I think Fine Gael lives in a parallel universe. That has hit home and been proven correct here tonight. I listened to the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, who has cut her losses and run - and I hope she does the same to this JobPath programme - make some sort of accusation but every single person who spoke in here this evening, bar the two Ministers, have given one example after another of the catastrophe that is JobPath's impact on people throughout the State.

I do not sit at home and dream up these examples. I am sure that every other Deputy who spoke this evening is in the same position. These are real people who have had negative experiences at the hands of Turas Nua and Seetec. The Minister actually sounded like Comical Ali as she tried to defend the indefensible. I listen to people like those sitting in the Public Gallery. I also listen to people working in the likes of the local employment service. These people are dealing with the fallout of JobPath because, after 12 months, many of the 206,000 people who were referred to those providers and who do not get a job end up being referred back to the LES, which is where they should have been in the first place. I also listen to the people in the Intreo offices who are now actively speaking out against this service and saying that it was a massive error.

I listened to the comments from the Labour Party who, quite interestingly, said tonight that this was an experiment which has failed. It should be borne in mind that it was a Labour Minister, Deputy Burton, who implemented this programme. She was a co-author of it with Fine Gael and presided over it in its early days. The Labour Party now says that the experiment has failed. The ideology of privatisation presided over by this Government and its predecessors has failed. The Government needs to be big enough to admit that. It should cut its losses and pull out now.

Unfortunately, what we have got this evening has been spin and more spin. It has been a continuation of the spin machine in whose use Fine Gael is an expert. To look at the figures the Government is trying to spin, it has said the €160 million which has been spent on this failed experiment equates to less than €790 for each of the 206,000 participants. That is absolute nonsense. I will put my spin on it. We know from the figures that have been given to the Comptroller and Auditor General that, of the 206,000 people who have been referred to JobPath, only 17,100 have been in sustained employment for 52 weeks or more. I can spin those figures. For every job that has been sustained for 52 weeks or more, €9,356 has been spent. All it is is spin. I deal with facts and reality.

We know the impact this has had on the likes of the community employment, CE, schemes. As we stand here this evening, there are more than 1,990 vacancies in CE schemes the length and breadth of the State. It should be borne in mind that these are schemes that work. They keep our communities together and ensure that work that should really be carried out by local authorities is done. There are 1,990 vacancies in those schemes. The supervisors of these schemes say that these vacancies are there as a direct result of JobPath. They are the people to whom I listen.

This Government is hell-bent on the notion that "work first" is the solution, rather than a solution based on individuals' needs or circumstances. It believes in the fallacy that getting back into work is the solution to everything. We know that is not the case because the type of work into which the Government is forcing people is low-paid, precarious employment. More than 100,000 people are now working poor. We know that the type of employment the Government is forcing people to take is predominantly low-paid and precarious. The reality is that JobPath has failed dismally. It is a failed experiment and the Government needs to cut its losses. As one Deputy said, the Government's experiment is dead, it needs to take it out and bury it immediately.

I will conclude by focusing on the report into the LESs carried out by Indecon. There is a lot of concern around that Indecon report and particularly around one recommendation at the end which says that an open, public, competitive procurement model needs to be brought forward. Nobody has any problem with open procurement, but the LESs and I firmly believe that this lays the foundations to allow Turas Nua and Seetec to come in through the back door.

The House has spoken. The Government will lose this vote and needs to withdraw its amendment and support the motion. We need a commitment that when this scheme is done away with we will look at what will come next. What comes next needs to be shaped by the debate here tonight, which called for penalisation of people and payment by results, which have failed, to be done away with. We need to get back to what works - the CE schemes, the job clubs, the adult guidance services, and all the other schemes that actually work and benefit people. The Government will lose this vote. It needs to cut its losses, to bury this scheme, and to get back to what actually works for people and their individual needs.

Amendment put.

10:50 pm

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 7 February 2019.

The Dáil adjourned at at 10.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 6 February 2019.