Thursday, 7 October 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Community Employment Schemes
14. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number of community employment participants over the age of 62 who have participated, on a continuous basis up to the State pension age, on the community service support stream from 2016 to 2020 and to date in 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48648/21]
26. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if there are plans to allow persons on community employment, CE, schemes and who are approaching retirement age to remain on those schemes until they are eligible for old age pensions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48664/21]
I ask the Minister to outline the number of CE participants over the age of 62, who have participated in the schemes on a continuous basis up to the State pension age on the community service support stream from 2016 to 2020 and to date in 2021.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 14 and 26 together.
As the Deputy is aware, the CE scheme is an active labour market programme designed to provide eligible long-term unemployed people and other disadvantaged persons with an opportunity to engage in meaningful work within their communities on a temporary, fixed-term basis to improve their prospect of returning to employment. There are graduated and more flexible rules for persons aged over 55 and, then again, for those over 62 on CE. Participants over the age of 62 can participate on a continuous basis up to the State pension age on the CE service support stream. Currently, up to a maximum 10% of CE places are allocated to the stream. There are 1,400 CE participants on the stream.
The number of participants who left CE on reaching retirement at age 66 on the service support stream since 2016 is as follows: 34 persons in 2016; 35 persons in 2017; 146 persons in 2018; 244 persons in 2019; 369 persons in 2020; and 329 to date in 2021.
In order to ensure that all employment and activation programmes have the best outcomes for participants, CE will continue to be made available to support those who are long-term unemployed and furthest removed from the labour market, including those whose employment has been impacted by Covid-19. At the same time, the eligibility criteria for CE and the length of time persons can stay on CE is kept under active review by my Department to ensure the best outcomes for individual participants and to support the vital community services delivered by schemes.
When the new conditions were introduced to CE schemes in July 2017, a two-strand approach was adopted, with all CE placements categorised into two strands: social inclusion, to acknowledge that not all CE placements were the same and to provide an opportunity for those who are distant from the labour market to work and deliver services in their local communities; and job activation, which was more directly related to job opportunities for long-term unemployed. I feel that over the years, the Government concentrated on the job activation element of the CE schemes and did not value or appreciate the important social inclusion element of these schemes and the vital work that they do. Indeed, I know that many stakeholders are interested in that strand, which involves retraining and expanding. The change to the standardised condition relating to the period for which a participant can remain in the CE scheme is most welcome. I am very aware of the social inclusion element, but what I want to know is what is the availability of places for those over the age of 62.
I thank the Deputy for her question. Currently, there are 1,400 service support stream participants on CE schemes. There are 500 places available for people over the age of 62 on the schemes. Up to 10% of CE placements are available under the service support stream.
That limit is set on a divisional basis so there is also flexibility between schemes in a particular area. This is important to note. For those aged over 55 there are more flexible conditions regarding the time spent on the community employment scheme. It can be up to three years. Those on the scheme prior to 2017 can be on it for six continuous years. We have flexibility to facilitate people in the cohort the Deputy has spoken about to stay on the scheme that little bit longer. I would say that it is, by characteristic, a job activation scheme at its core.
I thank the Minister of State. I believe there are more than 20,000 participants on community employment schemes but only 30% to 40% of these placements are categorised as social inclusion. I have come across facilities that rely on CE scheme staff for vital community operations. They have told me any participant aged 60 and over, and not aged 62 and over, should be able to remain on the CE scheme continuously until the State pension age, with an increase in the number allowed on each scheme. One centre in Carlow had two participants aged 60 who had to go back on jobseeker's payments although they did not want to do so. They wanted to stay on the scheme. They found it hard to get a job. It can be cruel and unfriendly when we get to that age. I ask the Minister of State to look at this.
As individuals receive approximately €20 per week for participating on a scheme, there should not be an added cost to the Exchequer by implementing these types of changes, while the community would benefit immensely. I know the Minister of State supports the valuable service and much needed opportunity it provides to allow individuals who may not work otherwise to contribute to their local town or village, particularly in many rural communities such as my own. I would appreciate it. It is all about community and this plays a huge part.
We very much value the community employment schemes, not only for what they provide for the individual involved but very much for the community services also. In recognition of this, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and I will be involved in an operational forum with sponsors and other stakeholders from throughout the country. We will hear issues such as those outlined by the Deputy. This is the reality on the ground and we recognise it. We have introduced flexibility. It is also important to state that while initially we had flagged November as the beginning of the exit from placements, we have stretched it out to February.
This will allow community employment schemes a little bit more time to fill the places. The good news is that in recent weeks, referrals are ramping up. We should be looking at a better situation on the ground for CE schemes over the coming months.