Wednesday, 9 October 2019
Social Welfare Bill 2019: Report Stage
These amendments relate to the new section 68I, which concerns refusal or failure to attend activation meetings, and the new section 68J, which concerns refusal or failure to participate in prescribed schemes, programmes or courses. When we discussed these matters on Committee Stage last week, I explained to the Senator that these new sections mirror the equivalent provisions which apply to jobseeker's benefit. We had a conversation and a discourse at the time. I said I would come back to the Senator with regard to her queries about possible disparities in the language. I subsequently wrote to the Senator to confirm that there is no disparity in the language. It is not the case that there is a disparity.
I do not propose to accept these amendments for two reasons. First, the acceptance of the amendments would result in unnecessary inconsistencies between the new jobseeker's benefit self-employment scheme and the existing jobseeker's benefit scheme. Second, and perhaps more importantly, I do not think the changes are necessary in any event. I genuinely appreciate that the Senator's concern in this instance relates to the language involved. I appreciate that the formal language used in legislation can seem to be out of line with the positive purpose and intent of activation processes. There is a balance to be struck between the Department's responsibility to support, encourage and enable jobseekers to enhance their employability and avail of opportunities to work, and the jobseeker's responsibility to engage in the activation process.
The measures set out in the new section apply to both jobseeker's allowance and jobseeker's benefit schemes and are an integral part of the activation process. They require claimants to attend meetings for the purposes of providing information that is intended to improve their knowledge of work, education or training opportunities that can be availed of. They also provide for an assessment to be carried out to help determine the person's education, training or development needs. Such meetings provide an opportunity to support the person by identifying his or her education, training or development needs.
The proposed legislation already includes a safeguard that any opportunity identified must be considered appropriate having regard to the education, training and development needs of the person and his or her personal circumstances. The section also provides that a penalty rate will be applied to a person's payment only in cases in which he or she does not attend or fails to attend meetings to avail of the opportunity without having a good cause or a good reason to do so. We can all have reasons for being unable to attend one or two meetings, but non-attendance cannot be consistent. I think these measures are straightforward, balanced and reasonable. They are designed to support and encourage jobseekers to enhance their employability and to avail of opportunities. To that end, I am afraid I cannot accept these amendments.