Wednesday, 29 July 2020
Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages
Alice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
I have a couple of matters to raise. The problem is not so much whether people are long-term unemployed but rather how we have been treating the long-term unemployed with the JobPath scheme. I am sure as the Minister enters her brief she will look back and see the litany of testimony from the social protection committee around the concerns arising from a narrowing of options associated with JobPath. The concern is not so much the categorisation but rather the limitation of options associated with the operation of JobPath to date.
With respect, I suggest a measure of success will not simply be how many people are back in employment but rather how many people are back in employment, in education and in training. We know a simple "work first" approach often leads people to a cycle where they come back to the system again and again, whereas sometimes an educational intervention is what can give a person a long-term route. I really encourage the Minister to have this as an ambition for the Department. In fairness, the former Minister, Senator Regina Doherty, moved some of the thinking in the Department towards the idea that sometimes, "education first" is right. It is important to maintain it.
Before becoming a Senator I worked with young unemployed people in rural Ireland. Something we pushed for many years at the time was the idea of a rural youth guarantee, so we should examine how the youth guarantee scheme works for young unemployed people in rural Ireland. There is an extra set of issues in this regard. The Minister mentioned some of the measures associated with the Youth Guarantee and it would be very good to have some of those measures addressing the rural context as well.
There is potential for us to constructively engage on the amendment, although I will not press it. I will press an amendment later. I hope we will have an opportunity to engage around the full range of opportunities. Perhaps it is something we can look at in advance of the social welfare Bill in the autumn. I will speak to the section after the Minister's reply.