Seanad debates

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Adjournment Matters

Action Plan for Jobs

1:25 pm

Photo of Kathryn ReillyKathryn Reilly (Sinn Fein)
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I am delighted to see the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, in the House to answer this Adjournment matter. Senator Averil Power could not believe my excitement at the prospect.

Last July the Minister said in the Dáil during Leaders' Questions that dealing with the issue of youth unemployment is what gets him and his Government colleagues up in the morning.

However, after the call for submissions for the jobs action plan went out, I question whether he might be a bit of a late starter in the mornings. When the budget cuts on young people were introduced earlier this week, I had a lot of questions about that. Not only is youth unemployment not included in one of the seven priorities named in the call for submissions for the action plan, there has been no indication that there will be any specific jobs strategy for young people in the plan, as was called for by the USI, the ISSU or ICTU, or even our own Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs. If we take that in tandem with the cuts to the jobseeker's allowance this week, I would be very fearful that we are not prioritising youth unemployment and that we might actually be brushing the problem under the carpet.

On today's edition of www.thejournal.ie, two former presidents of the students' union in Trinity College Dublin and UCD, Andrew Bryne and Dan Hayden, sum up brilliantly the plight of young people and what the budget has done for them.

The cuts to jobseeker's allowance for those under 26 will have the effect of pushing a significant number of young people below the poverty line and out of the country...The best that can be said about the impact of the policies towards young people pursued by this Government since it took power is that they are consistent. Consistent in imposing the costs of adjustment on those least able to resist them. And consistent in pushing them towards leaving this country.
In the same publication, Dan O'Neill and Fiona Dunkin state the following.
The government are seizing the independence of an entire group, increasing their dependence on their already hard-pressed parents and forcing many into poverty.
The considerably widely-held notion of "getting on your bike" and finding a job is utterly ridiculous. With one report from , it is quite clear that we cannot cycle along a route to nowhere.
These are just some of the contributions in the media from a number of observers.

Funding was made available this week for the youth guarantee, which was supposed to be the cornerstone of a policy to help young people who were not in employment, education or training, but only €14 million was allocated. Only a number of months ago, the European Union affairs committee put together a report on the youth guarantee. It was a cross-party report that was built on consensus, with a lot of input from youth organisations like the National Youth Council of Ireland, the European Youth Forum and previous board members of Youthreach. They called for the Swedish model of the youth guarantee to be implemented. That is supposed to be best practice and under that model, €6,600 per participant would be allocated, but the allocations announced here the other day came to €260.22 per young person who is officially unemployed under the Quarterly National Household Survey.

When the Minister was questioned earlier this year about youth unemployment, the TD involved said that he should stay in bed if that was the best he could do. I would not say that myself, but I would agree that if youth unemployment was such a pressing concern, there should be a national jobs strategy for young people included in the action plan for jobs for next year, and that he would take submissions from the relevant groups on this. If possible, he would also meet the Minister, Deputy Burton, and examine the cuts to the youth jobseeker's allowance and how that affects young people in looking for employment, and how it could actually restrict them from actively seeking work.

1:35 pm

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Minister, Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator for raising this issue, which is undoubtedly very important. Her comments may be based on a misunderstanding. What she describes as seven priorities actually referred to what we had in the 2013 action plan, which were described as disruptive reforms. They were catalysts in particular areas that had a cross-sectoral potential to impact jobs. They included things like "Big Data", ICT skills, trading on-line and so on. They were not categories of need or sectors. They looked at opportunities that could drive change across a range of sectors.

The action plan for jobs had a substantial section dealing with Pathways to Work, which is the scheme run primarily by the Minister for Social Protection. That is a very substantial programme which seeks to reduce unemployment right across the board. Very substantial investments in that programme are already in place. JobBridge has 6,000 participants, 3,000 of which are under 25. Among those under 25, there are 12,000 on FÁS courses, 6,500 on Back to Education and VTOS courses, 6,000 on Youthreach courses and 1,250 on Momentum. There are 28,000 special provisions being made to deal with youth unemployment before yesterday's budget announcement. The Minister indicated that she plans to increase that in the context of the youth guarantee, and I saw a figure of 4,500 additional places quoted in her comments.

The philosophy of this Government is to see young people under 25 on the dole as a bridging period, where the thrust of what are seeking to do is to develop opportunities for young people. That is why if people take up courses like Momentum or Back to Education, they will get additional payment but more importantly, they will get a really valuable opportunity. We are in the fortunate position compared to the last five years in that our economy is now creating employment. Last year, 39,000 jobs were created in the private sector. Our ambition is to make sure that young people get access to more of them.

The Senator is absolutely right to say that one of the big casualties of this recession has been young people. The traditional catch-22 of not having experience has often meant that where jobs have been created, they are not getting opportunities. That is why JobBridge and Springboard course are such important programmes, as they provide practical on-the-job experience which breaks that catch-22. Their placement rates are very impressive, with over 60% from JobBridge.

We are open for submissions at the moment in the action plan for 2014. We have received a substantial number of submissions. It is correct to say that one of the things we need to examine is to build a bridge between the activity around the youth guarantee and the enterprise sector. One of the issues that we will be examining is how to make sure that the schemes we have put in place - the most recent is the €72 per week subsidy for any employer who takes on a person who is a year out of work, be they young or old - get a strong take up and are relevant to industries. It is a similar case with the Momentum and Springboard courses. I work very closely with the Minister for Education and Skills and the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, to make sure that there is a fit between the emerging sectors that are doing well in the economy and the training and work experience that they are providing. I think we can look to build stronger bridges in that area. We are not as fortunate as countries like Germany, where there is a strong tradition of companies having traineeship places which they maintain in good times and in bad times. That tradition is not as strong in Ireland, but we need to build those bridges between people who are out of work and enterprise. The other area we are really excited about is entrepreneurship and the potential for more enterprise. Mr. Sean O'Sullivan is working on an entrepreneurship strategy and within that, we will be looking at the at the scope for initiatives specifically targeted at youth start-ups for 2014.

While I understand that there will always be a certain amount of political overplay in the comments being made, the Senator raises a very important issue and there are bridges to be built here. There is real potential and if the Senator wishes to make submissions for the 2014 plan, we will look seriously at any comments, through Forfás. There is a certain division of labour between what I do, which is essentially related to enterprise, and what the Minister for Social Protection does, which is essentially about Pathways to Work. We are trying to make sure that the bridges between those two are forged in a strong fashion.

Photo of Kathryn ReillyKathryn Reilly (Sinn Fein)
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The Minister mentioned that the seven things to which I referred as priorities are catalysts in certain areas. I was looking at the submission process on the departmental website. If I was a member of a youth organisation or an advocacy group like ICTU or USI and had put together a document on the youth sector and on youth unemployment, it does not make it easy for me to make that submission.

All I ask today is that the Minister issue a press release so that these groups know that the submission process is open. It is a targeted need and I do not want to make a political point about it because it is important to me and it affects my peer group. Could the Minister meet these groups or make sure that they are aware of the submission process because it is a big issue in the economy and society?

1:45 pm

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Minister, Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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We have had submissions from very active groups within the youth area who are keenly looking for youth enterprise funds. It is not that people are unaware but if there is a particular group that the Senator feels should make a submission, and if the Senator provides me with its name, I will make sure that it is contacted and has the opportunity to submit.