Wednesday, 28 May 2014
Youth Guarantee and Rent Supplement: Statements
I thank the Cathaoirleach and Seanad for inviting me before it today. I will start by giving a brief overview of the Government's strategy to tackle the pressing issue of youth unemployment.
Research evidence shows that early and prolonged periods of unemployment during a person's lifetime can have a permanent scarring effect on his or her capacity to improve his or her standard of living. This is a particular problem during an economic downturn, as young people tend to be hit by the impact of job losses more than others because they tend to be the most junior employees in an organisation and they also tend to work in sectors, such as retail and services, which feel the brunt of any reduction in demand. Hence, it is crucial that an effective strategy is in place to tackle youth unemployment before it becomes prolonged and systemic.
In the first instance, the Government's primary medium-term strategy to tackle youth unemployment is to create the environment for a strong economic recovery by promoting competitiveness and productivity. Economic recovery will underpin jobs growth. Past experience suggests that youth unemployment, which tends to rise relatively rapidly in a downturn, can be expected to fall relatively rapidly during the recovery. There is evidence to indicate this is already occurring. The official labour market figures published by the CSO earlier this week show that the youth unemployment rate has fallen from 30% in quarter 1 of 2012 to 25% in quarter 1 of 2014, while the number of young unemployed has fallen by 16,500 from 64,000 to 47,500 over the same period. My firm belief is that this improvement in youth unemployment trends will continue. However, the Government recognises that even as the economy enters a recovery phase, the number of young jobseekers will exceed the supply of job opportunities available to them. Hence, in addition to promoting medium-term economic recovery, the Government recognises the need to ensure these job gains for young people continue, and for interim measures to support the young unemployed and keep young jobseekers close to the labour market.
Key to this will be the implementation in Ireland of the European Council recommendation for a youth guarantee. The objective of this guarantee is to ensure that young people receive a quality offer of employment, training, work experience or further education within four months of becoming unemployed. This is a very ambitious target and, accordingly, in agreeing the recommendation, the European Council noted that the guarantee should be implemented on a phased basis in those countries, such as Ireland, facing very significant fiscal constraints. None the less, while financial constraints remain a reality in terms of roll-out, Ireland will be implementing the guarantee from a very advantageous position, as recognised by both the EU and OECD. Many of the elements that will make up the guarantee at EU level are already in place in Ireland, thanks in large part to the Pathways to Work strategy that has been rolled out by this Government and which is being led by my Department. We do not intend to reinvent the wheel where it is not necessary to do so.
The features of the youth guarantee which are already in place include: Intreo, the transformative new employment service helping people back to work; JobBridge, the national internship scheme; JobsPlus, the wage subsidy scheme for employers; community-based employment options such as TUS and Gateway; and further education and training programmes such as Momentum and VTOS. In implementing the guarantee, we will build on these important initiatives and expand them as necessary. A key part of our challenge will be to increase the impact of these schemes in supporting young unemployed people. Accordingly, the guarantee approved by the Government and commended by the European Commission, involves the following: modifying the Intreo process to ensure more intensive engagement with young people; increasing the number of places on schemes available to young people; and earmarking a quota of opportunities on existing schemes for young people, including, in addition to Department of Social Protection schemes, opportunities for accessing entrepreneurship funds via Micro Finance Ireland and training and further education opportunities through the Department of Education and Skills and its agencies. We will also introduce a developmental internship programme for the most disadvantaged young people who have been identified as having significant barriers to gaining employment. Under this programme employers will be asked to make work experience places available for young people with low levels of educational attainment, long periods of unemployment and other social barriers to employment. It is proposed that, at any one time, 1,500 young people will participate in this programme.
The youth guarantee includes improving the JobsPlus subsidy arrangements for employing young people by reducing the qualifying period for those aged under 25 from 12 months to four months in respect of young people who are assessed as having a low to medium probability of leaving the live register. This is line with recommendations from the OECD. These are young people who have never worked or are early school leavers with relatively few qualifications to offer an employer. The aim is to introduce, in line with recommendations from the EU on the promotion of intra-EU labour mobility, an international mobility and language skills development programme for young people to expand the number of opportunities currently availed of by young people in the form of further education and training, internships, subsidised private sector recruitment and supports for self-employment.
I will describe the timing of the roll-out of the youth guarantee. By the end of 2014, we will have progressively rolled out processes and programmes to ensure that all those young unemployed people who most need support will receive a youth guarantee offer within four months. In this way, we will ensure our resources are prioritised to help those who are most in need. In 2012, some 56,000 young people joined the live register as wholly unemployed, and some 35,000 or 63% of these remained unemployed for four months or more. The target of the guarantee approach is to reduce over time this level of persistent unemployment among young people. As part of the implementation of the youth guarantee it is proposed, subject to labour market and economic developments, to review the targeted nature of the youth guarantee offer before the end of 2015.
Significant progress has been made since the youth guarantee implementation plan was published in January. The plan provides for more than 28,000 programme opportunities for unemployed young people in 2014, as set out in the table being circulated with this statement. This figure excludes some 24,000 places provided for young people through post-leaving certificate courses and apprenticeships. These latter places, together with the wide range of vocational third level courses provided for the young, although not reserved for the unemployed, nevertheless contribute to the spirit of the guarantee.
Of the approximately 28,000 places for unemployed young people, approximately 5,000 of these were taken up in the first four months of the year. This is broadly in line with expectations, as some programmes such as the vocational training and opportunities scheme and the back to education allowance have intakes in September as per the academic calendar. A new intake of young people to the MOMENTUM programme for the long-term unemployed is also scheduled for later in the year. The MOMENTUM programme has been very popular with unemployed people. In addition, some of the initiatives planned under the guarantee require primary legislation to allow positive discrimination on age grounds in the provision of employment services and supports. This legislation will enable us to take steps to discriminate positively in favour of disadvantaged young people in accordance with the provisions of the EU equality directive. It will be enacted as part of the spring social welfare Bill due before the Oireachtas in June. Two employment schemes in particular, the developmental internship and JobsPlus, are dependent on this legislation being passed. The JobsPlus variant will be available as soon as possible after the relevant legislation has been cleared. The developmental internship, which will include a pre-internship training period, will be in place not later than the autumn. Passage of this legislation will also permit the introduction of earlier and more intensive engagement by Intreo with young unemployed people.
The cost of the programmes contributing to the youth guarantee will be significant. It is being funded, in the first instance, by the Irish Exchequer. However, it is expected that a number of these youth programmes will meet European Social Fund eligibility criteria and will be included in the youth employment initiative application for Ireland. This will permit EU funding to be drawn down in respect of expenditure in 2014 and 2015 to a level that should enable the full youth employment initiative allocation for Ireland of €68.1 million in current prices to be taken up over those two years, with a further similar amount in ESF funding. Given the way the funding is structured, to recoup these amounts from the EU in due course it will be necessary that we spend, in the first instance, close to €100 million on relevant programmes each year, or close to €200 million in 2014 to 2015 overall. It is anticipated that actual expenditure will be significantly in excess of that amount over the period concerned. Taking existing and planned provision together, the current estimate of programme uptake by young people in 2014 of approximately 28,000 will involve associated programme costs of €336 million. If all post-leaving certificate course and apprenticeship provision is included, the total programme uptake of approximately 52,000 has associated annual programme costs of €528 million. The expenditure by the Exchequer from taxpayers' funding is very significant.
The Department of Social Protection, in conjunction with local groups, has also secured EU funding of €250,000, the maximum amount available, to pilot a youth guarantee scheme in Ballymun. The Ballymun pilot project is developing an activation approach tailored to the needs of young people, guaranteeing access to career guidance and assistance leading to identification of an individual career plan for the young unemployed person with follow-through to training, education, work experience, or full-time employment. A particular focus of the pilot is to involve and build links with employers in the locality and the immediate hinterland to ensure the guidance and training elements of the youth guarantee are tailored to the needs of the local labour market and also to generate work placement experience opportunities for the participants. Only last week, the Ballymun pilot was visited by Commissioner Laszlo Andor, the European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, who has overall responsibility for the youth guarantee at EU level. Commissioner Andor was extremely impressed with the progress to date in the Ballymun pilot. Feedback from the Ballymun pilot will be taken into account in finalising the ongoing implementation plan of the guarantee in other areas of the country. I spoke to a room full of young people involved in the Ballymun pilot project. One young man said there was so much positivity in the room because they were getting an opportunity to get work experience and to develop skills. Many of the young people spoke about what they were doing as opposed to simply being unemployed. The adrenaline and the positivity in that room last week was really striking.
I wish to assure the House that the issue of youth unemployment will continue to be a major priority for the Government. While youth unemployment has been falling recently, I recognise that an insufficient supply of job opportunities is the reality that continues to face many young people leaving our education system. Aside from the obvious negative financial, social and emotional impact, youth unemployment also results in a waste of the skills acquired in schools and colleges and an under-utilisation of the obvious talent and creativity of the youth population. As Minister I am determined to ensure the implementation of the youth guarantee scheme in Ireland makes a real difference to the many young people who, as a consequence of the recession triggered by the collapse of the banking system and the bust in construction, are exasperated by the lack of opportunities to match their ambition and their talents. I am confident the youth guarantee, which I championed and navigated through the EU decision-making process during the Irish Presidency of the EU Council, will play a key role in ensuring that this need not be the case over the next few years. It is a guarantee of which I am proud and one which I commend to the House.
I will now speak about the rent supplement scheme.
In any discussion of rent supplement, it is very important to be clear that the purpose of the scheme is to provide short-term income support to people living in private rented accommodation whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation costs and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source. The overall aim is to provide short-term assistance and not to act as an alternative to the other social housing schemes operated by the Exchequer.
The Government has provided more than €344 million for the rent supplement scheme in 2014. There are currently approximately 77,000 rent supplement recipients, of which more than 50,000 have now been in payment for more than 18 months, representing more than 65% of the total. At the end of April 2014, approximately 33,150 rent recipients were on the live register - representing 8.5% of the total live register.
Rent supplement is subject to a limit on the amount of rent that an applicant may incur. Limits are set at levels that enable eligible households to secure basic suitable rented accommodation, having regard to the different rental market conditions that prevail in various parts of the State. Maximum rent limits are generally reviewed every 18 months. The most recent review was completed in June 2013 with revised rent limits introduced on 17 June 2013. Despite pressures on the social protection budget, the last review saw rent limits increase in line with market rents in some areas, including Dublin and Galway, with Dublin limits increasing by a weighted average of 9%. As people will appreciate, relative to inflation a 9% increase in the rent supplement in the Dublin area last year was a very significant increase.
A new rent limit review has commenced and will feed into the budgetary process. This review will involve a comprehensive analysis of information from a range of sources, including rental tenancies registered with the Private Residential Tenancies Board, the Central Statistics Office rental indices and websites advertising rental properties to ascertain both the costs and market trends for private rented accommodation. The Department will also seek the views of a number of stakeholders in this area, including the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, the Health Service Executive and other non-government organisations.
I am fully aware that in some areas, in particular Dublin, prospective tenants, including those seeking access to rent supplement, are finding it increasingly difficult to secure accommodation due to reduced availability of supply. I assure Senators that Department officials have considerable experience in dealing with customers of the scheme and continue to make every effort to ensure their accommodation needs are met.
Staff in the Department's community welfare service have discretionary powers to award a supplement for rental purposes in exceptional cases where it appears that the circumstances of the case so warrant, for example, when dealing with applicants who are homeless or who are at risk of losing their tenancy. Such cases are examined on a case-by-case basis, having regard to the situation presented.
It should be noted that approximately 77,000 people and families are currently in receipt of rent supplement. That proves that a significant number of landlords are accommodating applicants of the scheme and that rent supplement recipients are accessing accommodation. The Department also provides support to persons towards rent deposits under the exceptional needs payments. This form of assistance is very important to people on low incomes who rely on the private rented market to meet their housing needs. In 2013, some 4,300 people were assisted with rent deposits at a cost of €2.1 million.
The community welfare service, including through its work in the homeless persons unit and the asylum seekers and new communities unit, works closely with local authorities and other stakeholders to facilitate homeless people to access private rented accommodation. This ensures that, where possible, people are diverted away from homeless services and towards community-based supports.
In addition, and in view of the current supply difficulties, the Dublin local authorities, in conjunction with voluntary organisations, are finalising a protocol so that families at risk of losing existing private rented accommodation can have more timely and appropriate interventions made on their behalf. The necessary operational arrangements are currently being put in place and it is expected the initiative will be launched shortly. These cases will be assessed on an individual basis, having regard to the individual circumstances and families requiring additional support will receive the necessary assistance.
The Government effectively has two initiatives to deal with long-term reliance on rent supplement - the rental accommodation scheme, which is in operation since 2004, and the more recent housing assistance payment. Both initiatives give the local authorities specific responsibility for meeting the long-term housing needs of people receiving rent supplement. At the end of March 2014, local authorities had transferred almost 48,900 households from rent supplement. Of these, 28,900 were housed directly under RAS and a further 20,000 were accommodated under other social housing options.
The Department's strategic policy direction is to transfer responsibility for recipients of rent supplement with a long-term housing need to local authorities under HAP. Officials in the Department of Social Protection are working closely with those in the lead Department, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, in piloting HAP on an administrative basis in Limerick City and County Council, with more than 50 cases having being transferred from rent supplement to date.
There will be further roll out of HAP to selected local authorities during the remainder of the year. Officials in the Department of Social Protection are working closely with those in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to progress this transfer. One of the key benefits HAP will bring is the removal of barriers for people currently in receipt of rent supplement in returning to employment which is consistent with the Government's commitments under the Pathways to Work programme. Senators have mentioned previously that catch-22 where if one is on rent supplement and gets an offer of an entry level job, one may risk losing one's rent supplement as a result of going back to work. That is basically the wrong way round.
Rent supplement will continue to be paid to clients who are already in the private rented sector but who, generally because of a loss of income through unemployment, require short-term income support in order to pay their rent. Rent supplement will, therefore, over time, return to its original intention of being a short-term payment. I thank the Cathaoirleach and Members of the Seanad for inviting me today.
I welcome the Minister and wish her well. The Department of Social Protection has admitted that it will be unable to provide training or employment for more than half of those under 25 on the live register. This has been the focus of some criticism from the OECD and the European Commission which claim Ireland now risks the emergence of a lost generation. While I welcome the figures mentioned by the Minister showing a reduction in youth unemployment, it is still staggeringly high. In budget 2014, the Government stated that €14 million would be provided to roll-out a youth guarantee scheme over the coming months. The provision of €14 million for youth unemployment equates to approximately €232 per person under the age of 25 currently on the live register. The National Youth Council of Ireland estimates that €273 million would be necessary to implement the youth guarantee model in Ireland along the lines of the successful Swedish model.
What is critically important is that the Department of Social Protection has stated that there will be a total of 20,000 training or education places set aside this year for young people who are out of work as part of the youth guarantee while CSO figures estimate that approximately 39,000 plus under 25s have been out of work for three months or more. This leaves a shortfall of almost 20,000 places which means 20,000 people will not be given a youth guarantee and will have to rely on a vastly reduced jobseeker's payment instead.
A total of 20,000 people will not be given a youth guarantee and will have to rely on a greatly reduced jobseeker's allowance instead. A total of 6,993 young people under 25 years of age have been unemployed for over three years. At present, there is only one social welfare employment service officer for every 800 people unemployed. Ireland has one of the highest rates of youth unemployment in the EU. No new jobs have yet been created through the NewERA project - which the Minister did not mention - the project which Fine Gael promised would create over 105,000 jobs. The Government's policy of reducing income support to young people with the cut in jobseeker's allowance along with the lack of labour activation measures means that there is often no option for young people other than to emigrate, which is a sad comment on this Government.
Jobseeker's allowance has been slashed to €100 from €144 per week for existing recipients up to and inclusive of people who are 22 years of age from 1 January 2014, a huge and disproportionate reduction. For all new entrants up to and including the age of 24 the allowance has also been reduced from €144 to €100 from 1 January 2014 and for 25 year olds it has been reduced from €188 to €144 from January 2014. These changes will also result in a cut in payment to those engaged in the JobBridge internship programme as interns receive an allowance of only €50 per week on top of their existing social welfare entitlement. There are many gaps in the much-vaunted Government plan to deal with youth unemployment, which the Minister has not addressed.
The use of the rent supplement as a quick fix solution to a long-term problem has resulted in increasing rents for those on low incomes, increased homelessness and ever increasing profits for private landlords. The Government over the past three years has failed to develop a proper social housing plan and is now scrambling to address one of the worst housing crises in the history of the State. Fianna Fáil has published its own national housing strategy which aims to help address the serious shortage of available housing units and the record numbers waiting on social housing lists.
Are staff being redeployed from the Department of Social Protection as part of the move to the housing assistance payment, HAP? There are at least 66 separate computer systems in different local authorities dealing with housing. What resources are being provided to smooth the transition? Can we be assured this will not become another student universal support Ireland, SUSI, Irish Water or medical card fiasco?
The Minister stated that the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has been anxious to see the Department of Social Protection help people to pay their rent by direct deduction at source through the Department. Is that still the intention? Will the Minister ensure that if landlords are in receipt of rent supplement they are fully tax compliant and also that inspections are carried out to ensure properties meet minimum expected standards of accommodation?
Fianna Fáil's national housing strategy, published some weeks ago, aims to increase the housing stock, boost employment in the construction sector, dramatically speed up the transfer of vacant National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, units for social housing and make it easier for local authority tenants to buy their own homes.
Among Fianna Fáil's many proposals are a new home building programme drawn up by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government in conjunction with each local authority; Part V teams to ensure that 20% of all new developments is used for social housing; the vacant home refurbishment scheme to open up the large number of vacant homes to families on social housing waiting lists; the establishment of NAMA transfer units at each local authority; the establishment of a national database of rogue developers to inform planning decisions; the establishment of a national planning portal so that citizens can access planning information in each local authority; and the reintroduction of housing adaption grants to allow older people and people with disabilities to live independently at home. The reduction in that local authority grant was shocking and caused enormous distress to older citizens and to people with disabilities.
NAMA has identified 4,319 units as being potentially suitable for social housing but only 1,900 have been confirmed as being suitable and 443 have been completed or contracted. This represents a significant failure to deliver the promised social dividend from NAMA.
In July 2013 the Government approved the introduction of the HAP concept. Under HAP, responsibility for recipients of rent supplement with a long-term housing need will transfer from the Department of Social Protection to local authorities. The implementation of this process has been painfully slow. Officials in the Department have been working with the various agencies in piloting HAP in Limerick City and County Council. Since July 2013 progress has been abysmally slow, despite promises that HAP will be further rolled out to six selected local authorities during the year. HAP will allow one to work and receive some form of rent supplement. It is being introduced to combat the perception that the rent supplement scheme in its current format is a poverty trap. Questions remain, however, as to whether HAP will address the needs of people in receipt of rent supplement.
The publication of the youth guarantee implementation plan was a positive step in addressing the difficulties of young people within the State in obtaining employment or suitable educational opportunities. This discussion with the Minister is a welcome occasion to discuss the progress to date. It comes on the back of the Minister's being able to secure agreement on €6 billion of funding during the course of Ireland's Presidency of the EU.
I see some nonsense published recently by the Socialist Party that paints the youth guarantee as some form of forced cheap labour. Nothing could be further from the truth. The scheme is a genuine attempt to assist young people most at risk of long-term unemployment. It provides opportunities for up-skilling and development. The social welfare system we inherited was utterly passive. People became trapped in the system with no encouragement or reward for working.
I emphasise that everything we do as a Government is aimed at helping the less well-off and those out of work. We do it through encouraging people into work and rewarding them for it, not reinforcing an old system that simply has not worked. The State, through a variety of initiatives, is now actively assisting and rewarding people for engaging in training and further education. It is actively assisting people in their search for suitable employment. Anyone who, like the Socialist Party, considers it appropriate that someone be let languish on the dole without being actively encouraged to do anything about it, should take a good hard look at what this means for our future generations and stop the polemics.
What further feedback has the Minister received on the Ballymun pilot project and what further roll-out does she envisage over the course of this year? Have further projects been identified? Does she expect that the envisaged 30,000 young people at high risk of long-term employment will receive the guarantee in 2014?
The amount of funding available is a major concern for all sides. Is the Minister satisfied that she has sufficient resources in place for the current year, given that we are still borrowing, although much less, to keep our welfare and employment support services funded?
This year, the Government has provided €344 million for 77,000 rent supplement recipients. For a scheme that is not intended to provide long-term assistance or as an alternative to other social housing schemes, it seems remarkable to spend a third of a billion euro. While I understand that people are in great need of assistance to pay their housing costs, this is an enormous sum, which could be used more productively.
There remain a vast number of empty estates and apartments in our towns and cities. NAMA retains a sizeable housing stock that presumably, for book-keeping purposes, could be bought by the State. The money spent on rent supplement would go a long way to renovating such property and also towards building new social housing thus alleviating our housing shortage, and thereby reducing demand and rents. I also note that much of the economic commentary on the difficulty in accommodation costs is very insistent that rent controls are not the solution but an increase in building, and supply are.
While house prices in Dublin outstrip the national figures, €344 million would build a minimum of 1,700 houses annually in the capital on today's figures and far more nationwide. If some of the moneys were used to update unused stock, it would go a long way also. There will always be people who will require short-term assistance with their rent. A study could perhaps be undertaken on how so much money would produce a more tangible and lasting result, rather than just help meet increasing rents, as it does at present, which seems possibly counterproductive.
I am not for a moment suggesting that, in the short term, people who are struggling should have their housing benefit cut. When the present difficulties subside, rather than just cut the allocation for rent supplement, the Minister should retain a large portion for investment against future difficulties.
I thank my colleague, Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, who has done considerable work on this issue and produced a report that I recommend the Minister of State and the Minister for Social Protection read, as a number of proposals are worthy of consideration. I will not repeat previous interventions I have made on the Youth Guarantee but will instead ask a series of questions because I want to further the issue and there are issues on which I have not received answers.
On the last occasion the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, was with us, on 5 February, she stated that the implementation of the Youth Guarantee could not be achieved with the flick of a switch. All of us agreed with that at the time but I spoke about the importance of the national partner organisations named in the Youth Guarantee plan published in January. On 5 February I indicated they had not heard anything from the Department; having contacted them on foot of this debate they have told me they still have not really heard anything from the Department. Partnership is crucial in delivering this plan and partners must be kept in the loop. The Department of Social Protection held a stakeholder forum last October when devising the plan and perhaps it would be useful to have another stakeholder forum to update and involve partners, and I ask the Minister of State if there are any plans to have this type of forum.
There is also a concern that this is initially a two-year programme, and we all hope it will continue beyond 2015. It is very important that we spend the financial envelope allocated for 2014 and 2015, so will the Minister of State provide an update and assure the House that the moneys allocated to Ireland will be spent? I know that seems to be an obvious question but I am not convinced at this time.
One of the more disappointing aspects was raised by me before the plan's publication and again in February. It is the failure to acknowledge the role and value of engaging the youth work sector in supporting the participation of young people in the Youth Guarantee programme. Will that be reviewed in light of the experience to date in Ballymun? I know the Minister for Social Protection met Commissioner Andor at Ballymun Regional Youth Resources last week to find out its experience of supporting the implementation of the Ballymun Youth Guarantee project. I am sure the Minister of State is aware that there has been work with the Department of Social Protection and the Ballymun Job Centre in reducing the number of what are referred to as "DNA" or "do not attends". This is the scenario where a young person receives a letter inviting attendance at an interview or a group engagement with the Department of Social Protection but does not attend. I welcome the fact that in Ballymun, the Department worked with the Ballymun Regional Youth Resources to find out why this happens and support young people in participation. The feedback from young people is that letters did not arrive on time or were sent to the wrong addresses. Some young people did not understand their content or had literacy problems and could not read the letters. I know the Department of Social Protection has changed its process in response to the feedback from young people, altering the nature of communications. This is a perfect example of why youth work organisations need to be involved, so they can reach out and meet young people who can be hard to contact.
Ballymun Regional Youth Resources has also been working with young people to support and encourage them to engage in the process and understand why it is important while providing some moral support to young people who are not used to engaging with State agencies or who have had a bad experience in the past. This is very welcome but the reality is there is no provision or funding in the national plan to facilitate this type of work in the rest of the country. Will the national plan be revised to reflect the experience of youth engagement in Ballymun?
Like the Minister I welcome increased employment in our country but at a recent conference the Central Bank reported that 90% of new jobs created in 2013 were for people with third level qualifications. This is good news for the many well-educated and qualified graduates in our country but I am concerned about the uneven recovery, with young people with limited qualifications left behind. The Youth Guarantee plan proposes, correctly, to begin with the 22,000 long-term unemployed young people but what will the Government do to ensure we have job opportunities for these young people when they complete their Youth Guarantee programme? The Government recently published Construction 2020 and although that will make a contribution, we should never go back to where we were in the early 2000s, relying on the construction industry to provide jobs for these young people. What else is being done, as this sector should not be seen as the only solution?
At a meeting of the education committee earlier this afternoon, the Minister for Social Protection confirmed that the JobBridge scheme for disadvantaged youths, which will be called Developmental JobBridge and was proposed in the national Youth Guarantee plan, will be mandatory for those identified as eligible. I welcome greater targeting of the disadvantaged but I am very concerned at hearing that JobBridge will be compulsory for some groups. Rather than forcing people to participate in JobBridge internship, which may at best be unhelpful and at worst could be damaging and exploitative, I recommend the Department to engage in consultation to ascertain why some groups of young people are more attracted to other training and education programmes. I have heard anecdotally that the extra €50 in some cases has an impact on other entitlements such as rent allowances, meaning that JobBridge participants could end up worse off. I do not know for sure if that is true but those questions must be answered. The Department of Social Protection must consider how to remove barriers to encourage participation rather than forcing people to participate in a programme.
Will the Minister of State outline the number of case workers now in place to engage with young people about the Youth Guarantee? It is vital to have sufficient numbers of case workers in place to deliver on personal progression plans. When will the Youth Guarantee formally commence?
I thank the Minister of State for taking over while the Minister for Social Protection takes a break. For the past two hours the social protection committee has discussed the Youth Guarantee. We have asked many questions and received many answers so I do not intend to thrash out the issue again. Matters were raised and perhaps those who were not attending may wish to know about them. Young people need hope and they must know that the Government is working for them and their future so as to keep them in Ireland and avoid emigration. All they want is help to stay in their own country, and parents and grandparents are asking for the same thing. The Youth Guarantee is a step in the right direction, although it is only functioning in Ballymun now, and we need to see it rolled out to the rest of the country.
We put many questions at the meeting to the officials from the Department of Social Protection, including how the Ballymun scheme was working and its success rate. They told me over 400 young people were on the live register there and a big event took place that involved the young people, employers and education providers. Only 32 people did not turn up, which means that young people are willing to participate and engage; these people want to work and do not want to be at home all day, playing video games or being depressed because they have no job or money. It is incumbent on us to provide a process for these people. There are 99 people now in full-time and sustainable employment, with 193 taking courses in development training and the remainder being engaged with. It is a good response in Ballymun and, as everybody has said, we must roll it out to the rest of Ireland. We should not write off young people as lazy because they are not. Some are involved in local activities on a voluntary basis because they have nothing better to do. These people want to use their energy and channel it into the community so as to bring about improvement. There is much good in young people and we must bring it out in them.
We have debated this issue many times and I have brought up a number of examples. I raised another example at the committee meeting today and an official assured me it would be considered. The case involves a young man who left school, possibly without the junior certificate and certainly without a leaving certificate. He decided to return to education, taking a Springboard course on culinary arts at the Institute of Technology, Tralee.
He was delighted with it and he did very well. He was on work placement for two days a week. When the course came to an end recently his work experience placement employer offered him summer work to keep him going until he starts his next course, which is an intensive course. The fees were funded by Bord Fáilte and the course was provided by the IT in Tralee. He was in an awful state when he came to see me because if he took up the offer of summer work he would not qualify for the back to education payment as he would have to give up his jobseeker's allowance for the summer. There was a deterrent to stop him taking up work. The Youth Guarantee must ensure that young people will not be penalised for doing work during the summer to help to finance them through the winter when they are back in college or finishing their education. The social welfare officers assured me they would examine the matter but I do not wish it to be solely examined in my area, I wish to ensure that it does not happen anywhere in the country.
Very few new industrial jobs are being created in Killarney and we survive on tourism and the hospitality sector. The CERT training course that was in place was great for the hospitality sector but it no longer exists. We have adequate hotel accommodation and bars in Killarney to provide work placements. I am probably straying from social protection into education but we should examine the reintroduction of such courses. Hotels used to look to CERT for employees because they knew they received a good education and experience.
The delivery of training places in a large urban area is totally different to the delivery of training places in rural areas. If one is living in the Iveragh Peninsula or the Dingle Peninsula and has to travel to Cork for third level education there is a huge barrier for young people due to the lack of affordability of accommodation and travel. The back to education allowance or whatever other payment exists would not cover their costs. If one is on the back to education allowance, one does not qualify for a maintenance grant from the Department of Education and Skills. We must examine the barriers that exist.
It has been said that youth unemployment is falling but it is difficult to get the exact figures. One of the reasons for the decline is due to emigration and another reason is continuing education. I do not believe my time is up, Acting Chairman.
It is very difficult to ascertain the exact number of young people who have gone back into sustainable employment. I have the brochure for advertising the Youth Guarantee. We spoke about rolling out the scheme and advertising it. Could I please have one more minute to refer to rent supplement?
Thank you, Acting Chairman. The Minister can respond to the point on her return. In Killarney town, which is where I live, it is next to impossible to find accommodation for a family with three children for less than €540 a month. The cost is €520 for a family with two children and €500 for a family with one child. It is not possible to find rental accommodation for the amount of money provided by the rent supplement in Killarney. I invite the Minister or anyone else to find accommodation on Daft or anywhere else for less than the amounts I outlined. It cannot be found. We are driving people out into the countryside. Some people cannot go there and they are desperate. They do not have a car and they have young children and cannot get into town to schools and for other reasons. Homelessness is not a big problem in the area but it will become one if we do not revise the cap on rent supplement or incorporate it with the housing assistance payment, HAP, in order that people can take up employment. At the moment people are deterred from taking up employment because they will lose their rent supplement. We need to transfer the rent supplement to HAP so that people can pay a differential rent and take up employment. Thank you, Acting Chairman, for allowing to make the point. I could speak for another ten minutes on rent supplement.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Costello. I wish to follow on from Senator Moloney and speak about housing first. Part of the problem with NAMA is that its job is to keep up the price of property because it is an asset on the balance sheets of financial institutions. It would have been far better for the country if the price of property had been allowed to fall. That would have been a boost to the competitiveness of the country and would certainly have been a boost to those seeking housing.
There is a contradiction at play. I am flabbergasted to hear that some local authorities refused properties offered to them by NAMA. The information was in the newspapers in recent days. That is an incredible situation. We know that many of the 80,000 empty houses are in the wrong place but the ghost estates, as the former Minister of State, Deputy Penrose, used to describe them, are assets. It was the case that some houses in Tuam were sold for €20,000. The jobs are in Galway, which boomed even during the recession. People can make the decision to live in Tuam and have a low housing cost and commute to Galway to work. That is what housing markets do. I want to see that happen. I wish the empty houses and the stock in NAMA had been sold because we need to do something to take the pressure off prices in the housing market. It is contradictory to have pressure on house prices and empty houses within the same commuting distance. It is not a long commute in any OECD country to travel for 30 minutes. The fact that the house one would really like is somewhere else should not detract from that.
We will have to examine social housing provision. A most interesting report was commissioned by Gay Mitchell when he was Lord Mayor of Dublin as part of the Lord Mayor’s commission on social housing. The late Taoiseach, Garrett FitzGerald, was a member, as was the current city manager, Owen Keegan, and Professor Yvonne Scannell of TCD. We all support the Minister in confronting the problem of homelessness and the shortage of housing. The problems identified at the time were that local authority housing cost more than housing on the open market, there was a very high maintenance cost compared to similar open market costs and rents were very low. This led to a policy of selling local authority housing stock. Another problem is that too many local authority houses were built together and that created ghetto problems such as educational deprivation. Let us examine the Garrett FitzGerald proposals to reform social housing so that it does not run into the same problems again.
Everybody complains about the number of closed shops around the country. Many of the shops were recently houses and perhaps they could be converted back to housing use. What is the obstacle? The buildings no longer have a use as shops because shopping has moved to suburban shopping centres where space is provided for car parking. There was a scheme to encourage the provision of rental accommodation over shops. Why not have rental accommodation in buildings that were shops if they have no further commercial function at ground level? We see dozens of closed-up shops in towns. Let us see if we can use the property market to deal with the problem being confronted by the Minister.
The Leader, Senator Cummins, referred to empty local authority houses. One could ask how on earth the situation developed. Let us have local authorities that are proactive when a tenant leaves or dies so that houses do not become derelict and have to be repaired at huge cost. Let us have people moving in much faster than is currently the case and deal with the turnover much quicker than is the case at present.
I am concerned with the view of housing as an asset rather than as a place to live. Assets should go back to being stocks and shares. Gambling on property cost this country dearly. It was indicated to the former Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, that we need protection for tenants in buy-to-let accommodation. They are not the ones who are going bankrupt or defaulting. When someone buys a buy-to-let property, he or she buys a rent book; he or she does not buy an entitlement to force a tenant out. If the tenant has kept up the rent payments he or she should not come under pressure.
There needs to be some kind of leasing arrangement so they have the fixity of tenure that Charles Stewart Parnell argued for back in the 1880s. It is incredible that we are having to go back to that idea these days.
We have over 200,000 fewer people at work now than at the peak. Most of that burden has been borne by young people. That is why the schemes the Minister referred to are necessary to tide us over. Otherwise, we will have in Europe what is known as a lost generation. I support whatever the Minister can do in keeping people on in school and education. The economy is reviving but at the high-skills level. In an ideal world one could ask for a better match between the firms IDA Ireland brings into the country and the skill-sets of the unemployed. It is very strange that a country with serious financial problems has a development agency that creates jobs which then require people to migrate from other countries to fill those jobs.
I support the Government’s attempts to create flexible labour markets and help us recover from the tsunami that hit the economy in 2008.
I recently received a communication from a young man, Thomas Brophy, from the Tipperary regional youth service on getting employment through a job scheme which states:
To be fair to the Government, it has put in place an extraordinary array of schemes and programmes to get those unemployed for a while back into work, possibilities and hope. Senator van Turnhout alluded to the urgency to have legislation in place to commence the youth guarantee. There is also an urgency in how it is communicated. As I said at the Oireachtas education committee, there is something terribly dull about the method of engagement about the youth guarantee. I accept it is face-to-face but the message should be got across through television, radio, youth media and, as the Finnish did, through a roadshow.
I am financially stable. I have a routine. I have something to look forward to, it is different every day, it keeps me on my toes and I am not repeating uselessness every day. When I was out of a job, one day meant three days. The courses I did were brilliant and fun and I am working towards buying something. I have been in full-time work for four months. I have possibilities and I am happy. I would not get out of bed when I was on the social because there was nothing to do. It did not matter if I was getting paid twice as much money on the social, I had nothing to do. Now I have something to do.
The Council of Europe document on education, youth culture and sport is pretty good. I hate the word “synergy” but there is a massive synergy, work well done and cross-purposefulness in this document which outlines multilingualism, quality assurance of education and training, cross-border education, media literacy, entrepreneurship and the whole area of arts and language, culture and heritage. These should all be major elements in the youth guarantee. Jobs are not only in business but in culture and the arts. We tend to leave that area out or not connect it too well or readily to employment opportunities. The term “entrepreneurship” rolls off our tongues but terms such “arts”, “music”, “theatre”, “vocality” or “auracy” do not. One cannot be an entrepreneur unless one can discuss what one wants and how one wants it. There is interesting cross-purposefulness in this document and the youth guarantee.
There is an urgency to introduce legislation for the youth guarantee. Much money has been spent on these job activation courses. We need to examine them from every single angle. The communication of the schemes available is dull and uninteresting. I congratulate the Minister, however, on the work done and the effort put in by her Department to create some kind of possibility, hope, education and training for young people, be they coming out of university or long-time unemployment. Without our young people, we are not a society. They are our future and are most important. I cannot understand why the Chamber is not full for this debate. It is most important for Ireland that our young people have hope, possibilities, connection, education and feel they can get up in the morning, doing what Mr. Brophy said in a small way by going to work so they feel they are making some contribution. Even when there is work, young people will take work. It is a myth that nobody wanted to work when we were in the throes of having money thrown at us. People still wanted to work then because they want to be connected. I was in Ballymun for 25 years and never met a young person who did not want to work.
I welcome the Minister for Social Protection to the House. As Senator O’Donnell said, youth employment is an important debate and, as they will lead the country in the future, it is imperative we ensure they are not led into the rut of long-term unemployment. Surveys have shown that it is more difficult to get the long-term unemployed back into the jobs market. I also congratulate the Minister on spearheading the youth guarantee initiative through the European Parliament when we held the EU Presidency. Ireland made it a priority because we recognised that our youth are our most valuable asset and that we must ensure we work for and with them.
Youth unemployment is not just an Irish problem but an EU-wide one. The youth guarantee is a key proposal to turn the tide on youth unemployment and bring young people back into employment through continuing education, apprenticeship or traineeship. Earlier, a Senator asked when the guarantee will formally commence. EU Ministers agreed a €6 billion youth fund initiative to target the most affected regions to get young people back to work. This funding is most welcome as part of the 2014-2020 multi-annual financial framework.
Prolonged unemployment is devastating. Young people lose their self-confidence, self-esteem and self-worth in all aspects of life and it sometimes leads to suicide. The Department of Social Protection is tackling the social problems arising from unemployment in other areas.
The youth guarantee scheme has been in place in Sweden, Finland and Austria for a few years and evaluations of it in Finland indicated that it has reduced youth unemployment and inactivity. Many Senators have spoken about how soul-destroying inactivity is for youth. It is estimated in Sweden that 46% of participants in the youth guarantee scheme have benefited from the scheme. The Swedish and Finnish schemes were found to be more effective for young people who are new to the labour market than for those who are long-term unemployed. As the old saying goes "get them early . . ." . The same applies to the youth guarantee scheme, as surveys in Finland have shown. If the participants had been unemployed for four months the chances of success went down for each month of unemployment after that. This will have to be addressed and the Minister will have to keep an eye on it when the scheme is fully implemented.
When the scheme is implemented it is intended that it will contribute to three out of the five Europe 2020 targets: reducing the extent of early school-leaving, lifting people out of poverty and social inclusion, as well as increasing the employment rate. Lifting people out of poverty and social exclusion is a major factor. We need to ensure that we get this on the road as quickly as possible. Part of it is on the road but the youth guarantee scheme when implemented fully will add to the initiatives the Minister has outlined, with the additional money for the programmes to help young unemployed persons and to keep jobseekers close to the labour market.
On the rent supplement scheme, Senator Moloney spoke about Killarney but it is trotting after Dublin where rents are increasing so much that people cannot afford them. The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government with responsibility for housing, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, is reconsidering the scheme. Will the Minister explain how this will be rectified? I know about the housing plan to be produced next month, the housing construction programme and the €68 million announced last month for local authorities to upgrade houses that are not in use and bring them back into use soon.
I thank the Minister for coming back to the House to discuss this issue, as she promised to do the last time she was here. The volume of contributions on the youth guarantee shows that it almost merits another day of discussion. Unfortunately, rent supplement is not getting the attention it deserves.
I will raise some issues that young people have mentioned to me and some that arose at a European Commission conference in Brussels last April. The European Youth Forum asked if there will be additional opportunities for young people to get back into the system if their first chance fails. There are not enough case workers in the system. How realistic is it to say there will be 100% meaningful engagement with long-term unemployed youths when the extra supports they need, such as career guidance, may not be available?
Other issues beyond the availability of places on courses and placements need to be addressed. I and others working in the youth sector are worried about the compulsion and penalties attached to the JobBridge scheme for disadvantaged youths. The Senators who attended the meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection this morning have referred to the discussion there. We were told there that the scheme is mandatory when the case worker decides the person would benefit. Will that intensive effort be put into the personal plan to ensure it benefits the person? I am concerned about the process and how to make sure those positions are completely suited to the young people involved. The Pathways to Work plan mentions work preparation courses prior to commencement. The committee was told that this scheme operates on a four day week and the fifth day is for training. What kind of training will be provided? What shape will these courses take?
Having young people with skills but no jobs is a big problem. The youth guarantee should not focus on what happens at the end of compulsory education. It then falls under the remit of the Minister for Education and Skills. What work will be done in schools to pre-empt early school-leavers from falling into the category of not being in employment or education?
At the conference in Brussels we heard that this is the most certified, not necessarily the most educated, generation. What monitoring is there of the education and training aspects of the guarantee to ensure that the personal and professional development path participants pursue allows them reach their potential? What role or weight is being given to the informal learning aspect of the youth guarantee plan? The youth organisations I have met stressed the importance of informal learning and the skills one may acquire prior to entering a course or getting certification from the Further Education and Training Awards Council, FETAC, or the Higher Education and Training Awards Council, HETAC. I was advised there was a bilateral meeting in February on the plan. If that is true could the Minister give us an update on it? How will the youth guarantee feed into the country specific recommendations on the semester process and what indicators will have to be reported on?
We heard at the committee meeting today, and the Disability Federation of Ireland has also raised the point, that the youth guarantee does not cover young people on disability allowance or in receipt of the one-parent family payment. The committee was advised that the funding is specifically aimed at the unemployed group. I think there is an International Labour Organization, ILO, classification for that. Can the Minister give us some more information on that and say whether those people are definitively excluded from education, training or a placement on the youth guarantee? The recommendation of the Council of the European Union on the youth guarantee refers to "all young people". I have spoken before about the treatment of young people who are not on the live register and do not have a relationship with public employment services. Stefano Scarpetta, the director of employment, labour and social affairs at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, raised that issue at the Commission conference last April.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the role of youth organisations.
They showed positive discrimination. Today was the first I heard of that so I have many questions about it. Positive discrimination may be dealt with but I will also touch on the issue of negative discrimination and cutting the jobseeker's allowance for young people just because of their age. Perhaps it could be dealt with or the measure could be reversed in the next budget. There may be legislation to positively discriminate against young people but should we remove negative barriers first?
I welcome the Minister to the House and I have a number of issues to raise regarding rent caps and housing in general. I hope when she becomes leader of the Labour Party, she might address all of these with her Cabinet colleagues.
There are some counties where the rent caps are far too low and as a result, many people cannot acquire proper accommodation, ending up either in substandard accommodation to meet the rent cap or subsidising rent to a greater degree by paying a landlord extra money under the counter so they can get the accommodation. We must consider that issue. When people find themselves in substandard accommodation - God knows we have plenty of it - they may not qualify at any stage for the rental accommodation scheme because a council would deem the property unsuitable.
We have been on the campaign trail for the past number of months and I found it strange that there was an amount of vacated local authority houses in my area. I asked why this happens and the answer is that local authority rents are too high. If a person earns €500 per week, €100 would be paid to the county council but at the same time a person can go to the private rented sector and get a house for €80 per week; the rent cap appropriate to the person may be less than €70. The issue needs to be dealt with on a cross-departmental basis.
I welcome the youth guarantee. There are many unemployed people who do not get the dole because they live with parents, so will they be part of the youth guarantee scheme? I met a man I know this morning on the way to work. He is in his 60s and he cannot get into a community employment scheme because he is not in receipt of the dole as his wife has a job. I feel sorry for such people because they are all willing to work, and there are many more unemployed people than is reflected in the register.
I have always had an issue with the prerequisite of going on the housing list in order to get rent allowance. That list is inflated and thousands of people on it are not seeking local authority housing. We get hammered by the Opposition when it points out the number of people on the housing list but thousands of those people do not want local authority housing and are only on the list to qualify for rent allowance.
Another issue was brought to my attention, although it is not really the responsibility of the Minister. It must be considered nonetheless. A lady is on the rental accommodation scheme and has worked in a service industry in Ballaghaderreen for years, although she is currently unemployed. There is no work for her in the town and she is a single mother with a 17-year-old child who she hopes will next year go to college in Galway. She tried to get a transfer from the Roscommon local authority district to Galway so she could get work and put her child into college there. She was told the only way she can be considered by Galway County Council for the rental accommodation scheme is if she presents to the authority as homeless. Such issues must be dealt with and there must be a policy between local authorities to accommodate transfers of people who are genuinely seeking work. This girl will never work again unless she can go to a town where work is available. I thank the Minister for listening.
I should make a general point about a number of questions as Senators can be helpful. There is a decreasing rate of youth unemployment, which is fantastic. One of the difficulties is that areas like retail and entry-level jobs dry up in a recession, so as the economy recovers, some of those sectors again have openings and young people can get such entry-level jobs. Employers have an enormous role to play and unless employers in Ireland see themselves as part of the system responsible for including young people in getting back to work, we will not get many people back in employment.
Unlike the countries referenced by many people, such as Finland, Austria and Germany, our society tends to have the understandable singular focus on celebrating people who achieve a third level education place.
In Germany, for example, if a son or daughter achieves an apprenticeship, it would be celebrated just as much as any achievement of a third level place. In other words we lack a "dual" system. It is really important to understand that this is a cultural shift to include young people and to have very limited social acceptance of young people being unemployed during what are potentially their most creative developmental years. It is in this time they transition from being teenagers to becoming young adults, and it is important we understand that.
Last year I set up a labour market council consisting of representatives of a series of very prominent employers, chaired by Mr. Martin Murphy from HP and including big companies in Ireland, ranging from Tesco to Glanbia. The council includes many labour market economists, including the former deputy secretary general of the OECD, Mr. John Martin, who people like Senator Barrett would know well. Companies now put up posters in supermarkets, for example, outlining where food is sourced, and I want to see posters in supermarkets indicating they employ young local people and give them a chance. In fairness to many big supermarkets, particularly those based heavily in Ireland, that has begun to happen, partly through the labour market forum and also through Feeding Ireland's Future, an initiative we started last autumn. To quote a cliché, one can go from the farm to the fork in employment terms for Ireland and find a significant number of people working in the area.
Some of the larger supermarkets employ as many as 15,000 people, and in the course of a year there can be vacancies. Employers must select suitable employees and in the course of a year, we can ensure those vacancies or a proportion thereof go to young unemployed people or other unemployed people. This approach starts with young people but it facilitates teaching and learning in the Department about all unemployed people. We need a cultural shift so that when employers have ten vacancies, they will call the local Intreo office to outline how they want to recruit ten people with a particular profile. With the new Intreo offices we have improved information technology and we can source the kind of people these employers want and send them to interview. It is really important for people to understand that.
This is across all of society. It includes all of us, including people who are public representatives, but in particular employers. People sometimes refer to the turnover or churn on the live register. The important point, as Senator Mooney indicated, is that 50% of young people leave the live register after six months. They do not necessarily need that much help. The people who are hard to reach are those who perhaps had a poor experience in school, and in some cases quit school entirely at 16. They could be longing for a traineeship or apprenticeship where they will work and learn at the same time. Many of my family work in the building trade. Young men in particular who want to work in the building trade do not want to be corralled inside a schoolroom, as they would see it. After they reach 17 or 18 they want to be out working. Everyone present knows such young people. We just have to change our attitude. Apprenticeships related to the motor trade are much sought after by young people, particularly young men. We must encourage that and see it as being as valuable a contribution to employment, work and services in Ireland as a career in IT. Not everyone wants to be a software engineer.
I accept the point made by Senators on the arts, heritage and the environment.
All of those are fantastic areas for people with an interest in them to be involved and to be creative.
On fiscal constraints, what we have now in terms of the youth guarantee Europe-wide is a fund of money over the next EU budget period. As this country had high youth unemployment – it has since fallen – when the agreement was brokered at the Heads of State meeting, it was decided that the first two years would be front-loaded because in order to improve economic activity in the country we do not want to wait until the recovery has taken more hold, we want to do it now.
I have been to see the Ballymun pilot project four or five times. A meeting was held last week with Commissioner Andor. People in Senator Reilly’s party are very critical of JobBridge, notwithstanding that party members keep sending me questions on how to expand the scheme, including her party leader. At local level when young people or their parents or relatives say they would like a JobBridge internship, representatives are anxious to facilitate them. I recall one young man at the meeting said he thought doing a CV was, to paraphrase him, rubbish. He was more forthcoming than that. He did not realise that the CV counted if one went to an interview. He had received a very good education but he thought a job would just come. As time passed and the job did not come when he got involved with the Ballymun pilot scheme he realised that CVs and presentation do matter. He now has an internship with a law firm. He commented on the positivity in the room.
Another young man wants to work and develop his own business as a barber and hairdresser. He got an opportunity to find work experience through the internship and he was very hopeful of getting proper training and an apprenticeship and going on to set up his own business. Another young man was interested in sport. Interestingly, he wanted to set up his own gym and to work with young people. There was an air of positivity in the room. I went to Tesco, for instance, which is now running a scheme around the country, thanks to the labour market council. To date, it is rolled out in six different areas. Tesco is going to local Intreo offices to recruit young people, by and large under the age of 22, in conjunction with the local education and training board, to do a FETAC level 4 retail and warehouse qualification. The trainees then have certification for the retail industry and can get employment. It is a very good combination.
I attended initial interviews in Cabra some time ago. As someone who worked in third level for a long time – I really like students and young people – it was a familiar scene with people wearing hoodies sitting with their eyes downcast, looking at their feet wondering who I was, what was going on and when they would get out of there. Many of them took up the places and the course was run by Coláiste Dhúlaig. Senator Barrett, as a fellow educator-----
-----and Senator O'Donnell, will recognise the phenomenon of a certain kind of young person who will slightly shrink back and appear to want to be left alone because he or she is not sure what is going on. I went to a graduation ceremony some months later and one would not believe the difference. The young people were wearing very nice shirts and chinos. Their heads were up and they were making contact and talking with friends on the course which was run in conjunction with Coláiste Dhúlaig. Many of them were beginning to set out on the road to work.
The scheme is about giving people confidence and restoring their self esteem. The critical element is to have a strong working relationship between the education and training boards and the Intreo offices. We have begun to roll out the first of the employer forums around the country. In addition to Ballymun I launched one recently with a number of employers in Carlow and Blanchardstown. The aim is essentially to include unemployed people, not just those below a specific age, in the process.
I spoke recently to someone who has a garden centre and who is employing people from some of the colleges. They said to me that when someone comes for an interview, regardless of the qualifications they have, they put out a box of plants and ask them to name 20 common plants. Even if they have a degree in horticulture, if they cannot relate to business they will not be high on the list of those who are recruited. What employers require is practical people. Customer service is important in retail as well as enthusiasm for the customer and the product being sold.
A question was asked about the mandatory nature of the scheme. I wish to outline what is envisaged. This is a first for Ireland and for many countries in the EU. It is intended that the youth guarantee will include a large amount of challenging, nudging, talking to and cajoling young people to identify where they would like to work, what they would like to do and whether they would like to get involved in training and education. I am aware that some Members are very familiar with the system. It often takes a while for people to open up because it is a different forum to being unemployed or in a structured situation at school. The aim is to try to get people to develop their own life plan. That is especially true for young people who are not in education, training or employment, the so-called NEETs.
This is an exciting and positive development but it will take time. Professor Blanchflower, the world-renowned economist with regard to youth unemployment, and John Martin, the deputy secretary of the OECD who is Irish, both state if one is unemployed for a long spell early in one's life, almost certainly throughout the rest of one's life one risks having lower earnings than those who did not have this experience and one risks having more frequent spells of unemployment. They state this is particularly the case for men. We want to avoid this in Ireland.
With regard to the scheme being mandatory, there is no way to force an employer to take somebody he or she feels is not good for the business or organisation. We try to encourage and make the people job ready, mentor them about what may be expected from them with regard to employment, and perhaps mentor the employer so there are realistic expectations about the young person.
We are also pioneering the disability activation scheme in the BMW region for young people with either an intellectual or physical disability. We see exactly the same thing as we see in the Ballymun project; knowledge and information is required on what the person would like to be involved in and can be involved in, and on the employment opportunities. It involves working to prepare the young person for these opportunities and to prepare the employer for their specific responses and the responsibilities they may have towards the young employee. It also seeks to include a fairly significant developmental element. Everybody here had to start in a first job and most of us would not have been brilliant. We probably got in, kept quiet and gradually picked up experience of how to deal with various tasks. It will be mandatory only where we have complete refusal to engage. When there is complete refusal to engage, it may be because people are too busy doing other things. If they are good luck to them, but society should not countenance a situation where somebody will stay unemployed indefinitely.
Without a doubt the biggest difficulty with rent supplement is supply. There are issues about rental costs but it is very simple to take the Dublin area, where it is a fact that several years ago there was three to five times as much supply as there is now. We had a housing market which was in a bubble and there were many vacant units and buy to lets, many of them owned by fairly amateur landlords. Much of this supply has simply dried up. Some time in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the local authorities increasingly got out of social housing. The only significant type of social housing among most local authorities was via housing associations in conjunction with the local authority and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Since there was no availability of rental properties, increasingly people saw rent supplement as a solution and, to be honest, it is not. In many cases in Ireland we have very short-term leases of one year. If one is bringing up a family or living in a particular area over a long period of time, one needs to develop security of tenure and social housing does this. We also need an affordable housing approach, particularly for young couples where both are working but they do not have enough money to fund a housing mortgage themselves. They could work in co-operation with local or central government through schemes with partial renting and purchase. Many Senators know this has been very successful in the past and it should be examined.
Senator Kelly mentioned the problem of empty houses and people being reluctant to take local authority houses for a variety of reasons. In Dublin, one can see significant numbers of boarded up apartments, flats and houses in local authority areas. One can see local authority areas which have been refurbished but when a vacancy arises, it is boarded up. The Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, has set out to identify the numbers. Senator Maloney spoke with concern about the situation in Killarney. I do not know about Killarney but certainly in Dublin, and to a lesser extent in Cork, a significant numbers of properties are boarded up. When a local authority tenant leaves a house or flat, it is often boarded up and it can remain boarded up and vacant for anything up to a year, 18 months or two years. If three or four flats in the one block are boarded up, it very quickly leads to an enhanced risk of anti-social behaviour and a general decline in the standards of the entire block, and flats for which people would give their eye teeth are left lying idle. Local authorities state this is how the system works with regard to refurbishing their housing stock. I genuinely think the system has to change. When a vacancy arises a family should be earmarked for it and should be ready to be moved into the vacancy as soon as the existing tenant has left. This is very important.
My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, has secured quite a significant amount of funding from the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, to begin this process. If we can end this practice of local authority houses and flats being boarded up, we can bring significant numbers of accommodation units back into circulation. The number runs to well over 1,000. Some of them have been boarded up for so long that they require significant refurbishment; for others, this is not so much the case. If the leaving tenant can leave the property in a good state, all that is required in many cases is an intensive clean and a paint job. However, this is not what has come to be the practice. What has come to be the practice, particularly in some parts of Dublin including my constituency, is a tendency to board it up. Then it goes into a cycle of waiting a number of months until a small contractor is available to do refurbishment work. In this period there is often a severe deterioration of the quality of the neighbours' environment due to the boarded-up accommodation attracting anti-social behaviour.
To return to Senator Moloney's comments on Killarney, one of the problems there is a lack of development of social housing in recent years and the seasonal element to rented accommodation due to the large tourism market. I will bring the Senator's comments to the attention of the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan.
The caps are based on what is indicated to us on the basis of analysis of the data.
I want to say the following again. Social protection accounts, through rent supplement, for about 30% of the housing rental market nationally. Last year we raised rents, particularly in the Dublin area but in other areas of tight supply, by about 9% which was a very significant increase compared, for instance, with the rate of inflation. As a consequence the increase was absorbed within a month or two.
We have to be concerned about whether such increases cause and put upward rent pressure on people in low-paid employment who are renting and, therefore, we act to increase rents. For people at work who pay their own rent or retired people in rented accommodation, social protection just adds to the pressure of rent increases. That is a very delicate balancing act.
With regard to Killarney and other areas, it is critical to increase supply. If we can do so then we will relieve the pressure, which there really is, to find scarce accommodation of a suitable kind.
With regard to RAS, as people will know local authority standards are understandably high. Often a property that may be rented privately will not be accepted by the local authority. I refer to the standards of suitability necessary to qualify for the RAS scheme and that is a fact.