Wednesday, 15 November 2017
That Seanad Éireann recognises:- the significant involvement of private, profit making companies in the operation of JobPath where tax payers’ money is used;and calls for:
- that the method and manner in which candidates are chosen for inclusion on JobPath very often includes people who are not long-term unemployed;
- that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection does not publish the individual fees paid to the providers because of commercial sensitivity, and that this is unacceptable where tax payers’ money is involved;
- that JobPath is also having a detrimental impact on other job activation schemes – Local Employment Service referrals are down across the State and there are issues filling Community Employment Scheme places;
- that training and preparation of JobPath participants is inadequate and poorly focused; and
- that many of the personal advisors working for JobPath are not adequately trained;- the immediate suspension of any further referrals to the JobPath scheme;
- transparency of the contract between the Government and these private companies that deliver a public service; and
- increased funding to other back to employment schemes such as the Rural Social Scheme, the Community Employment Scheme and the Local Employment Service.
I thank the Minister of State for her attendance. I am disappointed that the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, is not present to discuss this important matter.
Tonight's motion on JobPath comes from a major engagement with jobseekers currently on this scheme which was undertaken by my colleagues, Deputies Denise Mitchell and John Brady, as well as the numerous attempts that I, along with my colleagues in the Seanad, have made to get answers on the scheme. While carrying out our examination we have been contacted by numerous people who are very concerned with JobPath but afraid to officially complain due to fear of losing their benefits. Sinn Féin is fully supportive of local employment schemes and other initiatives that help long-term unemployed. I have previously worked in delivering back to work enterprise schemes, so I know the supports and services that are necessary to enable people to avail of opportunities and to fulfil their potential. I have seen the lives of certain individuals changed forever after receiving the correct supports, services and opportunities. I approach the issue of JobPath from a genuine position of support for many other schemes and services that enable people and provide them with a pathway to employment and enterprise. I and my colleagues in Sinn Féin care about people getting back to work in a way that is sustainable and which benefits the local community as much as possible.
I know from the answer to a parliamentary question from my party colleague that the Minister has read the JobPath Exposed report. She states that it is merely anecdotal and that she is satisfied that the results of the internal JobPath satisfaction survey are an accurate reflection. I wish it was. Does the Minister really think that we would give up our Private Members' business time in the Seanad if we did not have evidence to support our analysis? I am afraid that the report was prepared to fit into the narrative that the best decision was made at the time around JobPath. It is my firm belief that those who agreed to this contract, and indeed those who prepared the tender for the contract which excluded organisations and companies with a turnover of less than €20 million, now have to justify this decision. Many local and Irish companies were excluded from the scheme because of this. Perhaps the Minister of State could tell us who made the decision and why it was made. Was it a financial decision? Was a cost benefit analysis carried out?
When I worked in the area of delivering services and supports one of the main criteria from all Departments was the avoidance of duplication. Can the Minister of State explain why the Government thought it was necessary to privatise this service, displacing existing services and engaging British companies where there was no EU procurement or legal obligation to put such service out to tender? Why are participants on JobPath forced to bypass their local employment offices to go to appointments which are miles away and not accessible by public transport? I sent an example of this from Achill. We are constantly told that Ireland currently has full employment, but the Minister of State probably knows that in Achill the unemployment rate is 21%. It is not the case that we have full employment there. Participants in JobPath there are being asked to bypass the local employment service and travel 20 or 30 miles, in an area where there is no proper public transport, just to fulfil an appointment.
This motion seeks that JobPath will cease, and furthermore we want the scheme to be referred to the Committee for Public Accounts. We have not done this lightly. We have done it because we cannot get the answers that we need. We cannot get answers around the original contract. I do not accept that there is commercial sensitivity. We cannot hid behind commercial sensitivity where taxpayer's money is being paid to private companies. Many people have told us about being referred to JobPath when they were not long-term employed. I understand it was within the remit of JobPath that people had to be long-term unemployed. One person said he or she had been referred to JobPath having been out of work for just 26 days. Many referrals were of individuals who had one or two part-time jobs and young teachers who had recently qualified and were under pressure to find positions within weeks of finding out they had qualified. Many newly qualified teachers who cannot find work immediately or need to stay at home rely on substitute work for a few months. One respondent complained that substitute teachers were on call and, therefore, there were weeks when they were working full time. A teacher questioned how they were supposed to hold down two jobs and keep two employers happy while also attending JobPath. All of these cases point to one thing - that JobPath is causing serious problems for individuals. All of the individuals concerned are not long-term unemployed. Many of them want to access community employment, Tús and rural social schemes in their own areas. Those running these schemes want participants and this is what suits them, yet they are barred from such participation and told they have to participate in the JobPath progamme. When they engage with it, they are almost owned for 12 months and told what to do and where to go, even in situations where it does not suit them. People with mental health difficulties and many vulnerabilities are forced into these positions, which leads me to believe they are revenue generators for a private company. It is not right and it is having a devastating effect on individuals and the schemes being provided.
I ask the Minister of State to clarify what the budget for the local employment service is in 2017 and was in 2016. I know from the answers to questions we put to the Taoiseach when he was Minister that he estimated that JobPath would cost €65 million in 2017. Over the lifetime of the contract which seems to be top secret, we estimate that it will cost in the region of €350 million. That is a significant amount of money to pay to a private company.
Why is Intreo not referring people to support services already being provided by the State? Why are people being referred directly to JobPath? Is it to make up the numbers? How many people has the State guaranteed to send to JobPath on a yearly basis? What will happen if the number of referrals required is not sent? Given the information vacuum, we can only suppose that there are some clauses in the contract which state a certain number of people have to be referred. If this number is not referred, there must be penalty clauses. Many questions need to be asked and I hope the Minister of State will have the answer to some of them. If we had received answers to them, we could have conducted an analysis of the information and there might not have been a need for a referral to the Committee of Public Accounts. In the absence of full information, however, that is the only road left open to us, unless we can get a guarantee from the Minister of State that JobPath will be closed. I look forward to the Minister of State's response.
Ba mhaith liom tacú agus cuidiú leis an rún seo. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I second the motion.
For some, JobPath looks just like another job activation scheme which is aimed at getting jobseekers back to work and which runs alongside other schemes such as the LES, the community employment scheme, Tús, the rural social scheme and Gateway. However, the manner in which it was set up and operates makes it unique. Any scheme which engages over 105,000 people is one that must be closely monitored. As no two jobseekers are the same, a one-size-fits-all scheme such as JobPath is entirely inadequate.
Even if we set aside all of the issues explained by JobPath participants and the devastating impact JobPath is having on the sustainability of other schemes, privatisation remains our fundamental concern. The secrecy, lack of transparency and commercial sensitivity surrounding JobPath raise two questions. How much taxpayers' money is being handed to these private companies? What jobs are being sought for jobseekers? The same issues have been highlighted repeatedly by JobPath participants. I commend the report compiled by my colleagues, Deputies John Brady and Denise Mitchell, in that regard. There are six issues of concern highlighted in the report: the referral of jobseekers to JobPath; the threat of the loss of the jobseeker's payment; the training opportunities for jobseekers with JobPath; the level of training of personal advisers dealing with jobseekers; transport, travel times and the cost of attending meetings; and movement to other schemes. The Department of Social Protection prioritised JobPath as the go-to scheme for jobseekers, above all other readily available schemes.
Those involved in other job activation schemes such as the community employment scheme and the Local Employment Service have described JobPath as the greatest threat to their sustainability, an issue which has been raised with me by community employment scheme supervisors across County Galway. I have raised the issue in the House on a number of occasions. JobPath seems to magically get a list of people coming onto the live register before anyone else can have access to it. By the time other scheme organisers look for participants, they have been snapped up by JobPath. Community employment schemes are struggling to fill places across the State. Every Local Employment Service office in the State, with the exception of one, saw a reduction in the number of referrals from the Department of Social Protection in 2016. Despite these realities, the Minister apparently insisted that neither scheme was suffering as a result of the emergence of JobPath.
I would like to focus on the way the company does its business, based on the personal experience of some of those employed as advisers with JobPath. In the development of the report we were told that virtually no initial training was provided for new personal adviser recruits and that staff turnover was exceptionally high. We were also told that new staff would sit with a personal adviser for two days to learn the ropes and would then be assigned their own jobseekers.
On the referral of jobseekers to Turas Nua, staff were led to believe selection for JobPath was random, but they had reason to believe it was at the discretion of Department of Social Protection case officers. Individuals were sometimes referred to JobPath as punishment because case officers did not like them or found them difficult to deal with. It was stated the invitation to attend JobPath was more of a threat to jobseekers than anything else. We were told that it appeared there was no proper screening of the individuals being referred. We were also told that individuals who had been unemployed for a very short period were referred to JobPath. When the former Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, launched this wonderful scheme, she told us that it would not replace but augment the Department's employment services and focus on the long-term unemployed.
A significant issue is that many applicants travel quite a distance to attend meetings which only last about 15 minutes. A woman in her 60s living in the Carna area in Connemara was told that she had to travel to Carraroe to attend a meeting with JobPath, only to be told that there was no public transport service that could bring her there and back on the same day. She was given leave not to attend the meeting. However, the following week her sister received a similar invitation from JobPath, even though she lived in the same house and was in virtually the same circumstances.
On the JobPath contract to be signed by jobseekers, we were told that significant emphasis was placed on ensuring clients signed JobPath contracts at the first meeting. An employee stated, "We were basically told not to let those people out of the building without signing a contract." In one instance an assessor witnessed a client who had refused to sign being called into a private room with a manager who sat with the person concerned for over an hour until he signed the contract.We are told that very few left without signing a personal progression plan.
With regard to data protection, at least one case was witnessed where staff were directed to delete emails and files on a client. We were told that the client had raised issues with the then Department of Social Protection and had written to the then Minister, Deputy Varadkar, about her personal data in the possession of Turas Nua. When management in the office was informed of this it had all data referencing this individual removed.
As regards the questionnaire to be completed by jobseekers at initial meetings we were told that the 90 questions are very personal and confidential: “Some of these questions are highly personal, and shouldn't be asked. They dealt with things like mental state, financial situation and general health. If a garda asked me I wouldn't answer them." With regard to travelling to appointments we were told: "Travel reimbursement was not always offered to customers, some of whom might have been able to afford their bus or train ticket, but it was supposed to be paid to every customer who attended appointments on submission of their travel ticket for scanning."
We were told that the pressure on JobPath's personal advisers is immense and more focus is placed on administration work than on dealing with clients. They likened it to working in telephone sales. They said pressure was placed on staff to reach a quota of meetings per week with 100 to 120 clients. Some of them believe there was no value in the clients attending the scheme. In some cases we are told that in order to reach the quota of clients per week, advisers would often organise a group of clients to come in and sit at a computer bank applying for jobs. I was also told that on more than one occasion individuals with very poor literacy skills were witnessed being handed leaflets and told to read them. Older people with no computer skills and who previously worked in manual labour or transport jobs were put in front of computers with little to no help. We were told that Turas Nua is constantly recruiting because it cannot retain staff for more than a few months as "anybody with an ounce of dignity, self-respect or a brain won't stay".
Who is involved in Seetec and Turas Nua? Recently, one of the companies operating this job activation programme has been accused in the Dáil of fraud. We are told that Seetec Limited fraudulently claimed that it had got a participant a job. It forced a man to sign documents confirming he was present at sessions he did not attend as otherwise he would not have been paid. Consider the parent companies of the two companies from England that are running these schemes. One of them is accused of engaging in systemic fraud by its former chief auditor. According to a newspaper article, in evidence given to the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts the firm's former head of internal audit, Eddie Hutchinson, claimed that "fraud and irregularity became so extensive and disruptive to the work of the internal audit team ... that by May 2008 ... both [auditors were] suffering from exhaustion and stress due to the immense physical demands being placed on us as we chased such incidents at many locations across England, Scotland and Wales". There is also another company where the CEO had to step down due to questions.
I agree that the Committee of Public Accounts should be allowed to investigate these contracts, how they are working, what money is being spent, how it is being spent and the track record of these companies. What due diligence was carried out when these contracts were given? We seriously oppose this privatisation. I am disappointed that Fianna Fáil in its amendment appears to fully endorse the privatisation of these services. It is a very retrograde step.
I move amendment No. 2:
To delete all words after “That Seanad Éireann:” and substitute:"recognises:- the significant progress made by this Government in reducing the number of people on the live register through its management of the economy over the past number of years;welcomes the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection’s commitment to continue the JobPath service and to commission a full econometric evaluation of the service later this year."
- the achievements of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection in moving from a passive income provider of social welfare supports for working age people to an organisation that is now focused on helping unemployed people find work;
- the use of contracted service providers such as local employment services, JobClub providers and JobPath service providers alongside its own Intreo service has enabled the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to reduce the ratio of jobseekers to case officers from over 2,000:1 to about 200:1 and to increase the number of jobseekers who have access to case officer support;
- that the JobPath service providers are focused on delivering an intensive activation service tailored to the needs of long-term unemployed jobseekers;
- that JobPath service providers are required under contract to offer jobseekers a customer service guarantee covering matters such as the allocation of a dedicated case officer, frequency of engagement with case-officers, access to training in CV, interview and other skills, a transparent complaints process and post-employment support for a period of at least three months and up to 12 months following commencement of employment;
- that jobseeker satisfaction with the service offered by JobPath providers, as measured in independent customer satisfaction surveys, is high and that employment outcomes are ahead of target with people using the service up to 34% more likely to secure employment than people who are not engaged with the service;
- that the JobPath service contracts were awarded following a competitive public procurement exercise and that the service period for these contracts extends to 2020;
- that to publish the detail of the individual fees secured under this public tender process would place the State at a disadvantage in any future procurement exercise;
- that funding and staffing levels for local employment services have been maintained and that the availability of JobPath has enabled the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to reduce the caseloads carried by the local employment service so that it too can provide a more intensive service to individual jobseekers;
- that cancellation or suspension of the service would immediately result in a significant diminution in case officer services to unemployed jobseekers, the loss of up to 700 jobs among JobPath service provider staff and, in the absence of due cause warranting such a cancellation prior to 2020, could create a significant financial exposure for the State; and
The State's public employment service is managed by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and is delivered directly by the Department's Intreo service as well as by contracted private companies such as JobPath, local employment services and job club providers. The Department has contracts in place with more than 60 companies for the provision of these services. These include two contracts with JobPath service providers Turas Nua and Seetec.
JobPath provides activation services specifically tailored to the needs of long-term unemployed people. JobPath is a new contract model whereby the providers are paid by the results, with the results being measured in terms of sustained employment outcomes for the jobseekers. Outcome supplement payments are made in respect of employment of a minimum of 30 hours per week sustained for a minimum period of up to 13 weeks. Up to four outcome payments in respect of each employment outcome can be made covering a period of 12 months.
The first referrals to JobPath service providers commenced in 2015 and the contract term runs until 2021. The purpose of JobPath is to complete and augment the existing service capacity of the Department, including the local employment services. There has been no reduction in the budget allocated to the local employment services. As part of the contract terms, JobPath providers are required to offer a minimum service guarantee to jobseekers covering matters such as the allocation of a dedicated case officer, frequency of engagement with case officers, access to training in curriculum vitae, CV, interview and other skills, a transparent process and funding for out-of-pocket job search expenses and post-employment support for a period of at least three months and up to 12 months following commencement of employment. To date, over 125,000 long-term unemployed persons have been referred to the service.
The overall response to JobPath has been positive and there have been very few complaints raised to date relative to the number of clients referred to the service. The total number of complaints is 389 or 0.31% of those who have participated. In January 2017, the Department published the results of an independent customer satisfaction survey which indicated that between 76% and 81% of customers were satisfied with the service provided. Only between 5% and 8% expressed dissatisfaction. Over 90% of customers reported that JobPath staff made them feel valued and that they had a good relationship with their JobPath adviser. They also felt that the service had improved their chances of getting a real job. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection publishes quarterly cohort performance reports on JobPath. The most recent report shows that people who availed of the service were up to 34% more likely to find a job than those who did not avail of it.
Sinn Féin recently published a report entitled, JobPath Exposed. The report, based on responses to a Facebook survey, is essentially a collection of negative, unproven anecdotes from people who claim to have participated in the service, some local employment service staff and one person who claims to have worked for one of the JobPath service providers. The theme of the motion that has been proposed reflects the allegations in the report and the matter was addressed recently by the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection in reply to an oral parliamentary question on Tuesday, 7 November last. No evidence has been presented to support the claims made and the claims are at odds with the independent customer survey, reported employment outcomes and a few complaints received by the Department.
The cancellation or suspension of the service would immediately result in a significant undermining of case officer services to the unemployed jobseekers, the loss of up to 700 jobs among JobPath service provider staff and the absence of due cause warranting such a cancellation prior to 2020 could create a significant financial exposure for the State.
I would like to speak to Fianna Fáil's amendment to this motion. Fianna Fáil will table an amendment to the Sinn Féin motion on JobPath. Our party is, of course, in favour of measures that support people in getting back into employment, and we recognise that employment support schemes have in many respects made positive contributions to thousands of people, assisting them in moving from social welfare into paid employment. However, Fianna Fáil is acutely aware that JobPath is not perfect, and that a number of criticisms have been levelled at the initiative. Unlike Sinn Féin's motion, which offers no solutions other than suspending any further referrals to the scheme, our amendment offers a pathway forward for improving JobPath. We are calling on the Government to ensure that JobPath is operating in the best interests of participants; that it is a route to good quality, sustainable employment; that sufficient mechanisms are in place to deal with complaints in order that participants may have the appropriate action taken where necessary; that those tasked with delivering JobPath are adequately trained to deal sensitively and appropriately with those who are long-term unemployed; that JobPath does not preventing people from participating in community employment, CE, schemes; and that JobPath is not draining those schemes of participants.
Our goal is full employment, but at the heart of any activation programme must be the individual and his or her needs. We believe that the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty,should comprehensively address concerns that have been raised by Sinn Féin today, and ensure that first and foremost, JobPath is delivering for those it is supposed to serve.
We know the background to JobPath, so I do not think we need to go into that today. Obviously, some of the concerns around to JobPath, as raised by my colleague, concern private contracting for employment services. Fianna Fáil is aware of a number of concerns that have been raised by the contracting of two private companies, namely, Turas Nua and Seetec, to deliver services on behalf of the State. For that reason, in our amendment we have called on the Government to put in place safeguards that will ensure that those participating in JobPath are offered suitable and appropriate employment; to conduct a review of the type, quality and sustainability of employment that people have entered into after participating in JobPath; to ensure that sufficient mechanisms are in place for participants who may wish to make a complaint or raise concerns about JobPath and the two companies tasked with delivering the service; to ensure that any complaints against the two companies tasked with delivering JobPath are properly investigated, and that appropriate action is taken where necessary to rectify any issues identified; and to ensure that those tasked with delivering JobPath are adequately trained and properly equipped to deal sensitively with the myriad of issues that may result in an individual being long-term unemployed.
We are mindful that JobPath is a payment-by-results model, and this may create conditions where jobseekers are pushed into jobs that are wholly inappropriate as it is in the company's financial interests to place these jobseekers in these jobs. It is imperative that JobPath places people in good quality sustainable employment that is suitable and appropriate for their needs, and Fianna Fáil does not support any initiative which coerces participants into unsuitable employment, or is punitive in its approach to dealing with people.
People who are long-term unemployed or who are at risk of becoming unemployed may for a variety of reasons have difficulty entering the workforce. Factors may include family breakdown, alcohol or substance misuse, health issues including mental health, and literacy problems, etc. It is imperative that these companies are trained to deal with such issues and treat jobseeksers in an appropriate manner. We need more scrutiny of these companies and of the move towards privatisation of Irish employment services. The success models clearly depend on the mechanism in place for monitoring quality and performance. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection needs to continuously engage with all stakeholders involved in activation in order to improve it. It is, therefore, important that the Minister listens to the experience of service users, and takes on board any criticisms of this programme. The Department cannot afford to repeat the mistakes associated with JobBridge. We need to ensure effective outcomes for jobseekers and for the State resources. While Fianna Fáil supports meaningful activation programmes and recognises the many benefits associated with employment and working, we do not support coercion or measures that place unrealistic and punitive demands on participants.
Another issue raised by my colleague concerns participants not being able to access CE schemes, as JobPath takes precedence. Those who are offered the JobPath procedure can no longer participate in CE schemes. For that reason, Fianna Fáil has tabled the following amendment calling for the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to review the impact that JobPath is having on other employment support schemes and CE schemes, in particular with a view to ensuring that those who wish to continue to participate on CE schemes are able to do so, and also to ensure that JobPath is not draining the CE schemes of participants. We also call for an appropriate assessment to be carried out at the time of entry to JobPath or shortly afterwards, in the form of a probationary period, to ascertain whether the individual is best suited to the proposed programme, or whether further engagement and participation in a CE scheme would be more beneficial.
Fianna Fáil representatives from across the country have received complaints from people who have been offered a place on a CE scheme, but are then subsequently referred to JobPath, and must participate in that rather than take up a place in the CE scheme. Many of those people who have contacted their public representatives would prefer a place on the CE scheme. In many instances, a CE scheme would be more appropriate and suitable to their needs.
Furthermore, it has also been claimed that JobPath is eroding CE schemes to the detriment of communities and those who benefit from vital services that CE schemes provide. It has been reported that CE schemes cannot fill vacancies because of JobPath. In December 2016, the manager of the Offaly Centre for Independent Living claimed in a presentation that JobPath is causing untold damage to existing community employment schemes. At the meeting, it was claimed that many CE schemes have vacancies which they cannot fill, and JobPath is being blamed for suffocating them of supply by removing a referral process and imposing even more stringent constraints on the eligibility criteria.
CE schemes have grown to develop great social and economic benefits, and we must be mindful of the impact that JobPath is having on them. While the goal is, of course, to move the majority of people into full-time sustainable employment, we need to be cognisant that a one-size-fits-all approach is not suitable for everybody. There needs to be a degree of flexibility from the activation system and an awareness of people's age, skill set, previous experience, needs and goals. The social welfare system should not completely remove a person's right to choose, and should be flexible enough to allow people, if they have the choice, to choose between a CE scheme or JobPath. Fianna Fáil's amendment seeks to comprehensively address the concerns that have been raised about the impact that JobPath is having on those who wish to participate in the CE schemes and on the schemes themselves.
We welcome the fall in unemployment, but we are cognisant that the recovery has still not reached all sections of society, and many people continue to live in the margins of our society. Employment support schemes are important, and in many instances are of benefit to the State and to those who use such services. We must recognise that for some individuals there are multiple barriers that prevent them from entering into employment. Employment schemes must be holistic in their approach, and must be centred on the individual. The use of private for-profit companies to provide state services must be carefully monitored, examined and subject to scrutiny. I agree with my colleagues who made this point. It is important that the State continues to provide services to its citizens, and does not outsource all services to companies operating for profit and not necessarily in the best interests of citizens.
The Government has a duty to ensure that the companies operating JobPath are doing so in a manner that puts participants first, and which treats its participants with dignity and respect. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection cannot and should not turn a blind eye to any issue raised by anyone in the House on this initiative. It is imperative that she takes on board the outcome of today's debate, and enacts changes where necessary and without delay.
I second the amendment proposed by Senator Butler. I welcome the Minister of State and thank her very much for her attendance today. This is a very important issue. In my experience of dealing with people that have come through the JobPath system, the majority have found it to be a very positive experience. The difference between JobPath and the CE scheme is that the CE scheme is intended more for people who want to work part-time, whereas JobPath is about supporting people and putting them back into full-time employment. Maybe some people do not realise the difference between the two. JobPath has been quite successful in putting people back into full-time employment. The fact that participants are also supported for up to 30 months is quite positive because I know a number of people who have been sent on courses. They did not have the confidence to go back to work, or they were not confident about the job they were applying for. The courses and the support put in place through JobPath have made for a very positive experience for some of these people. It has led to them going into full-time employment.People may not have worked for a number of years or been through the interview process. There is also a support system in place where a person's CV can be checked and enhanced. People can also be upskilled and trained, which is very important as it gives confidence to people to re-apply and go for jobs.
The CE schemes are great and work in a lot of communities. For people who want full-time employment the JobPath scheme has proved a very positive experience. A number of companies have been very involved in the scheme. The companies have been forthright and forthcoming in offering people jobs once they have been trained and upskilled.
The number of unemployed has decreased and the situation has been helped by the likes of these schemes. I know about Turas Nua and the PAUL Partnership in the Limerick area that have been around for a long time. I wish to pay tribute to them. They were originally set up to deal with CE schemes but they now have many strings to their bow. They deal with people who have been long-term unemployed and put supports and services in place to bring people back into employment.
Overall I think JobPath has been positive. The scheme has helped people to get into full-time employment. The upskilling and training have been a real success, which should be built on. Once people are in employment they need support and an ability to upskill and train is positive. The Department should consider these aspects in the long term.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I thank the proposer of the motion and the proposer of the amendment.
There are certain things with which we can all agree. For example, the idea that it is important people are given supports to access appropriate routes out of unemployment, be that education, training or employment and that there is a need to give people a range of skills and options in terms of courses. However, we must ask a few questions about JobPath. Is JobPath an appropriate tool? Is it adequate? How is the scheme operating? To be clear, everybody who is here is concerned about ensuring that the State does more to support people and give them options. The problem is that JobPath does not seem to be properly designed and fit for purpose in order to achieve that goal.
Much of what I want to say is in the form of questions for the Minister. Much as I am very happy to have the Minister of State here, I regret that the Minister for Enterprise and Social Protection is not here to answer questions directly. We will follow up on this matter because it will be considered by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Social Protection.
I support the Sinn Féin motion because it has very positive points. However, there are some valid and constructive points in the amendment tabled by Fianna Fáil. As I have said before on occasion, I hope that in future we move to a situation whereby amendments to motions are tabled rather than replacements of motions and that we have a little more co-operation across the House to ensure we get changes. I would like to be here today speaking in favour of a combination of the elements mentioned. What is very strong and important in the Sinn Féin motion is that it rightfully asks the questions that need to be asked about the privatisation of a public service. What I think is very strong in Fianna Fáil's amendment, and also in Senator Ardagh's speech that was good and strong, was the emphasis placed on a need for choice, and principle of choice, in terms of what is offered to people. I refer to the respect and dignity that must be shown to people who access services. I also wish to refer to the specific reviews on specific aspects of JobPath that have been called for in the amendment. These are strong points in both the motion and the amendment. I hope that we can work with everyone to bring these forward in meetings of the committee.
I wish to diffuse the situation. Let us remember that this is a non-binding motion and, therefore, we will not see 70,000 suddenly become unemployed. We will see a strong alarm signal being emitted in respect of JobPath and how it operates that the Government would be wise to listen to. As was said earlier, alarm bells were sounded in respect of JobBridge and how it operated. There was also information from the ground as to its problems and anomalies. As a result the scheme ended up being discontinued altogether. It behoves the Government to listen to the concerns that have been expressed and I urge it not to adopt a defensive mode. Again, surveys were used to justify JobBridge. Unfortunately, there were abuses and anomalies and it is important to listen to them.
I have questions that need to be answered by the Government. I remember when the tender for JobPath was first proposed because I attended the Social Inclusion Forum as a representative of an NGO in civil society. At the time we queried the tendering out of these services to private companies. We were told that it was necessary as we moved into a new era of public procurement in Europe. In fact, European public procurement rules, including the new rules that were introduced in 2015, give considerable scope to Governments to protect the public delivery specifically of social protection services. They do that for good reason. They do it so that governments can ensure the accountability of their social protection services. If we discover that JobPath fails, what policies and strategies are in place? Does the Government have the capacity to move away from the privatisation of the service and return it to public delivery?
We need more case workers but JobPath was proposed at a time when there was a public recruitment freeze. We no longer have a freeze on public recruitment so why not have more case workers who are accountable. This aspect is important because, as we have heard, when there is a private company involved and one has someone who works for a private company then in the end he or she is not simply and not directly a public servant. The person seeking assistance is not necessarily the key and only main client for the JobPath individual. The person performing the interview is answerable to a company that has shareholders and profit targets that must be met. The companies are answerable to a contractor. In many cases there is also inattention because of instances where they are answerable or seeking, as a key relationship, the companies that they may regularly send large volumes of people to.
There are questions about where the focus of case workers lies. I am saying this again not to identify any of the individuals, and I am sure there are many committed individuals who work for JobPath. I wish to say that there is a concern when there is a privatised service. We have seen what incentive schemes have done in other countries. We have seen the very serious concerns about fraud in the UK because people try to hit targets and figures rather than simply working to secure not only an outcome but the best outcome for the individual who the person is supporting as a case worker.
There is also a question about the percentage and weighting that exists in the giving of contracts to Seetec and Turas Nua. I refer to the training, the training level and ongoing training of such staff and front-line case workers.
I have not said a fraction of what I want to say.
We have a serious concern about how JobPath was set up and we have serious concerns about how it has been rolled out. As I have only one minute left I will focus on one of my key areas of concern but I will raise all of them again and at meetings of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Social Protection. I am seriously concerned about the personal progression plans that are being pushed forward at present. I understand that people are being asked to sign personal progression plans that include them being asked to surrender inappropriate data.They are asked to make a contract with a private company in which they give information about their spouses and about their children, which should not concern that company because it does not concern their access to employment it only concerns their entitlement to payments. They are also asked to say that they will inform that company of any other job they get externally. Why is that necessary Minister? If somebody has decided that they have found employment separately they should be able to leave the service. They should not be required to pass information in respect of an employer which they have sourced independently to a private company. We have heard of very serious concerns in terms of how Turas Nua and Seetec have contacted employers and impressed them in fact-----
The missing piece in this is the local employment services which provide the kind of holistic wraparound services and supports which we saw in the youth guarantee. That is able to give the big picture of supports. I am very concerned that local employment services are not an option for people. I am concerned that none of the motions tonight talk about education as an option for unemployed people because that is a crucial option that does need to be a choice on the table.
Many of the problems have been identified by my colleagues and are also seen in the area of Dublin South Central which the Minister knows well. I refer to the problems of inadequate training, the threats of the loss of jobseeker payment, lack of real opportunities and the waste of public money going to private companies.
I want to raise a point in regard to small and medium-sized businesses. I know that many small business owners are being inundated with CVs from JobPath centres with some reaching unmanageable levels of 200 a day. They state that not only is this method of job searching wholly inadequate for finding suitable candidates but it puts undue administrative stress on ordinary small businesses who end up at a loss to find the right candidate for the post. It is a tsunami of CVs sent out so another box is ticked. It also means that capable and suitable candidates for the posts will be lost in the pile of unsuitable CVs and applications. This is extremely frustrating for all involved, except for the profit-making Turas Nua and Seetec of course.
My consistent message is that we need to foster and empower our communities. The privatisation of assisting jobseekers has gutted the community of this task and I can see that we have lost the spirit of looking out for one another. Those involved in job activation schemes like the community employment and the local employment services have described JobPath as the greatest threat to their stability. They cannot fill places as they do not have the people to do so. The Minister insists that neither scheme is suffering but that is blatantly misleading I believe.
Senator Butler dismissed the method of research with the use of Facebook and Twitter. However, I need to let the Senator know that was precluded by face to face interviews with stakeholders including employees and personal advisers who had left Turas Nua. There is an attempt to skew the figures with 5% to 8% dissatisfaction reported with JobPath. That is very low. I find that really surprising. There are reasons if one peels back those layers. Most people do not know how to make a complaint. It is made deliberately difficult and the information is kept from people and they are not clear on how to complain. They do not know the process or procedure. If they did know the process and procedure which we are trying to expose and if people were comprehensively informed I imagine that the figures would skyrocket as we found in our face to face interviews with people. This is a bad policy. I had hoped that this House would support our position this evening but that is doubtful given the two amendments by the Government and their buddies in Fianna Fáil.
I welcome the Minster here this evening. I will be brief. I am not going to rehash what has already been said. It is quite obvious from all sides that there are issues with the JobPath scheme. They have been identified and highlighted. From a personal point of view what I came across first, and which has been mentioned, is that one becomes ineligible for a CE scheme if one happens to be referred to JobPath. That is having a detrimental effect in rural areas and within rural communities, voluntary committees, Tidy Towns, social clubs and sporting clubs. They are unable to recruit and are losing very good recruits they had working for them because of the inadequacy in the scheme where if one is on one scheme one cannot qualify for the other.
I will be seconding the Fianna Fail amendments. While I do agree with much of what is in the Sinn Féin motion, there is a sense though of I will not say knee-jerk reactions but throwing the baby out with the bath water. Just suspending is not good enough for the people who have not been mentioned or have been mentioned very little this evening. We have all highlighted and concentrated on the negative. However, there are a lot of very good positive success stories related to JobPath. There are many people in employment today who possibly would not have been and they would say they had a very good experience with the scheme. I think just suspending because there is a problem is not the answer.
Therefore I will second our amendments which look at the scheme in a more constructive manner and propose tweaks and changes. Our amendments highlight a correct and proper complaints procedure for participants which I think is lacking in the scheme. It has been mentioned by previous speakers. Some people, because they are long-term unemployed and have the needs that the scheme is there to provide, would be afraid that by complaining they would be in danger of losing benefits, of losing status or losing the possibility of the job that they were going to get. It is an important part of our amendments that there would be a correct complaints procedure for the recipients of the scheme.
It is also vitally important that we have a close look and monitor the whole delivery process where it is a payment by results model. Incentive payment is a very good model within the private sector to maximise productivity or output from employees. However, we are referring here to productivity which is dealing with the lives of people. People may get a job that is not suitable to them yet through circumstances they must stay in it. That is psychologically detrimental. We have somebody who is going to get paid because a person takes that job, so questions do have to be asked about the procedures that would be used and the suitability of the client that ends up in the job. It is a model that works very well in productive situations in private enterprise but I would have serious reservations about its use where people's lives and futures are at stake and somebody potentially gets a reward by placing people.
One size does not fit all. The scheme has had its positives but there are major problems. The reason we have tabled our amendment is that a knee-jerk reaction of just suspending now because there are problems would be detrimental for people who are in situ and are still depending on their personal advisers. Our amendments look at the faults in the scheme and also suggest solutions to those problems.
It is very encouraging that we are not losing sight of what has happened in the past seven years. Unemployment, at 6%, is now at its lowest rate in seven years and every region is expecting a boost in the number of people back at work. We see it in Dublin where traffic has increased and hopefully in rural towns as well. I have noticed an increase but we need to do a little more.Some 225,000 more people are at work since the launch of the Government's Action Plan for Jobs five years ago. As we are all aware, the main challenge is to address the needs of the long-term unemployed. That is what JobPath is all about. It is a service aimed at assisting long-term unemployed persons to find secure jobs.
Reference was made to ensuring the outcomes were suitable for the person concerned. The Department was as careful as it could be in designing the JobPath service to ensure payments to contractors were conditional on people not simply finding a job but sustainable employment. In addition, the Department has built in controls for the service. For example, should one of the companies fall below the standards expected by the Department in terms of performance, customer satisfaction or quality of service delivery, it can retain the fees due to the company. How many companies have fallen foul of this requirement?
Sinn Féin is right to raise this issue on the floor of the House because some have questioned the feasibility and suitability of JobPath. However, I do not believe it is as bad as those in Sinn Féin have made out, but it is no harm to have a medical check on JobPath to ensure what was to be delivered is being delivered. The Department conducts audits and inspections and monitors customer satisfaction and the performance of companies on an ongoing basis. Retention of fees which can reduce the level of payments to contractors applies if contractors fail to meet contractual performance commitments or if they do not deliver a satisfactory level of customer service, as measured by the Department using independent customer surveys.
All of this highlights an important point. JobPath is a payment by results model and all costs are borne by the companies. I understand regular on-site checks and inspections to monitor compliance, some of which are unannounced, are carried out to ensure JobPath is being delivered in accordance with the terms of the contract. Inspectors monitor compliance with the service level agreement and the contract generally. It includes monitoring the suitability and standard of accommodation; staffing levels; Irish language compliance; customer service and customer feedback; checking clients' personal progression plans; and review meetings compliance. All of the evidence available to the Government thus far indicates that the reaction to JobPath and the jobseeker schemes continues to be positive in the context of the number of clients who have commenced using the service. The Minister of State said that, as of the end of last October, some 129,418 clients had commenced with the service and that 412 complaints had been made. The complaints represent a small percentage, at 0.32%. If there are complaints, I urge people not to be slow in making them as the Department is relying on feedback. I am keen to know how many checks have been made by the Department since people have raised questions about unsuitability or highlilghted difficulties. Much of it may be unnecessary, but the Department should go out of its way to ensure complaints are dealt with rigorously.
The Department commissioned a customer satisfaction survey to be carried out at the end of 2016. It was conducted on a representative sample of 2,000 JobPath clients, with 1,000 from each provider. The results indicated that up to 81% of jobseekers had taken the view that they were receiving a good service, while more than 90% had taken the view that the contractor staff made them feel valued. Up to 77% had taken the view that the service had improved their chances of finding a job. These percentages are high. I have no doubt that it is an independent and impartial survey, unless someone proves otherwise. To me, it seems to be independent and impartial. If it was not, I am sure there would be hell to pay. We can only go on the evidence we have and it is clear that most clients have an entirely positive outlook on JobPath. I understand a new client satisfaction survey is being undertaken.
In the broader context, it must be highlighted that we have witnessed the greatest drop in the level of long-term unemployment in the past 12 to 18 years. JobPath and other initiatives must be welcomed since they have contributed to this decrease. The Government is determined to continue to reduce the level of unemployment through measured policies.
We must create an environment in which business can succeed. I was in business. I employed 30 people in three or four businesses. It is not easy being an employer. Certainly, it has not been easy in the past seven years, during which most of these businesses, including retail businesses, have gone to the wall. They went to the wall because they were probably not fit for purpose, but it was brought on by the recession. Most of the business people I know lost everything in trying to save their businesses and the jobs of their employees. Senator Ray Butler has highlighted the fact that it is like keeping a small farm. The small farmer spent everything until it was all gone. I put in €800 a week for five years to save my business. The only reason it closed was that there was nothing left in the pot. If I had had €1 million, I could have kept it open for a further 20 years. That is mad, but, unfortunately, that was simply the way it was. This is a two-pronged approach. I come from a certain sector and with a vested interest. I was an employer. The vast majority of employers went out of their way to protect their employees because they were valued. Sometimes businesses went to the wall. That is what the recession did, but perhaps those businesses were not fit for purpose. The days of buying something, doubling it and customers paying for it will not recur. That is where Lidl, Aldi, Tesco and the various super-stores come in. That is what people are doing.
I compliment Sinn Féin on bringing the motion before the House. There are issues. I have heard many anecdotal stories which indicate that people are not happy with JobPath and this is the right Chamber in which to debate the matter. It is welcome that we can address these things in a manner that enables us to think of the people on the live register and also think of employers, for whom the scheme has also been of great benefit.
I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber. I commend the Sinn Féin Senators for raising this important issue in the House. I completely share their concerns about JobPath and similar schemes.
Recently I heard Deputy Catherine Murphy refer in Dáil Éireann to a concerning case of a man who had been treated terribly by Seetec, the private company contracted to run the scheme. He had some casual work, but he was always reliant on social welfare support. However, under threat of losing his payments, he was made to participate in a JobPath programme that was not suitable for him. He felt it was not linked with his skills and goals and that it actually made it impossible for him to keep his casual work. It meant that he lost it and then became fully reliant on social welfare payments. That is the opposite of what we should be achieving and shows how the system is sometimes unable to deal with specific complex cases. While participating in the scheme, the man in question was told not to accept an offer of external employment. Ultimately, when he took up an offer, he was asked to fill in forms linking it with his participation in JobPath. He said he had sought out Deputy Catherine Murphy as he felt a duty to highlight that this was happening. Throughout the process he was deeply concerned and felt he was being hounded to sign documents and follow directions under threat of sanctions.
I am deeply concerned that this is an example which highlights a broader trend whereby people feel trapped and disrespected and that they are being threatened with sanctions when they seek the State's help. I imagine many Senators and Deputies have seen the BAFTA award winning film "I, Daniel Blake". Anyone who has not seen it should go see it as it is a fantastic film. It tells the tragic story of what it is like to be at the sharp end of these schemes. It is horrible. When I was younger, I had some bad experiences when I separated from my husband. At the time I had two young children. Doors were closed at every turn. The process can have a major impact on a person's physical and mental health. We have to ensure we will not go down that road. People must always be treated with dignity, respect and compassion. I would hate to think people were being threatened with sanctions or made to feel lesser when they seek support.In general, I am fully supportive of schemes that can help people to find work or participate in education or training. With respect to the counter-motion tabled by Senator Jerry Buttimer, I know that many people have really benefited from these programmes when they met their specific needs and goals. This is something we should commend and build on. I believe, however, that, as legislators, we also need to call out the negative cases when we encounter them and reject a creeping trend of cruelty in the treatment of people seeking help. My Civil Engagement colleague Senator John Dolan has previously referred in this Chamber to the difficulties people with disabilities have had in job activation programmes such as JobPath. We need to make sure these cases are not forgotten.
That we are contracting out these schemes to private companies raises a serious risk of abuse. This is as true for JobPath as it is for direct provision centres and all of the other vital support services that are under the authority of the State but run by companies with a clear profit motive. I totally support the calls for transparency in that regard. The public have a right to know what their money is funding.
On the motion and the amendments tabled, I offer strong support on the concerns expressed by Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil Senators on this issue. We need to ensure transparency on the contract and in the conduct of this service, ensure proper funding for other employment support services and make sure further referrals to JobPath will be made only if the scheme is running as intended. Similarly, the focus on extensive review, safeguarding and complaints mechanisms in an alternative motion tabled by Fianna Fáil is important. I commend the Senators for raising these issues and offer them my full support.
I thank Senators for their contributions and expressing their concerns. I have taken some detailed notes. Unfortunately, the Minister cannot be here. Hence, I am in attendance. I will not be able to answer many of the questions asked, but the Minister has provided me with a statement which I will read. I hope it will address one or two of the issues raised.
As a human being and Minister of State, I believe any person who is unemployed should be treated with the greatest of respect and dignity by any individual or company when attending any service. I totally condemn any action by any service or individual that would make anybody feel he or she could not participate in any service. That is wrong. People should be treated with dignity and respect.
On an issue raised by Senator Frances Black, I was in the Chamber when Deputy Murphy referred to an individual who believed they were being unfairly treated. All I can tell the Senators is that the Deputy's office was contacted by the Minister's office about the allegations made. It asked that details be supplied in order that it could have a full investigation carried out. To date, the details have not been supplied to the Minister. I am making this point in case people believe matters are not followed up.
I am thankful to have the opportunity to attend on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, to speak about her Department's activation polices and, in particular, the important role of the JobPath service. The JobPath service has made and is continuing to make a difference to those who have been unfortunate enough to find themselves in the position where they are long-term unemployed. The results are positive. The feedback from those who have participated in the initiative has been overwhelmingly positive. We all know that a small number of poor outcomes for participants can attract negative commentary. A young girl came to my office who had a difficulty with what she had been asked to do under the JobPath programme. I contacted the Minister and the office and believe the matter was dealt with substantially. I have only encountered one case, but I assure the House that independent reviews of outcomes of initiatives are very positive.
The JobPath service was designed to improve and complement the Department's existing employment service capacity, including that provided by the Intreo service, the Local Employment Service and the Jobs Clubs service. The additional capacity provided through the JobPath service has allowed the Department to provide services of the type and intensity required by jobseekers, particularly those distant from the labour market. The JobPath service is particularly tailored to meet the needs of the long-term unemployed. It was designed to address capacity issues within the Department's internal activation service which now caters mainly for the short-term unemployed.
For the purposes of the JobPath service, all long-term unemployed persons on the live register are categorised into groups based on their duration of unemployment, for example, one to two years and two to three years. Selection by the Department of long-term unemployed persons for referral to the JobPath service is by means of stratified random sampling using groupings such as those I have mentioned. The objectives are to ensure equity in selection and that people referred to JobPath are representative of the long-term cohort on the live register. The Department refers each customer selected to the JobPath service for a period of 12 months.
There are two contractors delivering the JobPath service - Turas Nua and Seetec. Generally, Turas Nua provides services in the southern part of the State, while Seetec provides them in the northern part and Dublin. The contractors provide services from locations that are accessible to the customer by public or private motorised transport, with a normal journey time of no more than 60 minutes. Where such transport services are not provided, the Department will quickly engage with the JobPath provider to ensure they are, or that our clients are supported in gaining access to the service.
It is important that I set out how the JobPath providers engage with the clients referred by the Department and some detail on the level of service provided for each client. In this context, I remind the House that before the implementation of the JobPath service, long-term unemployed persons received very little support from the State's employment services. That is why the Government has focused considerably on putting resources in place to make sure all unemployed persons receive an employment activation service.
The JobPath service provider writes to each individual jobseeker referred to it by the Department, inviting him or her to attend an initial information session presented jointly by an official from the Department and a representative of the contractor. The initial letter or invitation includes a standard notification to the customer about the need to engage with the JobPath provider and the nature of the services that will be provided. The first engagement for referred customers is a joint information session hosted by departmental officials and the JobPath provider. In this session customers will be provided with information on customers' rights and responsibilities; the JobPath programme; the service provided by the contractor; and a copy of the service statement. After attending the information session, customers are given an appointment for their first one to one meeting with a personal adviser provided by the JobPath service provider. This meeting should take place as soon as possible after the information session. The date of the first one to one meeting is the start date of the 52-week engagement period on the programme. At the first meeting with the personal adviser, each customer receives a guaranteed baseline service and is assisted in developing his or her personal progression plan. The personal progression plan sets out the skills and competencies of the customer, identifies barriers to employment and helps the customer to identity his or her particular goals and interests in a return to employment.
With the JobPath service, jobseekers have access to a personal adviser who works with them in two phases. In the first phase of 12 months' duration the adviser provides practical assistance in searching, preparing for, securing and sustaining employment. The second phase starts if the jobseeker is successful in finding work. During this phase the personal adviser continues to work with the jobseeker to provide any support needed for a period of up to 12 months.
Senators will be aware that when the Department has referred a customer to the JobPath service, it requires that he or she engage appropriately with the service provider. The JobPath service provider is required to make every effort to encourage the customer to attend. Customers who do not attend or engage with the service can be referred back to the Department by the service provider. In such cases, the Department will consider all of the circumstances of non-attendance and seek to facilitate the customer's engagement with the JobPath provider. I stress that any decision on entitlement or payment is made by officials of the Department alone, not by the staff of the JobPath provider.JobPath is a payment by results model and all costs are borne by the companies themselves. The payments made to a JobPath provider include an initial registration fee which is only paid on completion of a personal progression plan. Fees are only paid when a client obtains employment and sustains that employment. Sustainment fees are paid where clients sustain employment outcomes of 13, 26, 39 and 52 weeks duration. The gross cost of the service since July 2015 to the end of September 2017 is €71.2 million. The overall cost of the service will be determined by the number of people who engage with the service and the number of jobseekers who successfully sustain employment.
The Department publishes performance reports on JobPath, and should Senators wish to examine them in detail, they are available on the Department’s website. The initial data on the impact of the service is encouraging, showing high satisfaction levels among clients of the service, and that people who engage with the service are more likely to secure employment than those who do not. The JobPath service was rolled out across the network of JobPath provider’s offices over the period June 2015 to July 2016. The numbers referred initially were low but have increased, with over 125,000 customers having commenced with the service to date. Statistics on outcomes have been published on a quarterly basis this year, covering persons who commenced with service between the third quarter of 2015 and the first quarter of 2016. The next publication is due shortly and will include those who commenced with the service in quarter two of 2016. The latest published data indicates that full-time job starts under JobPath exceed the target rate of 36%. The results of an independent customer satisfaction survey undertaken earlier this year indicates that jobseekers feel that they are receiving a good service, and that JobPath has improved their chances of securing employment. The customer satisfaction survey indicates that jobseekers feel that they are receiving a good service under JobPath. Between 76% and 81% of customers were satisfied with the service provided and only between 5% and 8% of customers expressed dissatisfaction. Over 90% of customers reported that JobPath staff made them feel valued and that they have a good relationship with their JobPath adviser. They also felt that the JobPath service has improved their chances of getting a job. These are very important findings by the independent review carried out for the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Doherty, and her Department.
I note concerns regarding the operation of the contracts. I can assure the House that there is significant oversight of the operation of the contracts and the delivery of the service through a robust complaints process and a rigorous inspection regime. Where a client has a complaint or where he or she feels the service he or she has received is deficient in some way, each JobPath provider has a complaints process, which it is obliged to have in place and to which clients are directed to in the first instance. There have been only 400 complaints out of over 125,00 people who have engaged with the service. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Doherty, does not agree with any suggestion that people are afraid to make complaints. In the Department the inspections regime monitors compliance with the service level agreement and the contract generally, including the suitability and standard of accommodation, staffing levels, Irish language compliance, customer service and customer feedback, checking the client’s personal progression plan, review meetings compliance and payment issues. To date, 46 on-site inspections have been carried out at provider service delivery locations, nine of which were un-notified. It is intended that the Minister and her Department will commence a full review of the performance and delivery on the contracts commencing the end of this year.
I would like to speak to some of the points within the proposed amendment. In 2016 local employment services, LES, providers were asked to increase the frequency with which they engage with jobseekers to enhance the quality of the services they provide. To facilitate this more intensive engagement, caseloads were reduced in each LES company. For 2017 the Department has contracted 22 private contractors for the provision of LES in 26 locations. The funding for the LES is being maintained at existing levels. Prior to the introduction of Intreo and JobPath, the Department had a total of approximately 300 case officers, including LES, working with over 471,000 people when the live register was at its highest. This was an extraordinarily high ratio of clients to case officer, far in excess of what it should be. The Department has increased the number of case officers to approximately 1,250, including in Intreo and JobPath services. With the reduction in the unemployment rate from a peak of 15% in 2012 to 6% now the average caseload today is around 230 clients to one case officer. In order to maintain a more intensive level of service to the long-term unemployed the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is seeking to maintain LES and JobPath caseload ratios of between 100 to 125 clients to each case officer. This is in line with OECD caseload benchmarks for the long-term unemployed.
The impact of an increasing number of people at work and the continued reduction in live register are all factors in recruitment to work programmes. It is also important to note that the number of people on community employment, CE, fluctuates on an ongoing basis as vacancies arise and are filled on schemes. However, the numbers on CE schemes at the end of September this year are almost the same as they were in mid-2012. In recent months the Department has introduced changes to CE, including reducing the qualifying age from 25 to 21 with the purpose of broadening the availability of CE to a greater number of people on the live register.
The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection does not generally encourage moving from one activation service to another until each service has maximised the available benefit to the customer. In regard to having an assessment or probation period when a client is referred to JobPath, the House may wish to note that any client referred to JobPath has been long-term unemployed and as such they will have benefitted from the services of the Department’s own internal activation service where they would have an opportunity to express and an interest and if appropriate apply for a CE scheme during one on one sessions with a case officer. Clients referred to JobPath should have these opportunities available to them prior to their referral.
We are all to be encouraged by the improvement in our economy and that we are experiencing a jobs led recovery, a phenomenon that did not happen when we emerged from previous recessions. This is very welcome news for all of us, but particularly for those who are returning to work. We know that it is hardest for those who are long-term unemployed to return to the workforce for a variety of reasons, and JobPath is one of the targeted measures introduced by this Government to assist those returning to the workforce. The results are encouraging and exceeding expectations and we hope to see continued successful delivery of the service in conjunction with other activation and employment support measures, including the local employment services, the jobs clubs service and employment opportunities which follow from participation on community employment schemes. We have seen and heard and lot of negative, uninformed and unsubstantiated criticism of the JobPath service. This is a disservice to those who are benefitting from the JobPath service and it is insulting to those who are striving to deliver it. In all this criticism we have not heard any positive proposals on what alternative form of activation service that should be delivered. I would join the Minister of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Doherty, in welcoming constructive engagement on these matters and any proposals which we have heard this evening and which merit further consideration will be given just that. On behalf of the Minister, I thank the members again for the opportunity to speak and look forward to further discussion on the matter this evening.
I would recommend that, at the earliest opportunity, the Minister of State watches this film. It will be the best two hours of her life, especially as a Minister of State who represents a working class community in Dublin. It is a film directed by the wonderful Ken Loach, who has done much for Irish history with some of the films he has made about our island. "I, Daniel Blake" is the story of one decent human being who is driven demented by a system that is heartless, that is results driven and that takes away the uniqueness and the humanity of the person, in this case a person who had worked all his life. To give away some of the film, he has a heart condition and can no longer engage in physical labour. They push him into all sorts of schemes and break him down, and take away his money and his supports. It is a vital film for people in government to watch, to remind themselves about their responsibility to be decent, to look after human beings and to understand that there but for the grace of God, go I. People who find themselves unemployed are supposed to have solidarity and assistance, not a one-size-fits-all approach.
Before I became an elected representative, I used to be an activist with the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed, INOU, which is a superb organisation. What I learned from it was about solutions. It came up with the idea of the back to work allowance scheme and the enterprise allowance scheme, which have very good, solutions-oriented approaches. One of the things the INOU taught me, and which I thought it had taught the Government, was that a one-size-fits-all approach to people in unemployment does not work. A tailor-made approach is needed for each individual. They need to sit down with a human being - not the customer, but the human being who is in front of them - the person who deserves dignity, who is a citizen and who has often worked most of their life and paid taxes. They need to sit down with those people to look at their skills and abilities and try to find a job, or a CE scheme or Tús scheme, that suits the people and that serves society's and their best interests.
That is not what this scheme is about. It has simply passed on from right-wing politicians to private companies the responsibility that should be the State's. Of course, those private companies, like all private companies, are driven by profits, by results and by ticking the boxes to earn another contract down the line. That is entirely wrong. It is not the way to do social policy. Unfortunately, we see in some - I want to be clear I mean "some" - of the people who work in the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection the length and breadth of this State the way they treat people who find themselves in unemployment, as I have found myself in my life, looking down their noses at them like they are dirt. It is not acceptable. I think there is a certain mentality in politics and in the Civil Service that sees those who are unemployed as people who have to go into a category which is then given to a private company - we could not possibly do this ourselves, but a private company can do our dirty work for us. That is what is happening here. Let us call it out for what it is.
The other issue is in regard to community employment schemes and Tús schemes. I, and many others, have come across places in this State which are struggling the find participants because people are being forced into this approach. These CE and Tús schemes perform a vital role in our communities across the State. I will refer to County Donegal, which I know best, but this applies as well to all the other communities in the State. If it was not for the community organisations in my county, I do not know where we would be. We were economically devastated. CE and Tús schemes are a practical way of helping to deliver services to communities while upholding the dignity of the human beings who participate in those schemes.
I go back again to Daniel Blake. I ask the Minister of State and the former Minister who introduced this, Deputy Joan Burton, although I do not see any of her colleagues present, to watch "I, Daniel Blake" and to rediscover their humanity and decency. They should watch that movie and understand that it is our job in politics and in government to treat every single human being, every single citizen of this State, with dignity and with respect, and to find a solution to their problems. Let us not take that away. That is what this scheme does. It is right-wing, it is cold-hearted and it is totally unacceptable.
I work in an area where at one stage unemployment went from 40% up to 80%. I was elected in that area, where a lot of work has been done by community groups. I was involved in community groups for a long period, serving as chairperson of a local community association which was providing accommodation for over 41 different organisations. At the time, I was chair of the board of management and had 30 people employed under a community employment scheme, so I am very familiar with this whole area.
In regard to JobPath, of course there are cases where individuals have not been treated appropriately, but I think the number of cases where that has occurred is very small in real terms. The whole point of JobPath has been to help people, not just with finding jobs but in terms of retraining and reskilling. I was in the European Parliament in 2009 when Dell in Limerick closed. I was instrumental, working with Brian Crowley MEP, in meeting with the Commissioner to get the rules changed on how the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund would work. At the time, the rule was that the jobs had to be going outside Europe, whereas the jobs in Dell were going to Poland, and, therefore, Limerick did not qualify for funding. We got the rules changed in order to provide retraining.
This is what JobPath has done in regard to identifying the role of people who are unemployed. It was not just about finding jobs but also about providing the appropriate training to allow people to find work. The whole issue in regard to employment is that it changes. There was a time when a person could come out with a qualification for life, whatever the qualification was. Now, we find that people have to go back and retrain because the job they have been doing for the past ten years is no longer available. JobPath has been very successful in directing people to training programmes which are successful. The proof of this is that we have brought unemployment down from 15.1% to slightly over 6%, which is a huge achievement. The evidence is that the people who have gone into retraining have got the skills and this has entitled them to get employment. For example, one person I am very friendly with was involved in the building line whereas he is now involved in providing care in a medical facility. He loves the job because that is what he really wanted to do - he wanted to give a commitment to people. There are people out there who were unemployed who wanted to make a contribution and, whether through community employment or retraining, to get back into full-time employment.
I agree with Senator Mac Lochlainn on one aspect, namely, there are challenges in regard to community employment and this is an issue that needs to be revisited. One problem I found with community employment was when I was trying to get someone into a CE scheme recently only to find the person could not be employed because a review was going on. When I asked how long the review was going to take, I could not get a straight answer, and it went from three weeks to over three months. Even as I speak, I understand that review has not been completed and, therefore, the organisation that wanted to take on someone under a CE scheme has not been able to take on that person.There is also the issue with employment where the JobsPlus scheme has worked extremely well. Something I worry about for Sinn Féin is that its Senators come in here and criticise Minister or schemes. What is great about Sinn Féin to be able to do that? They declined to enter into negotiations about going into government with anyone here, they failed to go into the Northern Ireland Executive, they failed to take their seats in the House of Commons and yet they feel quite free about coming in here criticising everyone and everything.
We went into government in 2011. There was 15% unemployment. We took on the issues. Critics stated it was all pie in the sky and they are disappointed now because it turns out that it was not pie in the sky and we delivered. We will deliver on housing and we will deliver on health care. I hope that Sinn Féin is still in opposition when we do that as well.
It is worth taking a moment to reflect on the history here. When we think of JobPath and we think of the originators of JobPath, and it is a shame that none of them is here this evening, it proves the point that the Labour Party in government gave Fine Gael the cover it needed to introduce some of the most right wing, draconian policies ever seen in this country.
Let us be absolutely clear. When one privatises a job service, one is taking a leaf directly from the Thatcher play book. It is Thatcher economics. Of course, that is what Fine Gael is - the Thatcher party. God knows, we have suffered enough over the past seven years to understand that.
It is a shame, and it is deeply ironic, that the leader of the Labour Party was the champion of privatising the employment services. That takes some doing. One could not make it up. It is a pity. We could have had a potentially really beautiful YouTube moment here tonight where perhaps one of our Labour Party colleagues could have repented publicly for the cameras but I guess they are busy this evening. It is a real shame.
In terms of JobPath, the Senators know what it is about on the ground. Frankly, I am surprised the Minister, being from a working class area in Dublin, does not know what it is about. It is about the guy whom I spoke to the other day in Limerick who explained to JobPath that he would not be able to attend his interview because he was looking after his invalid mother and was told that if he did not attend he would have to attend at social welfare to explain why and have his payment cut off. That is what it is about. It is about harassing recipients. They start by going once a month. Then they are told to come twice a month. Then they are told to come each week. It is about driving them, unfortunately, for the most part, into precarious work. When we hear these wonderful job figures trumpeted by Senator Burke, he does not tell us about the significant growth in precarious and low-paid work because that does not suit.
Here is the point. Fine Gael has always been a sister party of the Tories in Britain. Privatising job services was straight out of the Tory play book. I spoke to an old lady in Castleconnell, my own home village, who happens to be a CE supervisor and she explained to me the frustration she felt because it is so difficult to secure funding for increased places. As my colleague, Senator Mac Lochlainn, stated, the CE schemes do wonderful work here but they are now relegated to second class because of the new model of privatising everything that moves to drive those feckless unemployed into any work at all so that they can massage the figures.
Let us be clear. The city I am from, Limerick, is the most socially divided city in this country. That is what Fine Gael delivered over seven years. That is what Fine Gael did.
I had better begin to summarise. It upsets Fine Gael to hear the truth that it is a Thatcherite party, that that is what it does, that is what it did. It is a pity the Labour Party is not here to at least own up to the fact that it was the champion of privatising the job services, but here is the real point. Ordinary decent people are the victims of this policy and we deserve to do much better for those people than Fine Gael has done. I believe this Republic deserves better than a socially-divided society where it is tax cuts for the rich and hospital trolleys for the rest of us. The Fine Gael Senators should be ashamed of themselves for JobPath and none of their rants or raves will change anything in terms of how they have not delivered for working class people.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for allowing me time this evening.
I commend our colleagues for raising this issue of JobPath and for raising the shameful privatisation of the employment services. Each of us knows how this service is continuing to fail ordinary people every day. We can and must do better.
There is a subtext to the motion and I am amused at some of the contributions. Senator Colm Burke pertinently put it. It is about offering people progression. It is people we are talking about here. When this party came into government in-----
I will. There are people at work today because of the Government we were part of from 2011 to 2016. Senator Gavan said he is sorry members of the Labour Party are not present. The Labour Party took responsibility by going into Government. I realise that causes angst for Senator Devine as she rolls her eyes to heaven.
I am speaking through the Chair. The people we represent and the people who benefitted from JobPath are back in employment, are being paid and are making a contribution to society. The difference between members of Sinn Féin and members of our party is that we take ourselves seriously and consider being in government a responsibility. We act on behalf of the people. It is easy to come in here to criticise, rant, rave, procrastinate and obfuscate.
I am not doing that. The issue here is the people we all represent who want to be in employment. I spent 16 years as a director of adult education. One of the best things a society can do is offer people a second chance at education and a chance to upskill and improve themselves, in whatever shape that takes. That is the philosophy I come from and uphold. I do not stand here as a member of the elite, a conservative or a Tory, but as a republican who wants all our citizens to have an equal opportunity to be the best they can be so they can contribute to society. I make no apologies for that. I wear no flag or emblem of anything. I am a citizen of this State and I want all of us to be equal.
My record as a public representative and a citizen is open to scrutiny. Members of the House know what I stand for and about the work we do in Cork on behalf of the Fine Gael Party and the Government. I would go to the ends of the earth to defend us as a Government. The Minister is speaking about ensuring that people are successful in finding work. It is about ensuring that men and women, be they in Dublin, Cork, Donegal, Galway, Roscommon or elsewhere and be they 60 or 18 years of age, are in employment and that they can get up in the morning and look forward, or if they are not able to work that the State can support and care for them. That is the party to which I belong. It is called a just society. Last weekend, we published, Building a Republic of Opportunity. I challenge the Members who disagree with me to read it, just as I read the commentary on their weekend Ard-Fheis and the manifesto brought forward from it. However, do not come to this House and say that the Fine Gael Party is a Tory party, because it is not. I will defend our party all the time.
It is always welcome to have a debate on employment, JobPath or anything that will get people back to work and give them an opportunity in this life. Members of Sinn Féin come in here and talk about their political ideology, but I take offence. I come from a working class community. I served my time as an apprentice and I served in a trade union. Sinn Féin Members in this House pontificate as if they are representing the working people. They are not. They are trading on division - political division and even class division.
I am proud to be a member of a party that stepped up when this country and its economy were on the rocks. Unemployment was over 17% and in my region of Waterford and the south east it was over 20%. Rather than complain, point the figure and pontificate, as Sinn Féin does, the Fine Gael Party gets down to finding solutions. JobPath was one of the solutions. We were laughed at in 2011 when the Action Plan for Jobs was announced. We said we would create over 100,000 jobs. Sinn Féin and the Opposition laughed at us but we proved to be right, through dedicated Ministers and dedicated people throughout our public service. SOLAS training centres and education and training boards, ETBs, redirected people who were unemployed into retraining. Using systems such as JobPath we have driven unemployment down. We have worked to recover our economy. There is still work to be done but I will not take lectures from Sinn Féin on unemployment or how to run an economy.
Sinn Féin criticises the Fine Gael-led Government in this part of the island, but in Northern Ireland it pays unemployment benefit of £75 which equates to approximately €80. That is the measly sum paid in Northern Ireland where Sinn Féin is supposedly trying to form a government.
Sinn Féin has never taken responsibility. It blames the Tory government. Why will it not go into government and take control of the budget in Northern Ireland? Why will it not go into government and take the difficult decisions? Its members stand on their soapbox and pontificate on how to run an economy but they have never taken a decision that calls for responsibility.
The people who are watching this debate are people who are affected by JobPath, people who are owned by a private company, people who are told they cannot go on a CE scheme, people who are ordered to do things, people who cannot read or write but are given leaflets by the JobPath providers, people who are experiencing domestic violence and people with mental health difficulties. The type of Government we have is very obvious to them, not to mention JobPath.
I find that arrogance and ignorance, and I am sorry to use the last word, are displayed here about what is happening in the North. Eamonn Mallie put it well when he was summing up with regard to the North and the Irish language Act. The crux of the problem is that it is simplified here, such as saying that Sinn Féin does not wish to go into the institutions in the North. Of course we do. We want effective institutions up and running. However, the things that are happening there are as fundamental as one man, one vote and one woman, one vote.
That is basically what is involved. When people say "you will not go into government and you will not sit in the seats at Westminster", it is imbecilic. It does not even warrant a response. I will return to the issue, because that was a tactic on the part of Fine Gael to deflect from its importance.
It has been said throughout the debate that amendments, suggestions and positive things could happen with this. One could have said that 12 months ago. We were in the House 12 months ago and at the time we put all those issues to the then Minister, Deputy Varadkar, who is now the Taoiseach. He gave his responses and we told him what had to be done with JobPath, what had to be done to protect our most vulnerable citizens and what had to be done to give people genuine supports and pathways into employment. It made no difference. We told him the same thing again in March and on another occasion after that. Afterwards my colleagues in the Dáil produced the report. We have been listening to people from all over the country tell us the same things about JobPath and what it has meant to them.
We will oppose both amendments. Even at this late stage I ask Fianna Fáil to reconsider. We have been trying to do the right thing here for the last 12 months and Fianna Fáil is preventing us from doing it this evening. It is in Fianna Fáil's gift to support the motion and ask for this scheme to be stopped. We are asking that there be no new referrals.If, however, Fianna Fáil Members choose not to do this, in spite of their own colleague in the Dáil, Deputy O'Dea, speaking about how JobPath and the linking of sanctions and activation remind him of 1830s England and Oliver Twist in the workhouse, it will not wash. Are Deputy O'Dea's comments not enough for Fianna Fáil to support the abolishment of this scheme, along with the 12 months we have spent trying to persuade its members to change it? Talking about a knee-jerk reaction after 12 months just does not wash. I ask Fianna Fáil to think about this again because it is in its gift to support the motion here today.
The Fine Gael side suggested earlier that we do not know the difference between community employment schemes and JobPath. For God's sake, that does not even warrant an answer. Other things were said in respect of JobPath and how wonderful and good it was. The questions we have been asking about the scheme for more than 12 months still have not been answered. That is the bottom line. I cannot accept that. That is why, if this motion is not passed here, I will be asking for it to be referred to the Committee of Public Accounts. Perhaps it will get some of these answers which people deserve.
As the Minister of State has said, we have spent €71 million on this. We have had nine unannounced inspections. If a person is delivering a farming training course over the course of a week, a five-day period, chances are that there will be inspections on three of those days. It is not acceptable that there were only nine unannounced inspections when we have spent €71 million. This is a complete waste of public money, leaving aside what it is doing to the people on the scheme. The solution is to allow flexibility in the funding for local employment services and other service models. They need the funding to do the job which they are there to do and which they have always done. I am hugely disappointed. I am also very disappointed and angry that the Minister in charge, Deputy Regina Doherty, is not present to answer the questions about this scheme.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Martin Conway, Gerard Craughwell, Frank Feighan, Maura Hopkins, Billy Lawless, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, James Reilly, Neale Richmond.
Catherine Ardagh, Frances Black, Rose Conway Walsh, Mark Daly, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Maire Devine, Robbie Gallagher, Paul Gavan, Alice Mary Higgins, Gerry Horkan, Colette Kelleher, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Rónán Mullen, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Ned O'Sullivan, Lynn Ruane, Fintan Warfield, Diarmuid Wilson.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “That Seanad Éireann:” and substitute:
-that full employment, where possible, is the aim of all parties in this House;
-the importance of and need for activation measures which assist people moving from welfare into employment;
-that employment support schemes have assisted thousands of people into employment;
-that careful consideration and ongoing scrutiny is required of private companies that are hired to do work on behalf of the State;
-that poorly designed activation measures and programmes can have negative consequences and adverse effects on those participating in such programmes;
-that Jobpath has been the subject of several criticisms and concerns have been raised about the operation of the initiative; and
-that concerns have been raised about the impact that Jobpath is having on other activation schemes and Community Employment (CE) Schemes in particular;
calls on the Government:
-to ensure that all employment support schemes treat participants in a respectful and dignified manner;
-to put in place safeguards that will ensure those participating on Jobpath are offered suitable and appropriate employment;
-to conduct a review of type, quality and the sustainability of employment that people have entered into after participating in Jobpath;
-to ensure that sufficient mechanisms are in place for participants who may wish to make a complaint or raise concerns about Jobpath and the two companies tasked with delivering the service;
-to ensure that any complaints against the two companies tasked with delivering Jobpath are properly investigated and that appropriate action is taken where necessary to rectify any issues identified;
-to ensure that those tasked with delivering Jobpath are adequately trained and properly equipped to deal sensitively with the myriad of issues that may result in an individual being long-term unemployed;
calls on the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to review the impact that Jobpath is having on other Employment Support Schemes and CE schemes in particular with a view to ensuring that those who wish to continue to participate on CE schemes are able to do so, and to also ensure that Jobpath is not draining CE schemes of participants; and calls for an appropriate assessment to be carried out at the time of entry to Jobpath, or shortly afterwards in a form of a probationary period, to ascertain whether the individual is best suited to the proposed programme, or whether further engagement and participation in a CE scheme would be more beneficial.”
Catherine Ardagh, Gerard Craughwell, Mark Daly, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Robbie Gallagher, Alice Mary Higgins, Gerry Horkan, Rónán Mullen, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Marie Louise O'Donnell, Ned O'Sullivan, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, Diarmuid Wilson.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Rose Conway Walsh, Martin Conway, Maire Devine, Frank Feighan, Paul Gavan, Maura Hopkins, Billy Lawless, Tim Lombard, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Niall Ó Donnghaile, James Reilly, Neale Richmond, Fintan Warfield.
Catherine Ardagh, Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Martin Conway, Gerard Craughwell, Mark Daly, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Frank Feighan, Robbie Gallagher, Maura Hopkins, Gerry Horkan, Billy Lawless, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Rónán Mullen, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, Marie Louise O'Donnell, Ned O'Sullivan, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, James Reilly, Neale Richmond, Diarmuid Wilson.