Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Unemployment Trends.


asked the Minister for Labour if he will make a statement on current trends in unemployment.

Since 1980, there has been an upward trend in the level of unemployment and at the end of March 1984 there were 214,013 persons on the live register. This compares to 189,404 people at the end of March 1983 and 148,004 people at the end of March 1982.

The seasonally adjusted average monthly increase was lower for the year ending December 1983 at just over 2,300 than in 1982 when it was just over 3,200: So far in 1984 this lower rate of increase has continued and during March seasonally adjusted unemployment decreased slightly. While this is a welcome development the high level of unemployment is still of serious concern to me.

The Government are concentrating on creating an economic climate conducive to economic growth and the creation of sustainable employment. In line with this objective the National Planning Board have been working on a draft mediumterm economic plan, which will be available shortly.

The various employment schemes in operation including those funded by the youth employment levy are also contributing to the creation of employment. These schemes include the enterprise allowance scheme, the employment incentive scheme, the grant scheme for youth employment, the work experience programme and the various programmes of AnCO, CERT and the Youth Employment Agency.

Could the Minister give any forecast or projection of the likely effect on the unemployment figure of the Government's policies during the next two-year period?

For consumption at the weekend.

It is not possible for any Deputy in this House to give that kind of forecast. In view of the experience that this economy has had over the last five years, which was sad for those people out of work, it would be rash and unwise to attempt to give any detailed forecasts.

Considering that it would be rash to give those forecasts, is the Minister aware that the budget of the Minister for Finance has taken in a figure for social welfare benefits to a total of 225,000 people unemployed by the end of the year? Is that still the official Government target, considering that it is in the budget?

The question that Deputy Brennan has raised is somewhat different from that raised by Deputy Taylor. I think Deputy Brennan is referring to contingency planning on the part of the Minister for Finance and the Government. With all respect due to the Deputy whose concern in this matter is not doubted, that is different from the question Deputy Taylor asked me.

For the purposes of the House let me make it clear that there is a contingency plan at Government level to a total of 225,000.

No, that is not what I said. I said that the Minister for Finance has made provision in his Estimates, as any prudent Minister for Finance would.

That is a Government plan then?

Would the Minister agree that the new scheme, the Employment Agency incentive scheme, has made a very large contribution to the employment situation? Is he satisfied that the National Manpower Service have sufficient manpower to be able to cope with the development of the scheme?

I presume the Deputy is referring to the enterprise allowance scheme——

——which was discussed at some length yesterday. It is running for effectively only four months and all the indications are that it is making a good impact. As I said yesterday, we are looking at the resources required by the NMS offices throughout the country to make sure that no person is delayed. I think Deputy Fahey from Galway raised this point yesterday. We are reviewing the matter with a view to ensuring that no unnecessary backlogs or delays occur in the operation of that scheme.

Would the Minister indicate if he or the Government have discovered the underlying cause of the present huge unemployment figures and if they have pinpointed where growth is likely to occur in the creation of jobs to provide employment for those who are without it at present?

The Deputy's supplementary question is a broad one and, in order to do justice to the spirit in which it was asked would require a long reply. The causes are multiple. We are the most open trading economy of any in the EEC on which we depend and to which we sell 50 per cent of our gross product, more than any other country. That is a major factor. We are much at the mercy of fluctuations in world trade. There are other factors of the impact that an open economy must endure in relation to competition from other EEC countries and third party countries. The Government through the Government Task Force on Employment, the National Planning Board and the various studies to which reference has been made already in this House are attempting to do that. I am not trying to forestall the Deputy, but this House will have an opportunity, as it has had in the past, to attempt to answer what is a complex question.

The Minister has stated that more than 214,000 were unemployed at the end of March 1984. I am sure he will agree this is an abnormally high figure.

This is Question Time. The Deputy may not make a speech.

Will the Minister not agree that in view of the enormous number of people unemployed it is absolutely necessary that the agencies dealing with them should be computerised? Will he tell the House what progress, if any, has been made with the computerisation of these agencies? Have the Government any plans to extend the funds available for the enterprise allowance scheme?

That appears to be a separate question.

With regard to the second question, there is no limit on the amount of funds available for the enterprise allowance scheme. Since I took office as Minister for Labour I have given explicit instructions to proceed forthwith with detailed plans for the computerisation of the entire National Manpower Service.

Is the Minister aware of a new factor emerging which could have serious consequences for unemployment trends, namely, the survey carried out in some areas on last year's leaving certificate students? Those going on to third level education, those returning to second level education and the people going into training account for 75 per cent of the leaving certificate students. Does this trend disturb the Minister? Obviously it must have a catastrophic impact on unemployment trends.

I am not sure if I got the sense of what the Deputy was asking.

I am saying that taking into account those going back to repeat second level education because of the scarcity of jobs, those going on to third level education and those going into training places, the placement rate in employment is now as low as 25 per cent. Will the Minister not agree this is a disturbing trend and one that will have a serious impact on unemployment now and in the future?

It is disturbing to the extent that it confirms what the statistics have indicated already, namely, that there are limited jobs available for many people at present. It is a positive trend in that young people are taking the decision to acquire further education and skills. The evidence of the various studies available indicate that a workforce that is not well educated and well trained will not have the real potential to earn their keep in an open economy. To the extent that we have the capacity to provide the training and the second and third level education, it is a positive trend.

What about the numbers who will go on the unemployment register this year?

I do not have details in relation to that.