I am glad the Minister of State at the Department of Social Welfare, Deputy Durkan, is replying to my question on medical cards retention. The Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy De Rossa, expressed great concern in The Irish Times this week that the co-ordination and proper arrangements were not in place for this Government provision in the budget. The Minister also expressed deep concern about another issue. It is interesting to note that one can be in Government and not know the measures that have been introduced. However, I welcome the fact that the Minister is concerned.
Major problems are emerging over the application of the new schemes to take on long-term unemployed people. This week it was disclosed that promises made in the budget on the retention of medical cards for the long-term unemployed have not been honoured. No administration or legal basis has been given for that decision and it is well nigh six months since the announcement in the budget.
It has also emerged that there is a complete lack of co-ordination between the new jobstart and the existing back to work allowance schemes operated by the Department of Social Welfare and only 100 people have been recruited to the jobstart programme so far although we were told 5,000 people would be taken on under it. Interestingly, there is not enough money in the budget for it. In a reply the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Bruton, admitted to me that the amount of money he had in the budget for this scheme was £1 million which would allow for 436 people to take up employment. This failure to progress these issues is typical of the lack of focus in relation to unemployment.
Today's debate was all about focusing agencies, Departments, activities and determination to severely punish criminals and stop them living off the backs of vulnerable people. There are too many Ministers and Ministers of State with responsibility for different unemployment issues. They are all doing sound work, but the only person who suffers from this overlapping is the claimant who wishes to benefit from an application to one of the myriad of schemes. At the last count, nine different Ministers or Ministers of State had separate responsibilities for various programmes and initiatives. As a result, responsibility for issues fall between different Ministers and there is little cooperation.
Nobody is co-ordinating the action plan on unemployment. That is also the position in regard to the medical cards. The budget trumpeted the provision letting those who came from the ranks of the long-term unemployed and got work to retain their medical cards for three years. It claimed that people on unemployment benefit or unemployment allowance needed that carrot to encourage them to go back to work. I do not believe that. In my constituency work I have never come across any person who is genuinely seeking a job wishing to stay on unemployment benefit. They come to me looking for jobs.
However, this change was trumpeted in the budget and many a Minister and Government Deputy "dined out" on it on radio, television and newspaper interviews but it has not taken place. I share the grave anxiety and concern of the Minister as to why there has not been a push to implement this measure. We have submitted queries to the health boards and the Minister for Health has been informed that no administrative or legal decision has been taken. Perhaps it was taken since Tuesday and, if so, I will be glad to hear of it. The Minister for Finance trumpeted this measure and the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, and other Ministers, basked in it, but nobody told the Minister for Health to implement it. The push has not taken place.
My complaint is that nothing happened and that there is no co-ordination. As I indicated to Deputy Eric Byrne earlier today — I silenced him for once — the number of long-term unemployed has risen by 3,500 since the Government took office. No amount of shouting or posturing will take from that sad fact. I wish I did not have to say this on the plinth once a month.
When the Government decided to allow long-term unemployed persons to retain their medical card on entering employment it considered that it had done a good day's work, but it forgot to follow through on its great idea. I am sure that the Minister of State's heart is in the right place and that he will announce that he has, at least, done something about this matter, if only to meet the considerable concern expressed by the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy De Rossa, in the columns of The Irish Times. He did not, however, ask if this had been done.