Written Answers. - Employment Support Services.

Seán Ryan

Question:

118 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs his views on the current numbers of people on invalidity benefit who are partaking in community employment type schemes; and the plans he has in this regard. [20500/00]

As part of the process of mainstreaming services to people with disabilities, the vocational training and employment services formerly administered by the National Rehabilitation Board were transferred to FÁS with effect from 12 June 2000. Whilst responsibility for the operation of community employment schemes is primarily the responsibility of FÁS under the aegis of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, my Department has an important role in facilitating people on disability payments such as invalidity pension in community employment participation.

While the conditions for receipt of invalidity pension require that a person does not engage in employment, it is nonetheless recognised that support should be provided for people with disabilities or long-term incapacities to facilitate them in taking up available employment and training opportunities, where appropriate.

In this regard, invalidity pensioners can, subject to prior approval from my Department, engage in occupational training where they are incapable of following their usual occupation, and also to undertake rehabilitative or therapeutic employment.

Since the transfer of training and employment services from the National Rehabilitation Board, my Department has entered into arrangements with FÁS to assist people on disability payments
who wish to engage in training or rehabilitative employment.
Where certification is received by FÁS that an invalidity pensioner requires rehabilitative training or employment, they are, subject to certain conditions, allowed to retain their full invalidity pension payment and related secondary benefits whilst engaging in community employment. Some 1,670 invalidity pensioners are currently engaged in rehabilitative training or employment by way of the community employment programme.
Additionally, as part of a package of measures to further enhance the employment supports for people with disabilities, I introduced in last year's budget two further important improvements for invalidity pensioners. First, the back to work allowance scheme was extended to invalidity pensioners. Participants in this scheme can take up employment and continue to receive their social welfare payment on a sliding scale over a three year period or for four years if they take up self-employment.
Secondly, I have also extended the back to education allowance to invalidity pensioners. Participants in this scheme can continue to receive their full weekly payment while undergoing approved second or third level education courses. In addition, a cost of education allowance of £200 is paid towards the cost of books and related expenses.
The range of employment, training and educational supports provided by my Department for people with disabilities will continue to be developed having regard to,inter alia, the recommendations of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities.