Written Answers. - Unemployment Levels.

Austin Deasy


101 Mr. Deasy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if, in view of the number of job vacancies here, the present high rate of unemployment can be explained; if she will quantify this in terms of difficulties such as literacy, insufficient educational qualifications, transportation to job location or if suitability for particular jobs is a major impediment; if the minimum wage is too low; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7135/01]

Since the Government came to office the rate of unemployment has decreased from 10.3% to 3.6%, based on the standardised unemployment rate at end February 2001. The absolute number of persons unemployed has fallen by more than half during this period. Of the substantial overall fall in unemployment nearly two-thirds was accounted for by a fall in long-term unemployment. The long-term unemployment rate is now down to 1.4%.

Unemployment is at a historically low level based on the ILO measure of unemployment. Ireland has one of the lowest rates of unemployment in the European Union where the current average unemployment rate is 8.1%. Additionally, the end February seasonally adjusted live register figure, released by the Central Statistics Office on 2 March 2001, is the lowest in 20 years.

Various policies have contributed to the success in reducing unemployment, including the large scale jobs growth that has been achieved which in turn has been the result of sound macro-economic polices, fiscal polices aimed at making it attractive for persons to seek and take-up a job together with a range of polices to assist unemployed reintegrate into the labour market. While the overall level of unemployment is at a historically low level, there are nevertheless pockets of unemployment and disadvantaged groups who have yet to benefit fully from our strong economic and employment growth. A range of policies are in place and targeted supports are available to assist the long-term unemployed and other disadvantaged groups reintegrate into the open labour market. These supports include targeted training and education programmes provided by FÁS, the education sector and the local employment service, including programmes aimed at tackling adult literacy and numeracy; community employment and the back-to-work allowance scheme which are specifically targeted at long-term unemployed and other disadvantaged groups; social economy programme which was launched last year and is aimed at providing employment opportunities through services to help regenerate disadvantaged areas. The programme is targeted at long-term unemployed over 35 years, travellers and disabled persons who meet the programme eligibility criteria; the national development plan also acts to facilitate the dispersal of economic and employment growth throughout the regions and provides for substantial expenditure on employment and human resources development and infrastructure including public transport.
As recommended in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, the national minimum hourly rate of pay is set to increase both this year and next. From 1 July 2001 the rate will be £4.70 and from 1 October 2002 the rate will be £5. These increased rates were accepted by both ICTU and IBEC. In addition to increasing the national minimum wage, the Government continues to improve the position of the low paid through tax reform and tax reductions. I am satisfied that the national minimum wage acts as an incentive for persons to seek and take-up work.
Question No. 102 answered with Question No. 49.