Written Answers. - Community Employment Schemes.

David Stanton

Question:

67 Mr. Stanton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the Irish Wheelchair Association may have to close its day care centres in Cork, Bandon, Limerick, Ennis, Offaly, Laois, Mullingar, Longford, Athlone and Roscrea as a result of her decision not to lift the capping on the community employment schemes; if she will now decide to lift her ruling and allow community employment workers to stay on in their jobs until the Department of Health and Children will have enough funding to mainstream the jobs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19489/03]

In accordance with the Government's decision in 1999 to restructure community employment, CE, participation levels are gradually being reduced in line with reduced levels of long-term unemployment and a strategic shift in policy in favour of training and other more appropriate supports. The average participation rate on the CE programme during 2003 is expected to be in the region of 22,500 with a projected year-end participation rate of 20,000.

All health service-related CE projects, including those providing services for persons with disabilities, are currently ring-fenced from reductions. Other services ring-fenced from reductions include drugs task force activity and childcare service provision. Projects in RAPID areas are given priority.

As part of the restructuring approved by Government in 1999 future participation in CE by an individual was capped at three years, effective from April, 2000. This change was introduced to discourage repeated participation in CE and to encourage unemployed persons to avail of training or education options where possible, which are shown to have more successful progression outcomes for individuals. CE is an active labour market programme and the concept of pro gression by participants is central to such a programme.
The three-year cap was amended in August 2001 to allow particularly disadvantaged persons to remain on the programme for a further period. FÁS has discretion to offer up to 20% of the total number of CE participants a further period on the programme, on a case by case basis. Participants are considered for an extension if on reaching the end of their normal entitlements on CE they are likely to experience difficulty in getting employment due to their age, literacy or numeracy problems or a lack of suitable jobs available locally.
Sponsor organisations such as the Irish Wheelchair Association have indicated that they have difficulty in replacing participants who have completed their normal term on CE, due to the lack of suitable applicants coming forward for the programme. In this regard, FÁS has been requested to make every effort to identify CE participants suitable for the positions in question. Should FÁS encounter difficulties in replacing departing CE participants with suitable persons, the matter can be considered in the context of the 20% flexibility in relation to extending CE participation.