I appreciate the opportunity to raise the issue of genuine confusion about eligibility for JobBridge. I refer, specifically, to the eligibility of young graduates.
JobBridge is acknowledged to be an excellent scheme and an ideal opportunity, in a recession, for young people to be eased into the workforce. However, it seems that a large cohort of young graduates are ineligible to participate. I speak about graduates who are living at home, largely because they have no jobs, and because they are assessed on family income, they are not eligible for jobseeker's allowance which, in turn, prohibits them from participating in the graduate scheme.
In a recent reply to a parliamentary question, the Minister informed me that signing on for credits would entitle a graduate to participate after the requisite 78 days. My concern is twofold. First, a graduate who is ineligible for jobseeker's allowance and who has never paid a PRSI contribution — has never had a job — cannot sign on for credits and is, therefore, ineligible to participate in the scheme. Second, there is a lack of clarity regarding those who have paid PRSI, perhaps as part of a summer job, and their eligibility. The Department's website says one is eligible if one has paid a contribution in the last two years. Someone in the Minister's Department told me one is eligible if one has ever paid a PRSI contribution. Several cases have come to my attention of graduates who have worked and paid contributions but have been told they are ineligible for JobBridge. There seems to be inconsistency in this regard.
I ask the Minister to clarify the rules that pertain in these cases and to ensure that all social welfare offices are clear about the criteria. My main concern is the graduates who are not in receipt of jobseeker's allowance and who have never worked. The rules are clear. They are precluded from the scheme. For them there is a vicious circle in that because they cannot get a job, they cannot sign on and because they cannot sign on, they cannot apply for JobBridge and are disadvantaged in the jobs market. Given that they are forced through unemployment to live at home and, therefore, be assessed on their parents' incomes, they will be precluded from the scheme forever. The Gradlink scheme, which was subsumed into JobBridge, was aimed, specifically, at this group and it seems unfair that they are precluded.
First, is it possible to relax the rules? I realise there are financial implications, but I am sure people who have no jobs and recognise that they are ineligible for jobseeker's allowance or benefit would be willing to participate in JobBridge, even for the top-up payment of €50. Second, can the Minister clarify the question of PRSI contributions? What is required in terms of the number and timing of contributions? Can those criteria be made absolutely clear to offices throughout the country?