Other Questions

Exceptional Needs Payments

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

6. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will report on the exceptional needs payments scheme; the amount of expenditure for the scheme for the years 2011, 2012 and to date in 2013; and if it is anticipated that there will be an increase in applications under the scheme when the bereavement grant ceases to exist in January 2014. [50606/13]

As the Minister well knows, exceptional needs payments are very important discretionary payments designed to help individuals and families experiencing grave financial difficulties. The Minister recently stated that of the order of €35 million was spent on the exceptional needs payments programme last year. However, the budget for 2014 is going to be cut by €2 million. In addition, the bereavement grant is being abolished and this will lead to a so-called saving of €17 million. All of this is going to lead to many families being left in very exceptionally difficult circumstances.

Under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, the Department may make a single exceptional needs payment, ENP, to help meet essential, once-off and unforeseen expenditure which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet out of his or her weekly income. The expenditure on the scheme in 2011 was €62.9 million, in 2012, €52.7 million was expended and some €31.8 million has been spent to date in 2013. An ENP is means tested and is payable at the discretion of the officers administering the scheme, who take into account the requirements of the governing legislation and all the relevant circumstances of the case in order to ensure that the payments target those most in need of assistance. The ENP scheme is demand led. Examples of the main types of needs that are met under it include assistance towards new house kit-outs, funeral and burial expenses, the purchase of household appliances, clothing and child related items such as cots and prams.

To date in 2013, approximately 2,900 payments have been made in respect of funerals and burials at a cost of €3.9 million or an average payment of over €1,350. In determining an entitlement to an ENP for funeral expenses, the relevant Department official will take into account the circumstances of the individual applicant and that of the deceased person including any savings, property, insurance policies etc. The bereavement grant is a once-off insurance-based payment which is generally payable to applicants who are employed or self-employed. While there may be some increase in applications for ENPs for funeral expenses when the bereavement grant is discontinued from January 2014, I do not anticipate that it will be significant.

Our information indicates that a large number of bereavement grants went not to the members of deceased persons' immediate families but rather to other relatives. That is why I have concentrated on retaining the €6,000 payment for widows or widowers who have children.

The social welfare benefits of persons who have died continue to be paid for six weeks.

As the Minister is aware, funerals cost between €3,000 and €10,000. People in Dublin West and Dublin North-East, the Minister's constituency and my constituency, respectively, have few means of addressing these costs. One way of doing so is to use rural funeral directors to try to introduce competition in the market. The Minister may recall that Deputy Maloney and I introduced a Bill on this very subject.

The Minister admitted the Department made payments of €4 million to cover the costs of funerals. Is the abolition of the bereavement grant not an egregious cut which will create additional pressure on people who have been bereaved?

The Minister is also cutting the exceptional needs payment. A Growing Up in Ireland report published the other day provided information on the position of families with children. It found that two thirds of families with children were desperately struggling to make ends meet and one third of them could not make ends meet. This is the cohort of the population with which we are dealing.

In the area of housing, the rental accommodation scheme has collapsed and housing benefit-----

The Deputy may ask a supplementary question once the Minister has replied.

I emphasise that the Department provides an extensive range of supports to the immediate next of kin of people who have died. I refer to the important payments that are made to immediate families as opposed to more distant relatives such as cousins and siblings who may not have lived with the deceased. A significant number of bereavement grants were paid to people who were inheriting the estate of the deceased as they were paid into that estate.

The widow, widower or surviving civil partner of a deceased person receives a widow's or survivor's pension as a consequence of his or her partner's death. If there is a child or children, the widow or widower receives a cash payment of €6,000. Even in the context of the high cost of funerals, this is a significant payment. In addition, social welfare payments for the deceased person continue to be paid for six weeks to his or her immediate next of kin, for example, a widow or widower. This means, for instance, that the widow or widower of a pensioner who dies continues to receive the pension of the deceased person for six weeks after his or her death. In general, this amounts to a payment of approximately €1,300, which is significant.

The bottom line is that the Minister is further cutting the exceptional needs payments this year. This will affect a large number of families, including those who need support with finding a deposit to rent a home. As I noted, the rent supplement system is breaking down and the rental accommodation scheme has collapsed in Fingal county, where our respective constituencies are located, and Dublin city. The Growing Up in Ireland study to which I referred shows clearly that families with young children are desperately struggling. At such a difficult time, the Minister has whipped away important funding from the exceptional needs payments system. Surely this will make matters much more difficult for vulnerable families in 2014.

To date this year, my Department has paid €876,000 to help people buy prams, cots and buggies for new babies. The number of applications fell slightly in 2012 compared with 2011. As Deputies are aware, many claims for a social welfare payment are not processed for weeks. With the opening of the new Intreo offices, the largest of which is located in Coolock in the Deputy's constituency, claims for jobseeker's payments and so forth are being processed much more rapidly, frequently within one week. This means that dependence on special need payments, which was a feature of the earlier system, is diminishing in practice because people are receiving their payment faster.

Disability Activation Projects

Billy Kelleher

Question:

7. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Social Protection the percentage of adults in receipt in receipt of disability allowance that are currently on community employment schemes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50610/13]

As the International Day of Persons with Disabilities falls next Tuesday, I felt obliged to table a question on the number of persons with intellectual disabilities who are finding pathways to employment. While I understand the considerable pressure on employment in general, more should be done to find pathways for people with intellectual disabilities into community and sheltered employment and the open employment market. Figures show we have a poor record on finding pathways to work for people with intellectual disabilities.

I appreciate the Deputy's remarks. His question relates specifically to community employment schemes. Of more than 21,000 participants on community employment schemes at the end of October, 983 were categorised as being in the disability allowance cohort. This indicates that only a small percentage of recipients of the disability allowance participate in community employment. While we do not have time to discuss this issue in detail, we could have a fruitful discussion on the matter on a subsequent date.

The Department is working on the disability activation project, DAT. I secured funding of more than €7 million, including support from the European Social Fund, which will be spent over several years on 14 projects under the DAT. These projects are live in the Border, midlands and west region and will run until April 2015. They are aimed at providing practical insight into how best to engage with people with disabilities and increase their employment prospects. Having had an opportunity to visit many of them, I note they are making good progress. I can provide the Deputy with more information on the disability activation project and what we are learning about how to get people with a disability who desperately want to work - their parents also want them to work - into employment.

Under the Department's employability services, we offer wage subsidies to employers who take on a person with a disability and small adaptation grants if premises need to be modified. In addition, the Department has ring-fenced 1,000 community employment places for people who have experienced drug addiction and are in rehabilitation, many of whom are in receipt of a disability-type payment.

I accept the difficulties involved in creating employment generally. Problems also arise in the case of people who will lose social supports such as medical cards if they move into employment. Finding employment for people with disabilities is a long-standing problem. We must examine every obstacle that is placed in the way of people with intellectual and physical disabilities who wish to enter employment.

Action Plan for Jobs does not refer specifically to getting people with intellectual or physical disabilities into employment. Will the medium-term programme to be published in December include a strong emphasis on encouraging employers to employ people with disabilities and removing obstacles for those of them who want or need to enter the employment market? The obstacles and challenges facing many people with disabilities are too great. Will the Minister address any obstacles in her Department? The Department of Health must address the issue of medical cards. Ongoing, active engagement with employers is needed to encourage more people with disabilities to enter employment.

The community employment scheme is being refocused into two main strands. The first, activation, is directed at persons who are long-term unemployed and involved in a pathway back to work.

The second is social inclusion. People who are on a disability allowance, as the Deputy will know, are not part of the activation process because they are registered with the Department as having an illness or need. However, as regards the people the Deputy is talking about, I visit many such organisations around the country. There is an enormous demand among young adults with an intellectual disability to get into work. Recently, I attended an event in Castlebellingham concerning the ongoing work in that area, which includes Dundalk, Drogheda, Cavan and Monaghan to help young people with an intellectual disability under the DAP programme. At the moment, however, people on disability allowance refer themselves into community employment. Perhaps that is something we should think about. They are not part of the activation process but it is certainly open to them to self refer and seek to go on community employment if they so wish.

Work Placement Programmes

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

8. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will provide an update on the Gateway scheme. [50776/13]

I am seeking more details on the Gateway scheme which seems at a glance to be more akin to the Workfare scheme, because there is no training budget and no prospect of work by the host organisation. Can the Minister elaborate on the scheme?

Gateway is a work placement initiative for county and city councils. The initiative aims to improve the employability and maintain the work readiness of those who have been unemployed for 24 months or more. Similar to Tús, participants are selected by a random process conducted by the Department of Social Protection from people in receipt of a jobseeker's allowance payment for two years or more. The selected jobseekers are informed when they have been selected and, if they agree to participate, have their contact details passed to the relevant county and city council.

Responsibility for delivery of this initiative rests with individual county and city councils. Sufficient resources are available to provide for 3,000 placements. So far, just over 1,500 places have been identified in 29 councils in the initial phase of the roll-out. Progress on the roll-out has been slower than anticipated. Delays in the main relate to the ongoing staff restructuring processes of county and city councils, the need to engage with stakeholders, particularly in the county councils, and operational matters relating to securing resources, identifying work and supervisory cover, as well as Garda vetting with which there were very long delays until September. However, despite these obstacles, the initial placement of participants on Gateway will commence in Louth County Council in early December. Limerick county and city councils are awaiting Garda clearance following the completion of a recruitment process and four other counties have scheduled interview dates. In the other local authorities talks are ongoing at local level on the functions and responsibilities of participants and in regard to issues such as supervision.

Basically, the Minister has said that this is Tús for local authorities.

It is the same. Why not extend the CE programme to cover these opportunities whereby a specific programme with a training budget could use a method that works and has been proven to work, rather than creating a new scheme which is akin to Workfare? Is the Minister aware that an academic analysis by the Department of Work and Pensions in Britain, to which she referred earlier, questioned the effectiveness of Workfare, that is, forcing those on social welfare into compulsory work? After surveying international evidence from America, Canada and Australia, that report stated:

There is little evidence that Workfare increases the likelihood of finding work. It can even reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers. Subsidised transitional job schemes that pay a wage can be more effective in raising employment levels than work in benefit.

Will the Minister examine the compulsion aspect? Can she ensure that any scheme that is produced will have additionality in terms of training and job opportunities? Local authorities have a recruitment embargo in operation so there are no job prospects in the host organisations.

Unlike what happens in the North, where the Deputy's party is in government, there is absolutely no compulsion employed in the Irish system. I am delighted to say so. I share many of the concerns identified in various reports in Britain and Northern Ireland, but we do not do that here. The Deputy should be more au fait with the difference between social protection here, social protection North of the Border where his own party is in government, and in Britain.

The participants who may go on this work placement initiative are selected at random by the Department. That is part of an engagement process whereby people are identified together with whatever potential vacancies the county council will identify.

The Deputy mentioned Tús, which has been very successful. At any one time, there are approximately 7,000 people on Tús schemes. I constantly meet people on Tús schemes who have been out of work for four or five years. They felt they had lost contact with the workplace and could not get a job because they had been unemployed for so long, but they are delighted to be involved in Tús. I would hope that Gateway will begin to offer similar opportunities.

The Minister can dream up all the titles she wants, such as Tús and Gateway, but at the end of the day they are the equivalent of Workfare, which has been condemned. Whether the Minister likes it or not, there is an element of compulsion.

No, there is not.

People are brought in and told that if they do not take this offer, their payments will be reduced. They cannot volunteer for it, which means that it is compulsory, so the Minister is living in a fantasy world. Will the Minister ensure that such schemes - be they Tús or Gateway, which I am asking about - have an additional training budget? That would mean that whatever experience people receive in such placements, they will get the best possible training for future employment.

I wish the Deputy would take the opportunity to meet with people from the local development network.

They have set up structures for assisting the recruitment of people from Tús. The Deputy does not seem to understand the problems of somebody who becomes long-term unemployed, particularly a young man in his mid-twenties. Six months becomes two or three years as, unfortunately, has happened to many people who worked so hard during the building boom. Their capacity and commitment to hard work is not in doubt, but they lost their jobs in an industry that collapsed. We must use all our ingenuity to help those who have had that unfortunate experience to get back to work. If they only self select or only scheme sponsors select them, how do we get to the people who have been at home for four or five years and give them an opportunity to get back to work?

Many of the people in Tús, whom I meet regularly, go back to education or take up other employment. Increasingly, they take up places on CE schemes, so they make progress. I look forward to local authorities participating in helping their fellow citizens back to work.

Jobseeker's Allowance Eligibility

Questions Nos. 9, 16 and 27 will be taken together. They have been tabled by Deputies O'Dea, Joan Collins and Broughan. I call on Deputy O'Dea to introduce his question.

Willie O'Dea

Question:

9. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Social Protection the estimated number of persons who will be affected by the cuts to jobseeker's allowance in 2014; the amount of money she estimates it will save in the full year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50826/13]

Joan Collins

Question:

16. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will reverse the budget decision to cut jobseeker's allowance for those under 26 years of age. [50843/13]

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

27. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of persons aged 26 years and under who are currently in receipt of jobseeker’s allowance and who will receive reduced rates of jobseeker’s allowance from January 2014; and the specific actions that are being taken and will be taken to assist this category of jobseekers to find employment and training opportunities. [50607/13]

The Minister will be aware that people aged under 26 years suffered pretty drastic cuts to their job seeker's allowance or benefit in the recent budget. I am trying to ascertain how many people have been affected and what it has contributed to the State. The Government took almost €3 billion out of the economy, so what contribution has this reduction made?

What savings will be achieved by this reduction which is imposing so much suffering on one category of the population?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9, 16 and 27 together.

In 2013, my Department will spend approximately €3.66 billion on jobseeker's benefit and allowance. It is one of the highest spends by the Department. At the end of October 2013, there were 67,990 persons aged 26 or under in receipt of jobseeker's allowance. Data included in the most recent Quarterly National Household Survey published by the CSO a few days ago is encouraging in respect of youth unemployment. It shows that the rate of youth unemployment in the 15 to 24 age bracket decreased from more than 31% to 26.5% over the year to the end of quarter 3 of this year. This is a very positive outcome for the recovery of jobs.

It is still significantly high.

Currently, there are 38,000 jobseekers under 25 years of age in receipt of a reduced jobseeker's allowance payment on foot of the changes that were first introduced in 2009. Receiving the full adult rate of a jobseeker's payment at a young age can lead to welfare dependency from an early age. If young people do not improve their skills, they are at risk of becoming long-term unemployed, which I am anxious to avoid. Therefore, it is considered necessary to provide young jobseekers with a strong financial incentive to engage in education, training or take up employment.

The changes made to jobseeker's allowance rates in 2009 are being extended from January, 2014 so that young jobseekers who are 25 years of age or under will have a financial incentive to engage in education, training or employment. This decision was made on foot of ongoing consideration of unemployment and incentives policy by Government. It is estimated that the measure will affect 13,767 persons in 2014 and will result in savings of €32 million in 2014. An additional €46 million will be spent on initiatives aimed at young people. I am happy to inform members that from 1 January next an employer who employs a young person who has been unemployed for more than six months will receive a cash wage subsidy of €300 per month. I appeal to Deputies to make employers in their constituencies aware that not alone can they assist a young person get back into employment but they will also get a significant wage subsidy in this regard.

It is acknowledged that many of the people adversely affected by the budgetary changes will not, because there are 30 applicants for every available job, be able to secure employment. It is also acknowledged that the number of available education and training places will not be sufficient. What will be the position in respect of a person who cannot get a place on a training or education scheme and cannot get a job? Does the Minister believe it is fair that such a person should lose 40% of his or her social welfare payment?

Regardless of what the Minister says in trying to defend her position, the reduction in core payment from €188 to €144 in respect of persons under 26 years age is a cut. As has been already stated, there are 30 applicants for every job. Nobody wants to remain on the dole or to have to live on €188 per week. It is a poverty income. People do want jobs. The Minister should allow the people concerned to remain on the €188 per week payment, create the jobs about which she speaks by way incentivising employers to take on people or any other system she wishes to put in place instead of trying to do both and using this to back up her position that this is to incentivise young people to go out and get a job at a time when it is difficult to do so.

I ask that the Minister retain the core payment for the under 25s, which is a low income. For a young person to even qualify for jobseeker's benefit his or her family must be on poverty income. I ask the Minister to allow these people some income stability in their lives and to focus on the creation of jobs which pay more than the minimum wage and include proper working conditions.

I read an article this morning in which the Minister spoke eloquently about a living wage and how difficult it is for people to exist on the minimum wage or welfare benefits. However, the Minister has significantly reduced a basic social welfare benefit for young people. The National Youth Council of Ireland has stated that there are now only two doors open to young people, namely, a social welfare payment of €100 or emigration. Every year since this Government has been in office the number of people required to fill the Aviva stadium have left this country. The phrase "a living wage" is only pious words, which the Minister will probably repeat on Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, I cannot be there and will not hear them. In reality, this reduction in benefits is a severe cut.

As I understand it, we are in terms of the youth guarantee introducing the Dutch model, under which training or a job is provided. However, as stated by Deputy O'Dea it is not possible for the Minister to deliver the Dutch model in this country in a situation where the Labour Party is not really in power. That is the problem.

Some of the opportunities that will be available for young people include the following: commencing on 1 January next payment under the JobsPlus initiative of a €300 per month subsidy to an employer who takes on a person unemployed for six months will, I believe, be attractive to employers; an additional in-take of 1,500 young people on to JobBridge; 1,000 Tús scheme places targeted at young people; development of a pilot programme to support approximately 250 young unemployed people where there are opportunities under EURES; and ring-fencing of a minimum of 2,000 training places for the under 25s under the successful Momentum programme operated by the Department of Education and Skills, with income supports for participants provided by the Department of Social Protection. The Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation will also make approximately €2.5 million in funding available next year to young entrepreneurs via Microfinance Ireland and other business start-up schemes. These measures are in addition to the significant existing spend of approximately €170 million on employment training and further education programmes for young people.

I know that Deputy Broughan and other Deputies have been heavily involved in supporting community employment and training initiatives. Is any Member here seriously suggesting that life on social welfare at the age of 18 years is better than being in employment, education or training? Is this the start in life they want for young people? Youth unemployment in this country is a very difficult problem. We must provide mechanisms to get our young people back to education and training, into work experience and, ultimately, into employment. Deputies will be aware of the recently published statistics which indicate 58,000 additional jobs have been created and that the rate of unemployment has decreased from 31% to 26%, which I accept is still too high. Deputies need to come up with ideas and work with us in addressing this issue. I hope they do not see the future of young people in Ireland on the dole as acceptable.

May I ask a final question?

No, we are over time and must move on to the next business.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.