Priority Questions

Unemployment Data

Willie O'Dea

Question:

105. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Social Protection to outline the progress made through the Pathways to Work strategy; the current long-term unemployment statistics; the current rate of youth unemployment here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3956/14]

We are trying to ascertain the progress that has been made on the Pathways to Work scheme, which is central to the Government's labour activation policy.

In the year to quarter 3, 2013, the long-term unemployment rate declined from 8.9% to 7.6% and the youth unemployment rate declined from over 31% to 26.5%. EUROSTAT estimates that this fell further to under 25% by the end of 2013. New data for 2013 is expected to be available from the Central Statistics Office in late February. The overall unemployment rate, per the CSO, was 12.4% at the end of December last, down from a high of over 15% a few years ago.

Pathways to Work is an ambitious programme to address long-term unemployment. We started in 2012 by rolling out the Intreo approach to improve how we engage with unemployed jobseekers. Some 43 of the Department's local offices are now delivering the Intreo service and this will be extended to all our offices by the end of 2014.

As part of the new approach a total of 130,100 people attended group engagements during 2013, up from 68,600 in 2012; some 156,700 people have attended initial one-to-one personal interviews; and a further 136,900 follow-up one-to-one interviews were also completed. The Department releases a quarterly report on the performance against the Pathways to Work targets and this is available on the Department's website.

I also established a labour market council comprised of employers, labour market experts and advocacy groups to advise the Department in the implementation and further development of such initiatives. The co-operation of employers is essential if we are to continue progress in reducing the live register.

Under Pathways to Work we rolled out several new schemes such as JobBridge, Tús and MOMENTUM and we are prioritising access to these and other schemes to people who are already long-term unemployed or at most risk of becoming long-term unemployed. Data on the number of participants on these schemes is in the following table.

Table : Number of Activation Programme Participants, November 2012 and November 2013

-

Nov-12

Nov-13

Back to Work allowance scheme – Employee strand. *

21

11

Back to Work Enterprise allowance scheme – self-employed strand.

10,884

10,152

Short-term Enterprise Allowance **

1,138

640

Total - Back to Work schemes

12,043

10,803

Part-time Job Incentive

215

313

TÚS - Community Work Placement Initiative

4,522

6,849

JobBridge -National Internship Scheme

5,503

6,174

Total - Other Activation Programmes

10,240

13,336

Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS)

5,000

5,000

Back to Education Allowance ***

25,819

25,162

Total - Back to Education Courses:

30,819

30,162

Community Employment Schemes (excluding Supervisors)

21,102

22,238

FÁS full time training for the unemployed

9,857

9,199

TOTAL

84,061

85,738

* This scheme was closed to new applications from 1st May 2009.

** This scheme provides immediate support for someone in receipt of Jobseeker’s Benefit who wants to start a business.

*** BTEA figures include all schemes but participants from JA & JB are not entitled to BTEA during the summer holidays.

I will start on a positive note by congratulating the Minister on her appointment as director of elections for the Labour Party for the European and local elections, if that information is correct. I hope she will have sufficient time to give to her official duties despite these onerous responsibilities. All I can say is that if she can attract the same positive public relations for the Labour Party as she manages to attract for herself then all may not be lost.

As I have stated, Pathways to Work is central to the Government's labour activation policy. We are now three years down the road since its announcement. There is a separate section in the programme for Government on the programme. The number of staff allocated to deal with clients is hopelessly inadequate despite recent increases. The Taoiseach has promised that the programme will take 100,000 long-term unemployed people off the live register. How many people has it actually taken off to date? The Government has now promised to involve the private sector. I read a report under the name of Niall O'Connor in the Irish Independent on 15 December which stated that the Government will not be ready to roll out this programme until the end of the year at the earliest. That would make it four years down the road. Will the Minister agree with me that what has happened to date and what is projected to happen in future demonstrates a lack of seriousness and urgency in respect of this important programme?

There has been progress. Yesterday, for instance, I opened the new Intreo office in Athlone and later in the day I opened the new Intreo office in Longford. They have been well-received in those areas, as they have been throughout the country. Deputy O'Dea was present when I opened the Limerick office late last year. Anyone with an unbiased mind will see that what has happened has amounted to a transformation from what we had under the old Department of Social Welfare, which was a passive pay-out benefits agency.

Now we have a Department that is focused on functioning not just as a benefits payment agency, but, more importantly, as a public employment service charged with getting people back to work.

At the beginning of 2013, services for people who are long-term unemployed were managed by some 300 full-time case officers in the Department who were also operating Intreo and by 150 employment mediators working in local employment services. We have redeployed a further 300 staff to help the long-term unemployed during 2013 and similar numbers will be redeployed again this year. In other words, we have essentially doubled the number of case officers. This initiative comes in a context where the OECD had observed on more than one occasion that we had insufficient staff in place to deal, on an individual basis, with persons who are unemployed. We are now doing that, as shown by the impressive statistics I gave regarding the increase in the number of interviews and the consequent improvement in employment figures.

The one statistic the Minister did not give me is the one in which I am most interested, namely, the number of long-term unemployed people who have been taken out of the system as a direct result of the measures to which she referred. In regard to JobBridge, the Minister indicated recently in reply to a parliamentary question I submitted that 61% of JobBridge participants leave the scheme within five months to take up permanent employment. Has any analysis been done of the types of jobs these people are securing and whether they are appropriate to their qualifications? In the case of those aged under 25, are people simply leaving a situation where they are working 40 hours per week for €3.75 per hour to take up a job where they might be getting €8 or €9 per hour?

Does the Minister agree that much of the anecdotal evidence regarding JobBridge shows that it is not equivalent in any way to an apprenticeship scheme in the properly understood sense of the word and, in many cases, is simply a matter of securing cheap labour for employers? Will she comment on how we arrived at a situation of voluntary internships whereby a person under the age of 25 is paid the princely sum of €2.75 per hour for a 40-hour week?

I gave the Deputy the statistics on long-term unemployment at the beginning of my reply. Perhaps he missed that part. The long-term unemployment rate fell from 8.9% at the beginning of 2013 to 7.6% at the end of the year.

How much of that reduction is accounted for by participation in the various departmental schemes?

People in long-termed unemployment, who are identified as being more than one year out of work, are the most difficult to place in employment. The reduction in the rate of long-term unemployment - although still too high, it is falling - is an indication of the Department's success in this regard.

In regard to the numbers going on from JobBridge to secure further employment, the figure of 61% was not identified by my Department but by Indecon, a very well regarded Irish and international economic consultancy, in an independent report. That placement rate is among the best in Europe. To clarify, JobBridge is not an apprenticeship scheme. Apprenticeship is a specific programme of learning, training and education, which is delivered partly on the job and partly in an educational setting. JobBridge, on the other hand, is a work experience programme. Unfortunately, as a result of the condition in which Fianna Fáil in government left this country, we had a situation where people coming out of college with very good qualifications had no prospect of employment.

Now they are making tea and photocopying.

These highly-skilled people were unable to obtain employment because the Government of which Deputy O'Dea was a member never prioritised getting them into work.

Work Placement Programmes

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

106. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social Protection the position regarding the planned JobPath programme, including the expected start-up and annual costs; the approximate portion of these costs that will go to profits for private companies; and if the existing local employment services will see any reduction in their funding from her Department in parallel with the implementation of the JobPath programme. [3954/14]

I am trying to ascertain whether the Minister is aware of concerns that her tendering for the outsourcing of the new job placement scheme, JobPath, will undermine existing underfunded community-based and not-for-profit local employment services.

The local employment service, LES, is a valuable part of publicly funded employment services. Total LES funding for 2014, at €19.1 million, has been maintained at the same level as last year. In recent months the Department has modernised its approach to working with unemployed jobseekers through the roll-out of Intreo. Under the Intreo approach, the Department provides employment activation services to unemployed jobseekers using a mix of its own case officers and the contracted capacity provided by the LES and by other employment services throughout the country. In that context, I refer to employment services that are involved in specific work with the Department in the Border, midlands and western, BMW, region in respect of assisting those with disabilities to obtain appropriate training and employment experience. During the roll-out of Intreo, the Department has significantly increased the number of its own staff allocated to work, in particular, with newly unemployed jobseekers. Having taken note of recommendations by the OECD among others, the Department intends to increase its contracted capacity to intensify the level of support provided to jobseekers who are long-term unemployed. Towards this end, the JobPath tender is designed to procure capacity, using a payment-by-results model, to supplement and augment the Department’s core capacity and that of the LES. We will continue our contractual arrangements with LES providers following the introduction of JobPath. LES providers and others in the voluntary or community sectors are also free to participate in JobPath. This will give them an opportunity to expand and enhance their services into the future.

The request for tenders in respect of JobPath issued on 12 December 2013, with a closing date of 28 February 2014. Taking account of the time required for the tender evaluation process, it is expected that contracts will be awarded in April or May of this year. It is expected that successful tenderers will require approximately six months to set up operations following contract award. On that basis, I expect that JobPath should commence some operations towards the end of this year.

Like many people, I am ideologically opposed to the outsourcing and privatisation of social protection services. Evidence from overseas suggests that this has been an expensive failure in other states. For those who are furthest from the labour market and for existing not-for-profit activation infrastructure, it has been a disaster. I am requesting, for a number of reasons, that the Minister halt the tendering process. In the time allotted to me now, I will focus on the impact on the existing community-based activation infrastructure.

Is the Minister aware of concerns to the effect that local development companies, the LES, the partnerships and jobs clubs, all of which have a community focus and a social ethos, will be forced to compete against both each other and multinational companies? Is she further aware of fears that they will be obliged to become subcontractors to those profit-focused multinational companies or face extinction? The Minister has claimed, and has just reiterated, that her intention is for JobPath to complement existing services. However, she failed to outline clearly her intentions regarding the future role of those services once JobPath is established and begins to deal with the same client base as that allocated to the LES at present. That would be both a contradiction and a duplication. Will the Minister address the concerns of those who operate the services to which I refer?

It is difficult to please Sinn Féin because at times it seems the party does not want anybody to return to work. Now it appears to be concerned about the provision of additional services. In both the tendering and information processes, a wide range of organisations - some for-profit, some not-for-profit, some community, some LES and some, as the Deputy described, locally based - all sent representatives to the various meetings that were held. As I understand it, many of them expressed an interest in becoming involved in the process. I encourage them to do so.

Since the LES became part of the Department, not only have those involved continued their work but that work has been recognised as a core and important aspect of the Department's public employment services.

Whereas it might be argued that the local employment services, LES, were not in the past given significant attention by the Department of Social Protection, under my watch they have a very important role to play. The Deputy should not play down that role by suggesting that the work of the local employment services is not regarded as valuable. I wish to put on the record of the House that the work is regarded as very valuable.

As is usual in her replies to questions, the Minister has misrepresented what I said. It is obvious that she also misunderstands the concept of the tender which is payment by results. None of the community-based organisations has the funding required to enable them to spend months or years helping people who are very difficult to place. They are required to wait for payment from the Department. The system would undermine local employment services and Irish Congress of Trade Unions groups who are dependent on what is currently scarce funding. I have never said that we should undermine the community employment services, the local employment services or those of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. I have encouraged the enhancement of such services and I regard the use of the Intreo offices as being the proper direction. However, to privatise a service at the same time when the Minister is expanding a departmental service, as well as existing community and not-for-profit organisations doing this work, is duplication and a waste of money. I urge the Minister to withdraw the tender and to deal with the situation by means of the existing structures rather than putting money into private hands where it should not go.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh is probably making a political charge. I have found Sinn Féin to be very negative on the issue of employment creation. It is shocking, in my view. Our objective is to get people back to work. My Department and I have brought together into the Department formerly disparate organisations such as community employment and the local employment services to make them a core part of the public employment services. As such they are involved in very important work with those people who are very difficult to reach who have been unemployed for a very long time and whose pathway back to work may be through a combination of community employment, a return to education or further education and work experience. This approach has been central and for the Deputy to suggest otherwise is misleading, in my view.

Drug Treatment Programmes Places

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

107. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Social Protection the position regarding drug community employment schemes; the numbers on the scheme; the vacancies; the reasons for the vacancies; the age profile of the participants; the numbers availing of extensions on the schemes; and if she will identify areas of concern for the scheme. [3958/14]

My question relates to the community employment drug rehabilitation scheme. We have discussed this subject on previous occasions. The Minister has visited some of the schemes. My question arises from the particular issues and problems which some projects in the north-east and north-west inner city have brought to my attention.

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that considerable progress has been made in increasing the number of participants on the community employment drug rehabilitation schemes. A key first step in securing this improvement was the establishment of a stakeholder group which assists the Department to identify and implement enhancements to the scheme. In addition, workshops have been held with the scheme supervisors and departmental staff to ensure that the schemes meet the needs of participants. To complement these changes, an improved vacancy notification system and referral process was introduced. In January 2012, the schemes were transferred to the Department of Social Protection and 578 drug rehabilitation places were filled. This is a disappointing number as I said at the time. This increased substantially to 790 places by the end of December 2013. In addition, there are now 161 support workers, giving a total of 951 community employment places dedicated to drugs rehabilitation.

There were 23 available places advertised on the JobsIreland.ie website on 22 January last. The annual turnover on the scheme is just over 400 places. During any given year, participants can exit for many reasons, including illness or relapse, gaining employment, maternity leave, retirement, emigration, transfer to another scheme, exit to a training programme or full-time education or exhaustion of CE participation limits.

Data on the age profile of participants and participation duration is contained in the tables. All CE referred drug rehabilitation places participants are eligible for three years duration on the programme. In exceptional circumstances, there is provision for an extension of the duration on a mainstream CE project subject to the Department agreeing to that.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Drug rehabilitation schemes are primarily focused on social rehabilitation and improving educational and vocational development. The Department is currently developing a social inclusion strand on CE and the drug rehabilitation projects will be considered within this strand. The CE drug rehabilitation scheme plays an important role in helping recovering drug users to develop their personal and employment skills. In this regard, I am pleased that the number of places filled increased substantially last year.

Table 1: Age Profile of Participants on Community Employment Drug Rehabilitation Scheme.

Age Band

Gender

Total

%

-

Male

Female

-

-

Under 20

15

12

27

3.4

20-24

106

47

153

19.4

25-34

145

88

233

29.5

35-44

186

68

254

32.1

45-54

53

34

87

11.0

55 and over

22

14

36

4.6

Total

527

263

790

100.0

December 2013: CSM IT Extracts (Referred clients only)

Table 2: Duration of Participants on Community Employment Drug Rehabilitation Scheme.

Completed Years on CE

Participants

%

Under 12 months

393

49.7

One Year

164

20.8

Two Years

140

17.7

Three Years or more

93

11.8

Total

790

100.0

December 2013: CSM IT Extracts (Referred clients only)

I will read the full reply. The reality is the projects are experiencing difficulties in terms of both referrals and extensions. For example, one project told me there is a waiting time to get on a scheme. For somebody who applies on 9 January, it will be the end of January. In the normal scheme of things, that would be fine but these people are coming out of residential rehabilitation and they need to get on a scheme much more quickly. On the other hand, people are being referred to schemes but they are not ready for them. The projects are getting younger, less stable and with a less ready for work cohort applying to the schemes. Sometimes it seems to be just getting people off one register and on to CE schemes, regardless of whether they are ready for, and can get full value from, them.

Those involved in projects have told me it can sometimes take up to nine months to settle somebody who has been active in addiction into a CE scheme. At times, it can take even longer, so their time can run out on that scheme before they are ready to go on to the next stage. Some may have used that time on a CE scheme on another project, for example, for stabilisation or whatever. They then go on to a scheme which is offering FETAC accredited courses but they may not have the time to finish that qualification. There are travel costs with some of them because some projects take people from all over the city. Some of those are under the auspices of the City of Dublin Education and Training Board, so why can they not get a student card to cover some of the travel costs? There are also issues with child care.

As the Deputy said, the drug rehabilitation scheme plays an important role in helping recovering drug users to develop their personal and employment skills. As Minister, I have provided for a duration of up to three years. It is quite a long journey and one which can be very difficult for some people, so we have endeavoured to make it flexible. In addition to the three years, there is a provision for a further extension of the duration on a mainstream CE project. If it is to be extended beyond three years, we would look to see that there was a serious educational and developmental complement so that the person would achieve certification and qualification because that would be very important if the person was seeking work.

The other issue is to find follow-on work experience for people. In my experience, people who have been involved in addiction situations or who have had an addiction problem for a long time very often lack recent work experience and that is a very big barrier to them even when they have been clean and have been in rehabilitation. If they do not have the work experience as well as the education it is quite difficult for them to get further employment.

There is also a major issue for those coming out of prison and being referred to a scheme. What the Minister is saying is sometimes not filtering down to the officials. Those involved in the projects are dealing with the officials and they are getting a different answer from them. Another point is about how one measures success and progression. For the officials, it is getting into education and getting work but for people who have been addicted, staying clean and sober is progress, getting their children out of care is progress, getting visiting rights to their children is progress and not going back to prison is progress. The projects need a lot more flexibility.

Most of those I know who work in them have been working there for ten or 20 years or for even longer. They are familiar with all of the issues. The gateway project, which I would very much like the Minister to visit to see some of these issues on the ground, gets 9.8% of its annual training budget from the Department of Social Protection. The inordinate amount of administrative work that its staff have to do from that budget is taking them from other work on the project.

The Department took over these schemes in early 2012. I have long experience with people who have unfortunately built up addiction problems before going on a long journey of rehabilitation. That journey is important for them and for their families and children. I was a little taken aback to learn of the low level of take-up of these schemes before the Department took responsibility for them. I appreciate the information provided by the Deputy. I suggest that these specific issues could be taken to the stakeholders forum that we have set up. Many of those who had addiction problems but have gone through rehabilitation and are now clean following a long journey find that involvement in education, as opposed merely to training, is very important. As the Deputy knows, some of them go on to train to become counsellors and to participate in third level education. If the Deputy knows of specific issues that have arisen, the staff of my Department and I would certainly be interested in hearing about them. We have ring-fenced the places. In the particular cases in which we have made specific provision for a time extension, I would like to see a strong educational and developmental content.

Housing Assistance Payments Implementation

Willie O'Dea

Question:

108. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Social Protection her plans to reform the rent supplement scheme; if her attention has been drawn to reports that many tenants are being asked to pay top-up payments to landlords for rent that is above the maximum allowance limit under the scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3957/14]

The purpose of this question is to ascertain the current position regarding the transfer from rent allowance to housing assistance payments.

There are approximately 80,000 recipients of rent supplement at present. Just over €344 million has been provided for the scheme in the 2014 Estimates. The Department has no evidence of widespread or systemic false declarations of rent supplement through the use of illegal top-ups. The tenant, landlord or landlord's agent must complete the rent supplement application form, which includes the amount of rent, and declare that the information provided is correct and accurate. The Department's form clearly states that making a false statement or withholding information may lead to prosecution.

In June 2012, the Department introduced powers of inquiry for staff to formally request and oblige landlords to provide information in respect of rent supplement tenants, principally to verify the agreed rent and existence of the tenancy. Any instance of false declarations should be reported to the Department, which has specific legislative powers to deal with such offences. In July 2013, the Government approved the introduction of the housing assistance payment scheme as part of the reform of the rent supplement scheme. Under this new scheme, responsibility for recipients of rent supplement with a long-term housing need will transfer from the Department to local authorities using the housing assistance payment scheme.

Officials in my Department are working with their counterparts in the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, which is leading the project, to develop proposals to give effect to this transfer. It is intended that the scheme will be piloted in early 2014 in the Limerick local authority area, with further roll-out to selected authorities during the year. The Department has recently introduced an amendment to the household budgeting facility, which is operated by An Post on behalf of the Department. This will assist local authorities in the collection of rents and will facilitate the housing assistance payment pilot.

A commitment to provide for the transfer from the rent supplement scheme to the housing assistance payment scheme was included in the programme for Government. Three years on, the Government has announced that the new scheme will be piloted initially in Limerick. When I spoke to officials from Limerick City Council yesterday, they were unable to tell me when the pilot will start.

I want to ask a few specific questions on this matter. When will the transition start? When will the pilot start? More importantly, when does the Government anticipate that the transition process throughout the country will be complete?

Will all those in receipt of rent supplement for more than 18 months transfer automatically or will only a percentage of them transfer to the HAP? Will staff from the Department of Social Protection be deployed as part of the move to the HAP to assist the local authorities to implement it because they tell me they do not have the resources? The Minister has previously stated that she would be anxious to see rent payment by way of deduction at source from social welfare. Is that still her position?

The transition process for this has been exceptionally difficult because, as the Deputy will appreciate, there are 44 local authority rent schemes and associated computer systems, all of which are different. We would like rent supplement to be properly transferred to local authorities. The disadvantage of rent supplement for somebody who is unemployed is that it constitutes an unemployment trap because if they get offered employment they lose all their rent supplement. That is what lies behind the idea of transferring it to the local authorities. The local authorities, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the County and City Managers' Association have been working very intensively in recent years to introduce the HAP proposal. As I said in my reply, I expect the Limerick pilot scheme to commence by the end of the first quarter in 2014 - that is what has been indicated to me.

I thank the Minister.

The Deputy asked about direct deduction at source. We have amended the social welfare legislation on household budgeting, which has major implications for the local authorities. They found that people involved in rent supplement through the RAS were signing in to the household budgeting system to have their deductions taken from their social welfare payment with their agreement but were then leaving it because they did not need to refer to the local authority if they decided to leave it and were therefore falling into arrears.

I thank the Minister. I must call Deputy O'Dea and will come back to the Minister for the final reply.

We made an amendment to the legislation to ensure if they wish to leave it they must get the permission of the local authority. That will be of very significant assistance to the local authorities.

The rent supplement was initially supposed to be a short-term panacea to address short-term homelessness. However, it would now appear to be the cornerstone of the Government's policy on social housing given that some 55,000 people have been on rent supplement for more than 18 months. The Minister stated that the Government had provided for just under €400 million and it cost €414 million last year. The State has spent billions of euro on this scheme. Last year the top 20 landlord recipients received €5 million between them. One character received €578,000 directly from the State in respect of 114 apartments. Has any thought been given to what the State is getting in return? In the first instance that money would be better spent on the provision of social housing. If that is not possible for some reason, then surely the State should be seeking to get something tangible back in return for the taxpayers' money that is being lavished into the coffers of private landlords.

I am delighted to hear the Deputy identifying the problems with the rent supplement because during the time of the previous Government the rent supplement became to go-to position and local authorities basically pulled out of being housing providers. Part of that was because local authority estates, some in the Deputy's area and some in mine, had built up problems which the local authorities found very difficult to manage. We are now trying to rectify an inadequate situation we inherited from the previous Government -----

The problem now is that there are no houses.

-----and to transfer responsibility for housing to the local authority housing department, where it should be, and therefore allow people on a local authority supplemented rent to access employment because at the moment it is an employment trap. With the change in legislation, we have now offered a very attractive amendment to the local authorities because all around the country, in Dublin, Limerick and all the big areas, local authorities have been worried at the amount of rent arrears that have built up. Some of that happened simply because of the lack of legislation. I hope we are now on a different course. The provision of housing is very important and the Deputy’s colleague from Limerick, my party colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government with responsibility for housing, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, will answer detailed questions on that topic.

National Internship Scheme Administration

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

109. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social Protection her views on the conclusion of the Union of Students of Ireland in its document, Vision for Post-Bailout Ireland, that the JobBridge scheme is beyond repair and should be phased out; and the steps she will take in response to same. [3955/14]

Is the Minister aware of the Union of Students in Ireland, USI, document, Vision for Post-Bailout Ireland, and what it has to say on the JobBridge scheme, that the scheme is beyond repair and should be phased out? The USI is the latest of several unions to have come to that conclusion, to have rejected the scheme and to have said it needs to be ended.

On 23 January, the total number of persons who have participated on JobBridge was more than 25,200 and there are currently nearly 6,400 participants. Data on current recipients by county are included in the table following this reply.

I share the Union of Students in Ireland’s vision that Ireland’s real competitive advantage lies in producing highly skilled, highly qualified graduates which must form the foundation of our future workforce. I also note that the USI considers that internships will continue to form an important entry route into employment for many graduates. In this regard a criticism in the past, made by the USI among others, was that unemployed graduates lost their jobseeker's payment if they took up an internship.

JobBridge was partly a response to such criticism but I emphasise it does not cater just for graduates. It is designed to ensure both graduate and non-graduate jobseekers can secure the real workplace experience without which many would have difficulty in progressing into employment. This means some of the opportunities offered through JobBridge do not fit the profile of the traditional graduate internship. I make no apologies for this and neither will the very many interns who found JobBridge a very effective route into paid employment. The independent evaluation of JobBridge found that 61% of interns were moving into employment within five months of finishing JobBridge, and there were very low levels of displacement and deadweight.

JobBridge has been recognised as an outstanding success and is delivering for thousands of jobseekers by providing them with valuable opportunities to gain relevant work experience, knowledge and skills in a workplace environment to cut across the problem that some highly qualified graduates cannot get a job because they have no work experience. When they get work experience, which JobBridge provides, they often become extremely employable. Many interns leave JobBridge before the internship is complete because the company for which they have gone to work has offered them employment.

JobBridge participants by county - January 2014

County

Current

Total since scheme inception

DUBLIN

1,995

8,486

CORK

573

2,392

GALWAY

401

1,622

LIMERICK

341

1,297

KILDARE

226

855

DONEGAL

260

852

WATERFORD

200

841

TIPPERARY

220

801

KERRY

206

731

WEXFORD

175

730

MAYO

202

633

LOUTH

155

615

WESTMEATH

149

599

MEATH

164

570

CLARE

134

542

WICKLOW

115

524

SLIGO

132

479

MONAGHAN

135

433

KILKENNY

95

372

CAVAN

111

350

LAOIS

86

350

CARLOW

87

326

OFFALY

94

316

ROSCOMMON

56

188

LONGFORD

40

185

LEITRIM

37

120

Grand Total

6,389

25,209

I have been asking questions about the JobBridge scheme since it was initiated and I have yet to hear the Minister admit it has an exploitative aspect. Through its sponsorship of this scheme the State has contributed millions of free hours of labour, exploiting the 25,000 people the Minister mentioned, to companies which often gain an economic advantage over their competitors. The Minister has never owned up to the fact that companies are abusing the system. We have heard the recent furore about Advance Pitstop and other companies that have advertised JobBridge for a nine-month period. It does not take nine months to gain the experience to change an exhaust - no such thing - nor did it ever take that time to learn how to stack shelves.

The JobBridge scheme is a disgrace. It is exploitation of young, unemployed workers in particular, and it should be brought to an end and replaced with a proper internship scheme, as in other countries, which allows those who take part to gain a proper benefit from it.

I have just come from publishing our proposals in regard to the youth guarantee. Honestly, I do not understand what Sinn Féin's problem is with young people getting employment and being facilitated to get employment experience in a situation where, following the bank guarantee, which the Deputy's party supported initially, along with others, this country lost 300,000 jobs. The situation is that the finest people of all ages are locked out of employment, as the Union of Students in Ireland has said. They have good educational qualifications but, because they have no work experience, they cannot get employment.

I simply do not understand why Sinn Féin is not pro-jobs and not pro-helping people to get back to work. Up to the end of September 2013, there were an extra 58,000 people at work. That is a really good outcome. With regard to the 25,000 people who have taken up JobBridge internships, I do not know how the Deputy can argue with the fact that more than 60% of those have gone on to get further employment.

Thank you, Minister. I call Deputy Ó Snodaigh.

Not only that, but for people like construction engineers, we have sponsored back-to-education postgraduate qualifications, followed by an internship and followed by an offer of high-level employment with IT companies for two years and more. What is there to argue with on that?

There is quite a lot to argue with in terms of the Minister's policy for young, unemployed people. I can stand over our position, which is pro-jobs, and our documents on jobs attest to that. I have supported Intreo and JobsPlus but I do not support the exploitation of workers, nor have I supported the cut in training grants to young people on community employment, CE, in which the Minister was involved, nor the fact she is supporting Tús, which has no training grants, nor the jobs displacement which happens because of JobBridge.

All we need do is look at the teachers and SNAs who are now being forced into JobBridge. Each and every Government Department is abusing people by putting them into JobBridge. The Garda vetting unit is a case in point. The Minister has also planned to have local authority work done by people on a scheme without proper funding or terms and conditions. The labour movement, not the Labour Party, won those terms and conditions over many years. I am not the one who has any reason to hang my head in shame. It is the Minister, as a Labour Party Minister and somebody who in the past has espoused the virtue of proper terms and conditions in the workplace, who in government is doing the exact opposite.

Thank you, Deputy. I call the Minister.

The Minister is undermining each and every one of those terms and conditions that were won over the past 100 years. This is one of the schemes where the very same is happening.

I think the Deputy is politicking now because-----

There is no politics involved. I have a full list here if the Minister wants it.

How can he conceivably suggest, on behalf of Sinn Féin, that six months work experience for anyone who has been unemployed is somehow destructive when we have had 300,000 people in this country lose their jobs? JobBridge offers them an opportunity to hold onto their social welfare, get a top-up payment of €50 and get very valuable work experience, which the research shows, and which the Deputy knows but is not prepared to acknowledge-----

The Minister should look at the research properly and stop quoting it in the wrong.

-----has helped 61% of people to get into work.

There is no one way in which all of the unemployed people who are in this country will get employment; it is in a whole series of different ways. The Deputy made very disparaging comments about Tús. I travel to community centres all around this country. Let me tell the Deputy and Sinn Féin that I meet-----

I was not disparaging of Tús, just of the way the Minister operates Tús. I said nothing about the people involved in it or the people using it.

Order, please. The Minister, without interruption.

Does Deputy Ó Snodaigh just want to shout?

I do not want to shout. The Minister is misrepresenting what I said.

The Deputy is shouting.

I am not shouting. I will not come in here and be misrepresented every time.

He is shouting.

The Minister should conclude as she is over time.

I meet via Tús the finest people who are contributing to their local community, 7,000 at any one time, and who, thankfully, are getting employment. That is something the Deputy and I should be celebrating, not condemning.