Priority Questions

Social Welfare Code

Seán Ó Fearghaíl


1. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection her plans to provide the self-employed with greater access to social welfare benefits; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17372/15]

I have the unenviable task of standing in for the inimitable Deputy O'Dea. This question seeks to explore with the Tánaiste what plans, if any, she has to extend access to social welfare benefits to the self-employed. The question is posed against the background of all of us in this House wishing to see the indigenous sector develop. We see access to welfare benefits as part of that necessary change.

Self-employed people pay PRSI at the class S rate of 4%. This entitles them to benefits such as a State contributory pension and contributory widow's, widower's or surviving civil partner's pension, contributory guardian's payment, maternity benefit and adoptive benefit. A combined PRSI rate of 14.75% is paid in respect of employees, who can access the full range of social insurance benefits. This comprises 4% PRSI payable by employees and 10.75% by their employer, or there is an 8.5% employer PRSI rate for weekly earnings under €356.

The most recent actuarial review of the Social Insurance Fund, published in 2012, stated that the self-employed are obtaining better value for the level of their current social insurance contributions than employees. The review found that a 15% contribution rate would be needed to provide the core full-rate State contributory pension to the self-employed. This compares very favourably with the 4% rate currently paid by the self-employed. In addition, self-employed people with insufficient means can access social assistance payments such as jobseeker's allowance and disability allowance, subject to satisfying the qualifying means criteria.

In June 2011, I established the advisory group on tax and social welfare to examine a number of specific issues including the issues involved in providing social insurance cover for the self-employed. It reported back that during the three year period from 2009 to 20011 nine out of every ten self-employed people who claimed jobseeker’s allowance received payment. Therefore, it was not convinced that there was a need for the extension of social insurance for the self-employed to provide cover for jobseeker’s benefit. However, the group found that extending social insurance for the self-employed was warranted in cases related to long-term sickness or injuries, through the invalidity pension and the partial capacity benefit schemes. In this regard, the group recommended that the rate of contribution for class S should be increased by at least 1.5 percentage points, payable on a compulsory basis only.

At the time, some employers’ groups called for the provision of social insurance benefits to the self-employed on an optional basis. This was addressed by the advisory group which considered that allowing people a facility to opt in or opt out at their own discretion could lead to the selection of bad risks. The whole principle of social insurance is social solidarity where everybody pays in and, if necessary, cover is available. Allowing people to opt in or opt out could result in a negation of the social solidarity contributory principles which underline the system. Any changes in the PRSI system for the self-employed would have to be considered in a budgetary context and, in particular, the funding position of additional entitlements. There are very valuable additional entitlements offered in the advisory group report which I accept, but the issue for self-employed people, or for their organisations, was that it would involve an additional contribution which they did not seem inclined to favour at the time.

Any of us responding to this issue accepts that for the system to work a realistic contribution has to be made. As we look to the future and to the sort of economy we want to develop, we find we are all committed to developing indigenous small and medium sized enterprises. We all accept that in order to do that successfully the safety net of a social welfare benefit system does two things, that is, secures a measure of social justice, to which the Tánaiste has alluded, but it also goes a little bit further in that it helps to reduce the level of risk that entrepreneurs are taking. We need people to take risks and we need to incentivise them to do so. Notwithstanding the advice the Tánaiste has received from the advisory group which she will take on board, if there are changes to be made I accept they would need to be made in a budgetary context. Does the Tánaiste envisage changes being made in the near future?

I favour the report of the advisory committee. We have spoken in recent times of social dialogue in regard to the relationships between the Government and different groups. As the Deputy and I are aware, the numbers of people involved in self-employment, contracting and sub-contracting work and setting up their own companies, in particular younger people, has been on the increase for well over ten years as we move to a more entrepreneurial style model for many local Irish businesses. Therefore, the prospect of self-employed people getting cover for invalidity and partial capacity benefit for an extra 1.5 percentage points would be very good value. As has happened in other jurisdictions where benefits have been extended, that could be brought in over a period of time so as not to excessively impact in one year. However, it would mean that self-employed people and the organisations representing them would have to examine this.

The regrettable part is that self-employed people or business owners whose businesses are very profitable can pay for private income continuance plans, while those who are just starting out or who are just about keeping their heads above water cannot. The offer from the social insurance system is actually very valuable, a point that has been made by a number of Deputies from all sides of the House. Now that the economy is in recovery, I would welcome consideration of this by self-employed people and their representatives. If implemented, it would add very significantly to the cover available to self-employed people. At present, if somebody suffers a very serious illness, he or she is entitled to disability or invalidity payments on a means-tested basis. If the person pays an insurance contribution, there will be some cover. I welcome the Deputy's comments on the necessity of funding the contributions appropriately.

In alluding to the means test, does the Tánaiste accept that, even as things are, there needs to be a communications campaign to make people's entitlements clear? Often, people do not distinguish between jobseeker's benefit and jobseeker's allowance. For some time, the Fianna Fáil position has been that we would favour the introduction on a voluntary basis of a phased scheme whereby jobseeker's benefit and illness benefit would be payable to the self-employed. We see that as part of our commitment to developing an entrepreneurial culture. The idea that the self-employed could opt into such a scheme seems to us to be practical, although the Tánaiste is suggesting that an opt-in would not be a positive.

I am going on the advice of the advisory group, which researched the matter very deeply, and also on the actuarial reviews which show that, for the 4% contribution that self-employed people currently make, they get widow's and widower's pensions, contributory retirement benefits, maternity benefit and guardian's benefit. Those are significant benefits for 4%. Many self-employed people are relatively young - for example, in the area of contracting in IT. For this reason, perhaps we should do a further campaign. I would certainly be prepared to look at that.

As regards opting in, all the studies say there has to be a contribution on a social solidarity basis, given the risk the social insurance fund and taxpayers have to cover. If it is only on an opt-in basis, instead of getting the general population, we will tend, for obvious reasons, to get the more risky element of the self-employed population, which would mean it would be very difficult to fund. Bearing in mind where we have come from in terms of our financial difficulties, and even before we had difficulties, the principle of social insurance and social solidarity has always been that people pay in and the general population are entitled to claim.

In case any self-employed people are listening, I must point out that after I became Minister for Social Protection we changed the basis of assessment significantly. Previously, people had to go to great lengths to get extensive information about their tax affairs and the performance of their businesses in earlier years, precisely when they might have been doing well. Now, for the self-employed, farmers or fisherman, if there is a catastrophic loss of income, they can go to the local Intreo office and present the information on what has happened to cause the catastrophic loss of income, and we will take it on a current basis and examine the information. This has helped many people, particularly those formerly employed in construction.

Employment Support Services

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


2. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection her plans to ensure that persons with disabilities will not be left behind by the State in any economic recovery or in terms of the new job activation measures that will be put in place to enable those who want to work to find work. [17374/15]

One of the most marginalised groups in Irish society comprises those with disabilities who were left behind during the peak years. What measures are being taken to ensure these people are not left behind in any employment and job activation measures and in any future recovery.

I thank the Deputy for his question. It is certainly a priority of the Government that people are not left behind. The Government is anxious to facilitate the increased participation in employment of persons with a disability. It is committed to removing barriers which prevent those persons from availing of employment opportunities and will work closely with disability representative organisations in this regard. As part of this strategy, the Department will develop the Intreo service to provide specific jobseeker supports to people with disabilities. This process has already commenced in ten pilot locations across the country for those who wish to avail of the service. Engagement with the Intreo service by people with disabilities is on a voluntary basis. The Department already manages a wide range of specific employment-related supports for people with disabilities. These include the wage subsidy scheme for employers and the EmployAbility service. EmployAbility participants are people with disability who are job ready and need the support of a job coach to obtain employment in the open labour market.

For those in receipt of invalidity pension or illness benefit for at least six months and who feel they have some capacity for work, the partial capacity benefit scheme allows them to work and retain a portion of their social welfare payment.

The Department will continue to develop its supports for persons with a disability to increasing their opportunities of participation in employment and is committed to removing barriers which prevent those persons from availing of employment opportunities. The Government expects to publish in the near future a comprehensive employment strategy for people with disabilities.

I thank the Minister of State for the reply and I look forward to the long-awaited and overdue comprehensive employment strategy for people with disabilities. I hope it will include proposals which are acceptable to those who have a disability and are trying to access work. In Switzerland 80% of those who have a spinal cord injury return to work but in Ireland 80% of those with a spinal cord injury are unemployed. I can provide other figures. The Disability Federation of Ireland has stated that approximately 40,000 disability allowance recipients would like to be in paid employment but at present, only 1,500 people avail of the wage subsidy scheme the Minister of State mentioned while 3,0000 people avail of the EmployAbility service. There is duplication in many cases. This leaves a huge number of people who are not being supported in getting back to work. A significant job of work for the Government and any future Government is not to have laudable policies but to see them implemented so this figure is changed. What specifically will the Government do to reduce the significant number of 40,000 people with disabilities who want to go back to work but cannot do so because the supports are not in place at present?

I know the Deputy feels very strongly about this issue. I have been around the country and I have seen excellent services being provided by the Department of Social Protection.

I recently visited the EmployAbility programme in Galway, which is successful in helping people with disabilities into work. The partial capacity scheme, which was introduced by the Tánaiste, assists people to take up employment where they are not in a position to go back to full-time work. We are not waiting for the final report as we have the ten Intreo offices providing support and services to people with disabilities. Over the coming months, I look forward to the cross-departmental report and to implementing the measures within it. For people who find themselves unemployed, not just those with disabilities, it is important that no one is left behind unlike what happened in the 1990s and 2000s, where we had significant numbers of jobless households where no one worked. I look forward to working with the Deputy on that point. This includes people who are long-term unemployed and those with disabilities, who want to contribute. We will do everything we can to assist them in making a contribution to society.

Does the Minister of State accept there will be substantial changes to the existing support mechanism or new mechanisms introduced as a consequence of this comprehensive employment strategy given that the Disability Federation of Ireland says there will be no recovery without them? This is a declaration that in the past people with disabilities were left behind and were most marginalised during the boom. They continue to be marginalised since and are demanding a fair crack of the whip in advance of a recovery and into a future boom period.

We have extensive forums within the Department for disability groups. I will not pre-empt the report but there is a strong commitment to assisting people with disabilities into employment. The Deputy will not find me lacking in hard work or commitment on that point.

Rent Supplement Scheme Payments

Joan Collins


3. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection if she will ensure that the cap on rent allowance is cognisant of the recent and ongoing increases in rental rates, particularly in the Dublin area. [17540/15]

This has arisen on a number of occasions in questions to the Minister of State. The Minister of State cannot control the rent situation in Dublin or elsewhere but rents have increased by 31% since 2010, particularly in Dublin and the commuter belt in Kildare, where people have been forced out of Dublin city because of high rents. Rents also affect people who do not receive rent supplement and who are paying the full lash. Will the Minister of State consider reviewing and increasing the rent supplement?

Rent supplement continues to play a vital role in housing families and individuals, with the scheme supporting approximately 70,000 people this year at a cost of €298 million. Over 4,700 claims have been awarded in 2015, of which 1,380 were in Dublin. There are also over 1,600 people in receipt of the new housing assistance payment. This shows that landlords are engaging with the State private rented sector schemes and that people are being accommodated under these schemes. The Department’s recent review of the maximum rent limits found that increasing rent limits at this time could potentially add to further rental inflation and, in an already distressed market, affect rent supplement recipients, those on lower incomes and students. The impact of increasing limits will yield only a marginal increase in available supply, if at all, with the certainty that raising limits will increase costs disproportionately for the Exchequer with little or no new housing available.

On a national basis, officers administering the rent supplement scheme continue to provide flexibility in assessing customers’ accommodation needs. The Department is also working with Threshold’s tenancy sustainment service in Dublin and Cork city where the shortage of accommodation is most acute. The primary objective of these initiatives is to ensure a speedy intervention for families at immediate risk of losing their tenancy through rising rents.

I am keeping this matter under review and am satisfied that this approach is the appropriate response at this time. These measures have assisted more than 1,500 households, 900 of which are in Dublin city and county, to retain their rented accommodation through increased rent supplements.

I presumed the Minister of State would raise the issue of the tenancy protection service. I have the report, which states "553 tenancies were protected, including 462 who were in receipt of an uplift in payment in their rent supplement with the remaining 91 tenancies sustaining their tenancy, as a result of TPS advocacy work." However, more and more families are losing their homes and more and more families are in crisis accommodation. The Simon Community stated last week that as many as 3,500 adults and children could be in emergency accommodation by June. This is still going on and people are still losing their homes. More direct intervention is required. Government could put a cap on the rent landlords can charge and link that to an increase in rent supplement to keep people in their homes even for three years. Housing emergency legislation should be brought in. We brought in financial emergency legislation, so why should we not bring in housing emergency legislation for three years to hold rents as they are and to ease people over the next period of time in which the Government is going to build the 1,500 houses, for which it claims it has the money? These measures must all be interlinked. There must be a review of rent supplement. It cannot keep going the way it is.

I have talked to many people about this and not just in respect of the Dublin area. An increase in rent allowance probably will not result in a single additional unit. We are in the middle of a supply crisis. There are not enough units around the country. This is not just the case in Dublin. I was recently talking to councillors in Clonmel about the issue. There were only four three-bedroom houses up for rent in that town, which has a huge demand. The increase in rent allowance would not bring an additional unit on the market, but would inflate rent levels in the area. It is challenging. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, will bring proposals on rent certainty. However, what we must do is to increase supply as quickly as possible. Very little has been built since 2008 and with the increase in the number of people in employment, demand has increased further, especially in the Dublin area. The focus must be on the provision of additional units. I do not believe at this stage that an increase in rent allowance would give us a single unit in the Dublin area. It would just create a false bottom for prices. A number of people who have come onto rent allowance this year have succeeded in getting rental accommodation in the Dublin area. I gave the numbers earlier, but I think it was 1,300 new claims. It is extremely stressful. I am sure Deputy Collins's clinic is like mine in that we deal with people in dire need of accommodation. What we need to do is to supply that as quickly as possible through a building programme. That is the way forward.

The fact is that no housing will be built for at least two years. We will be facing this crisis of families losing their homes because of rent increases. I would be delighted if the Minister, Deputy Kelly, introduced rent certainty and capped rent at a certain level even for three years on an emergency basis and then looked at how people can be protected with regard to rent supplement to keep them in their homes for that time, depending on enough housing coming on stream.

Like me, Deputy Joan Collins, was a member of Dublin City Council, and she saw the number of voids across the city council area. A significant amount of money has been given to local authorities to bring those voids into use. We also have a construction programme which is badly needed, which would develop social units. I do not believe that Deputy Collins believes that if we increase the level of rent that it will provide additional units. She knows that will not happen.

Support must be provided to keep people in their homes.

Only a certain amount of units are available and we would just inflate the cost for low and middle income families. There is no doubt many people are in a very stressful situation, and I hope now that we are coming out of the recession we will be in a position to keep ploughing investment into the area. Rent supplement was never designed as a long-term housing strategy. It did become such under the previous Administration when it stopped building social housing.

The Government has already started to build social housing. Rent supplement supports approximately 70,000 people. It was just bonkers to allow the supplement to grow into a social housing strategy by accident.

Social Welfare Code

Seán Ó Fearghaíl


4. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection her plans to alleviate food poverty; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17373/15]

It is frightening to think that in the Ireland of today 10% of the population is experiencing food poverty. A recent study by the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice acknowledged that after housing and child care costs, one of the biggest challenges facing the family budget is to provide food. We know that one in five children in Ireland go to bed hungry and one in six children go to school hungry, without having had their breakfast. Does the Tánaiste have a plan to address that particular challenge?

The Department of Social Protection’s primary role is to provide income supports to sustain an adequate standard of living and to prevent poverty. It is for that reason that the Government has protected primary weekly rates of welfare since it came into office, notwithstanding the economic difficulties. In 2013, welfare payments and other social transfers, excluding pensions, reduced the at-risk-of-poverty rate from 38.4% to 15.2%, thereby lifting almost a quarter of the population out of relative income poverty. Ireland is among the best performing EU member states in that regard.

The school meals programme provides funding towards the provision of food services to some 1,600 schools and organisations, benefiting more than 205,000 children. A total of €39 million has been provided for the scheme in 2015, which is an increase of €2 million on that provided in the previous year.

A new European initiative, the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived, FEAD, now supports the provision of food and basic consumer products to people considered to be most at risk. A total of almost €27 million in funding is available over the period to 2020, of which 65% is for food. I expect the programme will be operational during the third quarter of this year.

Under its social inclusion initiative funding schemes, the Department supports Healthy Food for All, a national charitable organisation which works to increase access to and availability of affordable healthy food by groups of people on a low income.

Does the Tánaiste accept that food poverty has a particularly negative effect on children? It affects their health, educational attainment and their behaviour in school. I welcome the increase in the budget for the school meals programme in the current year. That needs to be continued.

Does the Tánaiste also accept that there perhaps needs to be a restructuring of the school meals programme? As I understand it, at present approximately 14% of the funding goes to breakfast clubs with the balance of the funding being spent on lunches, but studies have clearly indicated that the best outcomes for children come from having a substantial breakfast made available to them at the start of the day. That is one of the things that is not happening because of the manner in which the school meals programme is organised.

Would the Minister agree that there must be an urgent restructuring of the system?

The Department spends €39 million per year on the school meals programme. I have been a strong supporter of the programme as well as the Healthy Food for All initiative, which is about all of us, including schoolchildren and their parents, learning about healthy food and how to eat healthily. One of the issues with food is that sometimes a great deal of money might be spent on it, but the food might not be as nutritious as it could be.

I am a strong supporter of the breakfast clubs, and I welcome the Deputy's remarks. However, much depends on the school. The breakfast clubs and the school meals programme are available to all schools designated as DEIS schools in urban or rural areas. Interestingly, not all of the schools apply. Over the last couple of years we have been in constant contact with the schools to advertise the fact that this is available.

The other issue relates to the number of children. This year we increased child benefit by €5 to €135 per month. If a family is on social welfare it would also get almost €30 per week per child. In other words, for a family relying on a social welfare income, there is, in effect, approximately €65 per week per child, not counting other payments the family may receive. However, I agree with the Deputy and I would like if more schools availed of the breakfast clubs, but that is a choice for the schools. Not all schools open early in the morning. I have been talking about this to my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills. To get a breakfast club the school must facilitate being open half an hour or an hour earlier. We also employ people, through different programmes, to assist with the school meals programme and they do a fantastic job. I would be delighted if more school principals and boards of management were to avail of the scheme.

The lunches that are provided are quite good but if a child has left the house without eating properly, it has an impact in terms of energy if their first meal is somewhat later. I have visited many school meals programmes throughout the country. Principals are enormously sensitive to identifying children who might have left home without getting a proper breakfast.

I chair the board of management of a school which is not in DEIS but provides a breakfast service to the children. The Minister is missing my point. The meals programme is structured to incentivise schools to provide the lunch, because the greater subsidy is available for the lunch. There must be some reconfiguration of the system to incentivise the schools to provide the breakfast. It is the provision of the breakfast that is of greatest benefit to the children and ultimately to the operation of the school. I plead with the Minister to examine that critically, look at what is happening across the country, encourage principals and boards of management to make the transition from lunch to breakfast and ensure that the system is organised to make it expedient for them to provide the breakfast.

I am happy to look at that. However, in many cases, not every child in the school will want or need a breakfast because, for the most part, they will have eaten a good, nourishing breakfast at home with their family. The reason for the emphasis on lunch is that by lunchtime, when the children still have another couple of hours in school, they need food.

Perhaps we should agree to move to both breakfast and lunch being provided in school where appropriate. Not every child may require a breakfast - it varies - but the option should be there, particularly for those children who most need it. Other children might choose to join breakfast clubs. I have seen principals who have done this extremely well. If a school's starting time is 9 a.m., its principal is required to be on the premises to start the breakfast at approximately 8.30 a.m. The other reason I am an extremely strong advocate of breakfast clubs is that it is a very nice social time for the children to sit down, get their breakfast and have a chat with their friends before the start of the school day. Not all boards of management are in agreement. Certainly, I would like to move to a situation where both options are available. It should not be a case of one or the other. In a tight funding situation, we have prioritised funding for the school meals programmes. I anticipate being able to improve what is on offer. It requires the permission of the board and of the principal.

JobPath Implementation

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


5. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection if she is aware of the concerns raised around the JobPath scheme and the reputation of the companies which have been selected to undertake it. [17375/15]

Last year, the Minister announced a tender to outsource the privatised job activation services under the title of JobBridge. This followed a similar failed experiment in Britain. Some of the companies that were tendering had a dubious work record. Is the Minister confident that the companies to which she has granted the tender are free from such a history and will not repeat the manoeuvring and fraud in Britain in their contracts in Ireland?

JobPath is specifically designed to help those jobseekers who are most distant from the labour market to gain sustained employment. JobPath companies will engage approximately 1,000 staff to provide services for up to 400,000 jobseekers over a four-year period. Following the completion of a public procurement process, two companies were selected to provide JobPath - Turas Nua Limited and Seetec Limited. The procurement process and the selection of the successful companies had specific regard to international experience of contracted out employment services. An Irish model was designed from this. The companies will deliver services directly and will engage a range of local subcontractors, including local training companies and local employment service providers.

Significant safeguards have been built into JobPath, including a service guarantee to ensure all participants receive a baseline level of service. Penalties will be imposed on the companies if service performance or quality does not meet the set standard. Most significantly, JobPath uses a payment-by-results model and all initial costs are borne by the companies. JobPath is so structured that the companies cannot recover their costs or make any profits unless and until they get people into sustainable jobs. These jobs must be for at least 30 hours per week. The rates paid to contractors are also linked to the performance of the wider economy. Automatic discounts or reductions in payments to contractors apply if employment growth exceeds our medium-term forecasts. In addition, both companies will be subject to regular on-site inspections and audits to ensure JobPath is delivered in accordance with contractual obligations.

Can the Minister indicate how many people she hopes to have placed in employment in the four-year period she mentioned? If that figure is achieved at an earlier stage, will that result in the termination of the JobPath programme?

The Minister also mentioned that the jobs they will be placed in need to be for at least 30 hours per week, but there is no minimum pay rate apart from the minimum wage. Given that these are workers, is it expected that - in contrast what happened in Britain, where most of those placed were put in the lowest-paid jobs available, with no view to long-term sustainability - they will benefit from the payment for the private company that wins the contract?

There is a programme within the Department of Social Protection, which I have lauded, of retraining workers in the former Department of Social Protection offices, now called Intreo offices, to deliver what the Minister is employing private companies to do. What will happen to those workers if the targets I expect she has set out for those companies are achieved?

The Deputy is aware that my objective as a Minister is to get this country back to full employment, and he knows from the most recent statistics that, although the live register in Ireland has fallen very dramatically, it was 343,000 or 346,000 when the figures from the end of April were published last week. The existing services of the Department are not sufficient to get as many as possible of those people back to work. Our very valuable case officers, activation officers and other officials of the Department of Social Protection will remain employed because the ratio of case officers to unemployed people is much lower than is the case internationally. They will be very busy, as are people who work in the local employment service, LES, and other local services that help people into employment and provide services to the Department.

The Deputy mentioned the United Kingdom a couple of times. I think he is aware that in general the Irish and UK models of social welfare have diverged very widely in recent years. The Irish JobPath model was designed following a review of contracting parties internationally, including in the Netherlands, the United States, Germany, Sweden, France, the UK, and, in particular, Australia. The Irish model, I am happy to say, will now be partially adopted by the Australians based on the work we have done, and a range of national and international experts are assisting in implementing a system under which people are supported in finding a job and getting back to work. That is what it is all about. It is overseen by people such as John Sweeney of the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, and is composed of a social partnership involving unions, the Government, employers and civil society, including Professor Philip O’Connell of University College Dublin, Aedín Doris from NUI Maynooth, and John Martin, the former director of employment, labour and social affairs at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD. The Deputy is obviously an expert on the English and Northern Ireland model, but our social welfare system is very different. I know the Deputy probably favours it, but I do not.

I will ignore that last remark because it is not worth responding to.

The point I was making was that a model similar to this one was introduced twice in Great Britain, first under the new deal and then under the Conservatives. In the past, it was found that some of the companies, including one engaged by the Department of Social Protection, have appeared before the House of Commons committees that deal with wholesale fraud. What are the standards and punishments for any company awarded a four-year tender by the Government to deliver a public service? Will the Government end a company's tender if it is found to be engaged in wholesale fraud, as happened in Great Britain? Examples of such fraud have included forging documents and signatures of participants in a scheme similar to that spoken about by the Minister. In such instances, disabled people were called "lying, thieving bastards" by one of the companies with which the Minister hopes to have working links. What steps will she take to ensure that what happened in Great Britain does not happen here and that if it does happen, the contract ends?

Our model is a payment by results model. I am sure the Deputy is aware that it does not have anything to do with people with a disability. It concerns people who are receiving unemployment payments. It has nothing to do with people with a disability or invalidity, although I note that a few minutes ago, the Deputy seemed to be rightly concerned in calling for more opportunities for people with a disability.

I was talking about the attitude of the company.

We have designed an Irish model for Ireland. That may upset the Deputy because he is tied into the Northern Ireland model and has a vested interest-----


One speaker please. The Tánaiste has the floor.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh has a vested interest in the British model.


The Tánaiste has the floor. Deputy Ó Snodaigh had his opportunity to speak.

We want to get all of the people who are unemployed in Ireland back to work. A significant number of people are working in the Department and a number of companies like the local employment services are working with us. Those resources are not sufficient to help all those who want to go back to work to get back to work. We have looked at best practice around the world to see how we get the best value. We have looked at countries like Sweden, the Netherlands and Australia to see how we get a system that works to the benefit of people who are unemployed and gets them back into work for at least 30 hours per week. The companies do not get payments unless they get results.

In his ignorance, the Deputy talks about people with a disability. This has nothing to do with people with a disability. It relates to people who are unemployed. Our system is an IT-based system. We have had a look at different schemes around the world. My understanding is that during the period in Great Britain referred to by the Deputy, the system was paper-based and was unable to track. We also have a feedback system from the people who are our clients and who participate in any of these programmes. This feedback system is very important to us. Our IT system is designed to tell us when somebody gets a job because if they get a job, they will, of course, appear in the Revenue Commissioners' data as being at work because they will have a commencement notice with the Revenue Commissioners in respect of starting work. We actually have a very elaborate system of verifying what the companies are doing.

If the companies do not produce results that are positive for our customers they will not be paid.