Other Questions

Labour Activation Measures

Ruth Coppinger


31. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Social Protection for further information on how the fit for work programme will relate to other labour activation measures such as JobBridge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11837/16]

The recently agreed programme for a partnership Government provides for a range of actions that are designed to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities. That is the vision and an example of the changes that will come up about under the Government. One of these actions is a proposal for the Departments of Health and Social Protection to work together to pursue a fit-for-work programme to support more people with an illness or disability to get back to work through early intervention.

The fit-for-work proposal is based on the findings of a pan-European study, which examined the impact of musculoskeletal disorders, MSDs, on an individual’s ability to work. The Irish module of this study was progressed by a coalition of key stakeholders and was led by Arthritis Ireland. The Irish College of General Practitioners, ICTU and the Health and Safety Authority also contributed to the study. It was a broad representative group.

Early interventions and developing return-to-work practices in the case of people with musculoskeletal incapacities is consistent with my Department’s approach to illness-disability income support, which aims to reduce the number of people progressing to chronic disability and long-term social welfare dependency. To this end, my Department issued a set of certification guidelines for GPs in 2015, which sets out defined periods of recovery for common medical conditions, including MSDs.

The certification guidelines build on the Renaissance project, which has been an initiative of my Department since 2003. This has shown that early intervention reduced the incidence of progression from the acute simple low back pain to chronic disability in 64% of claimants. While specific proposals for a fit-for-work programme require further development and scoping out, I assure the Deputy that such proposals will be in line with the wealth of evidence that shows that, generally, employment is good for one’s mental and physical health and well-being and, conversely, that unemployment is damaging.

Can the Ceann Comhairle clarify how much time I have?

The Deputy has a minute for each supplementary.

I thought I had 30 seconds to ask a question first.

The reason we tabled the question is a mysterious line appeared in the programme for Government committing to the introduction of a fit-for-work programme co-ordinated by the Departments of Health and Social Protection. It immediately rang alarm bells among the Anti-Austerity Alliance because a similar scheme is operating in Britain at the moment and other elements of the programme for Government were copied and pasted from the Tory Party handbook. I would like the Minister to clarify the nature of the scheme. Despite the nice words he just used, the same comments were made about JobBridge when it was introduced. It was intended to support and help people and it turned out to be an exploitation scheme. This scheme has huge potential to be even worse because it relates to the most vulnerable people with physical and mental disabilities.

I thank the Deputy and call the Minister.

A range of questions have been set by the disability sector. It would be good if I could put one or two of them.

I am sorry; the Deputy cannot. The same time limit applies to everyone.

What happened to the 30 second introduction?

It is a different set of Standing Orders. We can talk about it afterwards.

When people raise this issue, one must be concerned and I will be vigilant on this issue. It is not copied from the Tory handbook or any Conservative policy in England. This plan is completely different from the one used in the UK. There are many positive elements to this plan, including the involvement of groups like Arthritis Ireland which came on board on this issue. The key difference between this plan and the one in England is that our plan does not assess people. It is about early intervention and treatment. This is very important because the objective is to ensure that disabled people get an opportunity to enter the workforce. There are many talented people out there with a disability and we want to ensure they are given the opportunity but there is no compulsion involved compared to other projects in England.

Will the Minister of State get a grip on reality? This is a labour activation scheme. It is not an early intervention scheme with people who are unable to work. It is an adult scheme. My question, which comes from the Disability Federation of Ireland, which held a press conference this morning, relates to who will carry out the assessments regarding whether or not someone is fit to work. Will it be the HSE or will it be a private company, as has been done in Great Britain? The Government used a private company in its other labour activation schemes like Pathways to Work. What will the assessment entail? Will it be a medical assessment or a functionality assessment? For many people with disabilities, it is not a question of whether they are necessarily fit to work on a particular day but whether they can sustain a job and have the supports they need to carry on in a job.

The big danger relates to mental health. It is very clear that people who do not have a physical disability can easily be forced into jobs they are not fit for. It is very unfortunate that there has not been time to put the questions.

Everybody has the same amount of time.

This scheme has not yet been raised in the Dáil.

That is not my fault.

In the form of the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, we have a case of the fox in charge of the chicken coop in terms of the social welfare budget-----

Will the Deputy resume her seat?

-----but I hope that the new Minister of State for disability issues will not sit by and let disabled people be forced into schemes for which they are not fit or able.

Question time has run out.

This is simply an activation measure. The Minister cited one disability organisation that he met with in respect of it. I think he is covering his tracks.

Will the Deputy please resume her seat?

I totally reject the Deputy's comments. If one looks at the details of the UK project, one can see that it was all about savings. Our scheme is not about that. Our scheme is about trying to help people with a disability or an illness related to a disability to enter employment. I said it was about early intervention and supports. Next week, the chief medical officer will again meet with Arthritis Ireland to hammer out these issues.

Will the Minister of State answer the question as to who will carry out the tests?

The answer to the question is very simple. There is no way that I, as Minister of State for disability issues, would stand over any exploitation of people with disabilities. I will do my damnedest to defend and protect people with disabilities. If there are people who want the opportunity to enter employment, I will do my best. I have a vision over the next three or four years relating to employing people with disabilities. At the moment, most organisations aim for 3%. I aim to get every Department, and I said it at yesterday's Cabinet meeting, to go from 3% to 5% so the answer is that there will be no exploitation.

Will the Minister of State answer the two questions I asked?

It will be about care, intervention and supports.

Will the Minister of State conclude?

We will do our damnedest to ensure that these people get some kind of employment and supports.

We get one minute to ask questions. Can they at least be answered? The Minister did not answer on who will carry out the assessments. He will not even answer the question. The Ceann Comhairle is meant to make him answer the question.

I mentioned the chief medical officer.

Will the Deputy please resume her seat and respect the order of the House in respect of how questions are dealt with?

I said the chief medical officer.

The Minister of State did not answer one of the questions. Who will carry out the assessments?

I did. The chief medical officer.

Will the Minister of State desist please? The procedure relating to dealing-----

But, a Cheann Comhairle, I answered the question.

The procedure is that questions are answered.

The procedure relating to dealing with questions is set down and applies to every Deputy equally.

Will the Ceann Comhairle enforce it?

There are no exceptions to be made for Deputy Coppinger or anybody else.

Will the Ceann Comhairle at least enforce it?

I did try to answer the question.

We get a minute to ask a question and the Minister of State will not answer it.

Deputy Coppinger is using up other Deputies' time.

The Minister of State did not answer. Who will carry out the assessments?

The chief medical officer.

Child Benefit Eligibility

Frank O'Rourke


32. Deputy Frank O'Rourke asked the Minister for Social Protection to review the age criteria under the child benefit scheme and link this payment to children who are still in full-time education which in some cases can be children over 17 years of age up to 19 years of age; in the case of third level education, if he will link this payment to students who qualify on means for the Student Universal Support Ireland grants up to 22 years of age; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11807/16]

Child benefit is a monthly payment to assist with the costs associated with raising children. It is paid to families with children in respect of all qualified children up to the age of 16 years. The payment continues to be paid in respect of children up to their 18th birthday who are in full-time education or who have a physical or mental disability. It is currently paid to around 623,000 families for 1.2 million children with an estimated spend of over €2 billion by my Department this year. Child benefit is an important source of income for families and in budget 2016, the Government increased child benefit by €5 per month at a cost of €72 million.

The cost of extending child benefit to 18 year olds in second level education is estimated at €62.5 million. Obviously, it would be a multiple of that to extend it to young people into their twenties in education. As child benefit is a universal payment, any such proposal would not target those most in need of help from the State.

Families on low incomes can avail of a number of provisions to social welfare schemes that support children in full-time education until the age of 22, including an increase for a qualified child with primary social welfare payments, family income supplement for low-paid employees with children and the back to school clothing and footwear allowance for low-income families, which is paid at the full-time second level education rate.

In addition to this scheme, the main financial support available to students attending post-leaving certificate or higher education courses is the statutorily based student grant scheme. This scheme, which is administered by SUSI, offers a means-tested grant scheme that provides maintenance and-or fee support to qualifying disadvantaged students. The combined effect of these schemes provides effective targeted assistance directly linked with household income and thereby supports low-income families with older children participating in full-time education.

Like my other colleagues, I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. I understand the sentiment in his reply. The reason I tabled this question is because of a number of people who came to my clinics over the past number of weeks and possibly months. They were isolated cases who would have had 19 year old children doing the leaving certificate and as a result, they would be above that threshold about which the Minister spoke. It would not be a large-scale extension of the scheme. It would affect families with children of up to 19 years of age doing the leaving certificate. Once they fall out of the scheme, they are unable to avail of the different options. It is extremely difficult for families to obtain family income supplement and it is a lengthy process. There are families on very low incomes or social welfare who are really struggling and all of it is associated with school. They find very difficult and expensive to make ends meet.

I understand the point the Deputy is making. I have to double check this but if I remember correctly, child benefit is paid to 16 and 17 year olds but not to 18 year olds. There would be many 18 year olds in leaving certificate year at this stage, not just 19 year olds, so I do not think we could extend it to 19 year olds but not 18 year olds. I see the case for it. When the scheme was introduced, fewer children would have taken transition year so there it would have been far less common for children aged 18 to be doing the leaving certificate whereas it is now quite common. In the context of the budget, I will certainly examine the possibility of extending it to 18 and 19 year olds who are still in sixth year. However, resources are always limited and this might be money that could be better targeted at the back to school clothing and footwear allowance, the fuel allowance or supports that target those most in need. It is certainly something I will look at.

I thank the Minister for what seems like a positive response, namely, that he will, at the very minimum, examine it. This would be important because while quite a number of families have children aged up to 18 doing the leaving certificate, there is a reduced number with 19 year old children doing the leaving certificate. As the Minister can appreciate, it is extremely difficult and expensive for families. I know it all relates to financial budgets and constraints but it is important that the Minister reviews it and looks to extend it, even on a phased basis, so they can get support. Families are trying to put their children through school at 18 and 19 years of age, which is common for the leaving certificate, and it is hugely expensive and difficult for them. It would make a big difference to them if it was possible to extend it.

I hope the Minister will be able to do something in that regard and perhaps have some part of it put in place by the next budget. Perhaps the Minister will consider the other part of the question on the SUSI grants. I do not know if that is worth examining into the future in the second phase of the question. It is relevant and important for those families because they are means tested.

Given the costs to the taxpayer that are involved, I might look at the first part of the question first and the second part at a subsequent stage. I can certainly see how an anomaly might arise where a child in school turns 18 in sixth year and loses their child benefit, subsequently qualifies for a student grant when they get into college or a post-leaving certificate, PLC, course later that year and there is a gap in between where there is no financial support from the State. It is certainly something that I commit to examining between now and the budget but with the caveat of the obvious fact that there are potentially other areas of need that also have to be accounted for.

I thank the Minister for dealing with those questions so succinctly.

One-Parent Family Payment

Willie O'Dea


33. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Social Protection to publish the report by a person (details supplied) on the impact on one-parent families of the changes to the one-parent family payment scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11768/16]

Bríd Smith


35. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Social Protection when he will publish the report his Department commissioned and which was prepared by a person (details supplied), given that it was due to be published by August 2015; the reason for the delay; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11752/16]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 33 and 35 together.

Research on activation measures for lone parents was commissioned at the request of my Department through the Irish Research Council, IRC, in 2014. The theme suggested by my Department was how best to engage and support lone parents from an activation perspective. The IRC sought expressions of interest from relevant academics to carry out independent research on this theme. Following the IRC tender process, a proposal put forward by Dr. Michelle Millar of NUI Galway was successful. The topic of Dr. Millar’s research is Lone Parents and Activation, What Works and Why: A Review of the International Evidence in the Irish Context. It is not an impact assessment of the reforms to the one-parent family payment and is not intended to be. The aim of this research is to identify best practice and innovation for activation, nationally and internationally, that creates good outcomes for lone parents. The report was tasked with recommending responsive and appropriate measures in the Irish context.

There has been ongoing engagement between my officials and Dr. Millar on her research. The first draft report was shared by Dr. Millar in September 2015. A second draft was forwarded earlier this year and I understand that there was an initial delay in responding because of staff changes within the Department. My officials will shortly provide feedback to Dr. Millar on the latest draft. Research shows that being at work reduces the at risk of poverty rate for lone parents by three quarters compared with those who do not work. The reforms to the one-parent family payment were introduced to reduce long-term social welfare dependency and enhance access to the Department’s Intreo service to lone parents, which is essential in facilitating their progression into employment. The Department will work with Dr. Millar on this research, including future publications by her. It is intended that this research will inform how best to engage with lone parents and the future design of education, training and employment support programmes aimed specifically at improving outcomes for lone parents and one-parent families.

I want to remind the House of what the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Joan Burton, said in the Dáil on 18 April 2012 on changes to the lone parent allowance:

[S]even is too young for anyone to seriously contemplate any of these things without there being a system of safe, affordable and accessible child care in place, similar to what is found in the Scandinavian countries whose systems of social protection we aspire to. That is why I am undertaking tonight that I will only proceed with the measure to reduce the upper age limit to seven years in the event that I get a credible and bankable commitment on the delivery of such a system of child care by the time of this year's budget.

That was in April 2012 but we have seen no Scandinavian child care system put in place in the interim. Somebody said the nearest one would get to a Scandinavian child care system in this country is the car park in Ikea. The Minister said that the Millar report will not be a study on the financial impact of the changes for lone parents, particularly working lone parents who are cruelly penalised as a result of these changes. Will the Minister commission such an impact statement, which would be very relevant and which we would all love to see?

The Minister talks about these measures aimed at reducing poverty outcomes in families and the measures to support lone parents, but all of the measures introduced by the previous Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, show that poverty increased in the families of lone parents. I will not read out the statistics here but what is absolutely clear is that the measures to activate employment for lone parents forced more of them out of employment. When one talks about reducing poverty, one has to look at it in an holistic way and look at the provision of child care and housing supports in particular. Housing is in a massive crisis and rents are soaring through the roof. Tomorrow, there will be a strike in Tesco nationally which is the type of low-paid job that many lone parents are being forced into. They are forced to seek more hours in those kinds of jobs which pay very badly. There is no point in talking about pushing lone parents into work and out of poverty unless one looks holistically at the sort of supports that are put in place for them, including child care, housing and the rate of pay they can expect to get in employment, including the low level of the minimum wage at the moment.

On Dr. Millar's report, I have not seen any of the drafts yet but it is definitely not an impact assessment. That is not what was commissioned. It is supposed to be advice on best practice and best examples from other countries. That is the work that was asked for.

I recall Deputy Burton's comments but not exactly the time they were made. It was perhaps before the jobseeker's transitional payment came in, which is for lone parents whose youngest child is between seven and 14. It does not require that they be in full-time work. Part-time work or education is enough. It is accepted it is only when the youngest child is 14 or older that it is expected that lone parents take up full-time work. When it comes to Nordic and Scandinavian countries such as Denmark, which are the models I am most interested in, activation starts much younger. It starts at two or three, which is impossible in Ireland given the cost and lack of availability of child care. I absolutely agree with Deputy Bríd Smith's point that one must look at it holistically and take into account child care pay rates and housing supports if we are serious about getting people off welfare and into work, but these things should not be used as an excuse to do nothing ever.

The statistics that Deputy Smith adverted to are very simple. The latest figures show that 22%, which is more than one in five, of children of lone parents are living in permanent poverty. It also shows that almost 60% of children of lone parents, which is three out of five, are suffering deprivation. They are deprived of some of the things that make up a decent standard of living. All the experience, both anecdotal and otherwise, shows us that the net effect of the changes introduced by the former Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, is that lone parents, especially working lone parents, are worse off so there is a direct link between the rising rate of child poverty among lone parents and these changes. Will the Minister do a financial impact study? A number of organisations, such as SPARK, have done very good financial impact studies that show the impact of those changes. What is the rationale? His predecessor said it was to get more lone parents out to work. How does one get more people out to work by ensuring that when they go out to work, they will get less income?

Prior to the measures taken by the previous Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, in 2012, 60% of lone parents were in some form of employment, but not necessarily full-time employment. By 2014, that figure had dropped to 36%, precisely because it was costing lone parents more to go out to work than to stay at home and be lone parents in the home. The measures taken by the previous Minister did not fit the bill for what is required. When we talk about equality proofing in the budget, we will need equality proofing on the programme for Government, because the programme talks about a new work and family payment. We have gone from the one-parent family payment to a new payment which includes being able to collect family income support, and now in the programme the Minister is talking about changing that again to a working family payment.

What we are arguing here is that he should not even dare to move to that until Dr. Millar's report is published and we have a chance to examine its findings. The Minister said they are not about comparisons and that that is not an excuse to do nothing, but it certainly is not an excuse to make the same mistake again and drive more lone parents, and their children, further into poverty. As the statistics show, one in five children of lone parents lives in chronic poverty.

Thank you, Deputy.

We are asking the Minister not to do anything in terms of a new payment until the Millar report is published. We want to have a chance to study that report and consider the best methods of paying and supporting lone parents.

I repeat that the report, the draft of which I have not seen, is not supposed to be an impact assessment. That is not what was commissioned and that is not its title. The report will be published in due course. One of the best aspects of the Department of Social Protection is that we have so many statistics in this area and there has been so much academic study in these areas, albeit, in some cases, from the point of view of a particular ideology. None the less, it should be taken into account and listened to. I wish I had had access to such statistics in the Department of Health, because it would have been easier to make informed decisions, but the Deputy has to understand how these statistics are collated. It is interesting to see how they are collated, how things are measured and how the way something is measured can give-----

We all know that lone parents are in deeper poverty now than they were before these measures were brought in.

-----a totally different answer. If the Deputy wants to talk about statistics, the most recent we have are from the Survey of Income Living Conditions, SILC.

Talk to the lone parents about the statistics. The reality is that they are in deeper poverty.

Minister, your time is up.

I would like to answer these questions, but you know how it is.

It would have been useful if you were not interrupted.

Social Welfare Benefits

Mick Wallace


34. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Social Protection if he will restore the social protection payments which have been cut over the past seven years, given the impact of rising inflation during this period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11650/16]

My Department’s allocation for 2016, at over €19.6 billion, is almost €2 billion, or 10.7%, higher than expenditure in 2008. That is a 10.7% increase in eight years. Inflation over the seven years to April 2016 was 2.9%, with inflation falling over the past two years. In the year to April 2016 we had no inflation. In fact, we have had deflation of 0.1%, as measured by the consumer price index in the past year.

After a series of very challenging years, improvements for people in receipt of social welfare payments began in budget 2015 and continued in budget 2016. This included increases in the weekly rates of payment for pensioners and the living alone allowance. In addition, new initiatives aimed at helping families were introduced, such as the back to work family dividend and a paternity benefit scheme which will commence payment later this year.

Looking ahead, the new Programme for a Partnership Government contains a number of significant commitments to enhance the welfare system in the years ahead. This includes increasing rent supplement limits by up to 15% and above-inflation increases for pensioners and in the living alone allowance. The programme also supports rate increases for people with disabilities and carers. As I mentioned earlier, the Government also has plans to extend social insurance benefits for the self-employed and to improve the treatment benefit scheme for all PRSI contributors.

I want to make progress on these commitments in the forthcoming budget and will seek to do so within the additional resources that will be available. I also look forward to engagement and input from my colleagues in the Oireachtas on this matter. I will be holding a pre-budget forum on 22 July next to which I have invited 40 representative organisations. I look forward to that engagement and will listen carefully to the views of the organisations attending.

The Minister said inflation had been low in the past year or two. That is true, but there has been inflation since 2010 and basic social protection payments have been cut by 8% since then. There have also been cuts to secondary welfare supports for people of all ages and family types, along with a tightening of the conditions for accessing jobseeker's benefit. In addition, between 2008 and 2013, the proportion of citizens experiencing deprivation almost trebled to 29%, and over one third of children and one in five working people were classified as experiencing deprivation. These are stark statistics.

I reckon I knocked on 20,000 doors during the election campaign, and the level of deprivation I saw in Wexford was frightening. I was truly shocked. The Minister can tell me that things are not quite so bad-----

Thank you, Deputy Wallace. Your time is up.

-----but the reality is very different on the ground.

It is the case that there has been some inflation since 2009. The changes that happened in social welfare in the past five years can be placed in two categories: those that were part of a reform system designed to encourage more people to become included in society and the economy by taking up work, and others that were done to save money. In the next couple of years I want to start reversing the ones that were done just to save money. To reverse them all would cost somewhere between €3 billion and €4 billion, which is an enormous amount of money, but perhaps we can start doing that and restoring some of the basic weekly payments at the rate of inflation or above over the next couple of years. That is something I would very much like to do.

We touched on statistics when I mentioned the SILC data. As the Deputy will be aware, the most recent data we have are only from 2014, but they did indicate that basic deprivation rates were starting to fall. They fell between 2013 and 2014. We do not have the 2015 figures yet-----

Thank you very much, Minister.

-----but so much of that is down to the way it is calculated. The Deputy will be surprised to learn that there are issues such as the fact that a pay increase for one person can make another person more deprived, even though he or she is not any worse off.

I too wish the Minister well in his job, and I hope he takes a more rational approach to dealing with issues than what we have seen in the past five years. The argument has been made that the Minister is almost trying to protect young people, and people in general, from welfare dependency. The Minister said we could all come up with research results that suited us. Most research shows that young people, and people in general, want to work, but it is the lack of available jobs more than the lack of motivation that is the reason so many of them are not in work. SOLAS and FÁS carried out a survey on their training schemes and found that young people as a group were particularly willing to participate in training schemes and that only 36% in the 15 to 24 age group had found work. I do not expect the Minister to create jobs out of nowhere, but until we can find jobs for people, we need to actively keep them out of poverty by introducing measures to do that.

I thank the Deputy for his kind remarks. I intend to make as good a go of this as I can, and while some people may wish to characterise the Deputy in a particular way, I know he has a more open mind and I hope he will give me a chance to do some of the things I believe both of us would like to do, because nobody wants to see poverty or deprivation in our society, and he can be sure that there is plenty of it in my constituency in West Dublin. I am very aware of it.

Not everything that happened in the past five years is a reason to be proud, but unemployment has almost halved, from 15% to under 8% now. More jobs are becoming available. We need to make sure that those who do not have work are able to get into those jobs. We need to make sure that those jobs pay by increasing the minimum wage, as we will again, abolishing the universal social charge for those on low pay, which we have started already, and extending to people the kind of benefits that may assist them in staying in work, such as health benefits and dealing with the cost of child care. These issues are major disincentives to work. There are a small number of people who perhaps do not want to be in work, and a different approach is required in that sense.

Question No. 35 answered with Question No. 33.

Jobseeker's Allowance

Mick Wallace


36. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Social Protection if he will restore the jobseeker's allowance for persons under 26 years of age to pre-2014 levels, given calls from a number of groups such as the Free Legal Advice Centres, which has stated that this cut in particular is pushing people into homelessness; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11649/16]

Reduced rates for younger jobseeker’s allowance recipients were first introduced in 2009. Budget 2014 further extended the reduced rates to recipients under 26 years of age.

This is a targeted measure aimed at preventing young people from drifting into welfare dependency. To guard against the development of welfare dependency, it is necessary to provide young jobseekers with a strong financial incentive to engage in education or training or to take up employment. If a young jobseeker in receipt of the reduced jobseeker’s allowance rate participates on an education or training programme, he or she will receive a higher weekly payment of €160. Young jobseekers who lose work and have an insurance record of paying PRSI receive jobseeker's benefit at the same rate as others.

Youth unemployment rose rapidly in the recession to over 30% in 2012. According to the Quarterly National Household Survey for quarter 1 of 2016, which was published yesterday, youth unemployment has fallen by almost half since then and now stands at 16.9%.

The Youth Guarantee sets a medium-term objective of ensuring that all young people receive an offer of employment within four months of becoming unemployed. The main plank of the guarantee is assistance to young people in finding and securing sustainable jobs through earlier and enhanced engagement processes. My Department also offers a range of supports and services aimed at assisting individuals who are exiting homelessness or are at risk of homelessness. Last year my Department made available 2,500 rent deposits and rent in advance payments at a cost of almost €1.5 million, of which almost 590 payments, equating to €315,000, were made to persons aged under 26 years. That was to ensure they could get accommodation. At the end of 2015 there were approximately 4,900 rent supplement recipients under 26, representing approximately 8% of total recipients receiving support under the scheme.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

These payments, including exceptional needs payments, can be made at the discretion of the officers administering the supplementary welfare allowance scheme on a case-by-case basis and subject to the individual’s specific needs. This range of supplementary supports is available to all individuals, including those who are under 26 years of age, with the aim of assisting these individuals in securing and retaining their own accommodation.

The Minister mentioned the unemployment figure. The national figure is approximately 17% for those under 25, while the national figure for general workers is at the 8% mark. Sadly, in Wexford, the rate is over 20% for the general workforce and over 30% for those under 25, which is absolutely frightening. I do not want to go on a parish pump rant, but I must say this. People were talking about targeting the deprivation in Dublin's inner city on Leaders' Questions, and that should be done. I am not one to blame the Taoiseach, the Government or the Garda for people being shot lately in the inner city, but the levels of deprivation in places such as Dublin's inner city and, sadly, Wexford deserve direct targeting for action. There are some areas that are particularly problematic and probably need very direct action from the Government.

The rate of youth unemployment has halved in the past five years, so somebody must be doing something right. The Deputy is correct that it is still roughly double the unemployment rate for the entire population. It is fairly typical, based on comparisons with other countries, for youth unemployment to be roughly double the rate for the entire adult workforce. That is very much related to the fact that large numbers of young people are in education. Going back to statistics, when we look at them in a different way, there is a very different figure. The fact that youth unemployment is double the average adult rate is very much related to the fact that so many young people are in education or doing other things. Any young person taking up education or training receives a higher payment. It is important that an incentive exists.

The Deputy is correct in speaking about the north inner city, as targeted action is required in the area similar to the action taken in Limerick in the past, which may well also be needed in Wexford and parts of my own constituency. It will be about much more than just increasing welfare payments; there must be a more holistic approach.

The core point is that the maximum rate for those aged between 18 and 24 with no dependent children is currently €100. Those who are 25 are getting €144, down from €188. The poverty line is around the €200 mark per adult per week, and expecting people to survive on half of that is not a runner. As we are discussing youth unemployment, I will add that I met a couple of young people in the past few weeks, aged around 22 or 23, who are leaving the country. They are not even on the live register, although they have no work. They are not allowed any assistance because their parents have been deemed well off enough to look after them. Even for those people who qualify, the rules have moved a bit in the past few years and figures have been massaged in that respect. The core point remains that nobody can survive in Ireland on €100 per week. The cost of living in this country is too expensive for that.

The maximum rate is €100 if the person does not take part in education or training or take up a work placement. If a person takes up one of those options, it is much higher. We should not have people coming out of school being given €188 per week without any requirement or expectation to take up education, training or work. The €100 is paid to people who do not take up education, training or a work placement. These things are readily available, and any person should be offered such an option within four months. I am not sure where the people the Deputy met were going, but it would be worth taking a look at the rates in Northern Ireland or Britain, for example. It is a feature of welfare systems across Europe that there are lower rates of social welfare for people under 25, for very good reasons. Generally speaking, the rate is lower than in Ireland, or there are more stringent conditions. Unless the people to whom the Deputy referred are going overseas to take up employment-----

Exactly. They are not going to get welfare payments.

I would prefer it if they got employment here.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.