Other Questions

Farm Assist Scheme

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

6. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Social Protection his plans to reverse the cuts imposed on the payments made to persons by the previous Government under the farm assist scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18706/16]

Brendan Smith

Question:

9. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Social Protection when he will review the farm assist scheme as promised in the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18711/16]

Brendan Smith

Question:

19. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Social Protection if he is aware that changes to the farm assist scheme introduced in budgets 2012 and 2013 have had a very negative effect on many low-income farmers; if he will reverse these measures at an early date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18712/16]

Under the farm assist scheme, a scheme to help small farmers to make a viable living, for every euro earned on the farm €1 is taken from the payment, which takes away any incentive to farm profitably. Is it the Minister's intention to reverse the cuts to the scheme and go back to the situation where farmers got to keep some of the fruits of their labour?

With the permission of the Acting Chairman, I propose to take Questions Nos. 6, 9 and 19 together.

The farm assist scheme provides income support for farmers on low incomes and is similar to jobseeker's allowance. Farm assist recipients retain the advantages of the jobseeker's allowance scheme such as the retention of secondary benefits and access to activation programmes. The 2016 Revised Estimates for my Department provide for expenditure of €85 million per year on the farm assist scheme.

Changes introduced in budgets 2012 and 2013 brought the farm assist scheme into closer alignment with the jobseeker's allowance scheme's treatment of self-employed people. Farming families with the lowest incomes were the least impacted by these changes as the headline rates of farm assist were maintained.

Farm assist customers continue to receive more beneficial treatment than other self-employed persons as payments received under the agri-environment options scheme, the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, and the National Parks and Wildlife Service farm plan scheme are assessed separately from other farm income. Farm assist remains a flexible payment and any farmer experiencing lower levels of income or cashflow issues due, for example, to bad weather can ask his or her local Intreo office to review the level of means applying to his or her claim.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to undertake a review of the farm assist scheme, recognising the challenges facing farmers on low incomes. I have asked my officials to review the farm assist scheme from a policy and administrative point of view. This review has commenced and its recommendations will be considered in the context of the budget for 2017, subject to the overall budgetary context. I would very much welcome the views of the Deputy and his party on what changes might be made.

I accept the point the Minister makes about other self-employed persons, but they should have become more like those on the farm assist scheme rather than having a 100% penalty on income earned if one is poor. As I was beginning to despair that the Minister would just read out the standard answer we get to these questions, it is welcome that he is reviewing the scheme. Is he willing to attend the Oireachtas committee dealing with rural development to discuss this major rural issue in order that we can consider in detail the ramifications of the policy decision made? Are farmers getting any relief under the farm assist scheme by virtue of being on the NPWS scheme? As that scheme is not in operation, the Minister's officials have been gilding the lily a little in suggesting that there are any significant advantages for a farmer. Yes, farmers on the GLAS scheme are getting a small advantage, but it is minimal.

I welcome the review committed to by the Minister. In case it takes a long time, however, a good initial step would be to reverse the decisions made in budgets 2012 and 2013 to abolish the disregards. I ask the Minister to implement that with immediate effect. The farming community across all sectors of farming, be it dairy, beef, poultry, pigmeat or whatever, are facing a very serious income crisis which has been ongoing for some time. Many small-scale farmers who come to our clinics and are in touch with us weekly have practically no income at present and are in very serious circumstances. They are very anxious to see the farm assist payment brought back at least to the 2011 level because at the time there was a basic income supplement through farm assist that is not available at present. This year has been one of the most difficult for the farming community in many years, and there is a real crisis, particularly among the smaller-scale producers but also the medium and larger producers also. Farm assist can help out the smaller-scale farmers about whom I am very concerned. I appeal to the Minister to deal with this with urgency and reverse the changes made in budgets 2012 and 2013.

It is a genuine review and a programme for Government commitment and it has just commenced. I do not expect it to take too long because I would like to have options costed and ready for the budget discussions. Any change will, however, require primary legislation; therefore, it will be next year at the earliest before they come into force.

I take Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív's point about the 100% penalty, not just for people on farm assist, but also for self-employed people in general. It is a 100% disincentive effect. I am due to meet the IFA next week to hear its views on this. I am also trying to schedule a meeting with the Irish Creamery Milk Supplier Association, ICMSA, and my officials in the west and north west, who would be most used to dealing with this scheme on a practical basis, are being asked their views as to how it might be improved.

I would be happy to attend the rural development committee with my officials. It is a case of scheduling a meeting; therefore, if the Deputy wishes to contact my office, we will try to get that done. I would be interested to hear the views of the committee. The Deputy is right about the NPWS scheme but there is an older scheme that it replaces which is still there in some way.

Regarding Deputy Brendan Smith's comments, we strongly encourage anyone whose income is substantially down, who has fallen on hard times or who is in trouble to go to their local welfare or Intreo office because, even if they are not entitled to farm assist, they may be entitled to something else if they have no income at all. They may be entitled to the basic supplementary welfare allowance, BASI, for example; therefore, I certainly encourage them to engage with their community welfare officer or their welfare office if their income is minimal or gone for whatever reason.

Is the Minister willing to consult with the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association, which, for a small organisation, probably represents a disproportionate number of farmers on the farm assist scheme? Further, when he reviews the farm assist scheme and the means test, could he also consider the rural social scheme in tandem with it? This scheme was also subject to a very regressive means test decisions taken by his predecessor, who seemed to have a dislike for farmers for some reason. Will he review that as part of this package? It needs to be reviewed because in many cases, particularly couples with children, people are working 19 hours per week for the princely sum of €22, which is €1 extra an hour.

Finally, does the Minister agree that there is a perception that farmers in some way can hide their income but that the reality is totally different? His Department-----

I have 55 seconds on the clock.

That is to be shared with Deputy Brendan Smith.

I apologise. The Department owes exactly the income from the grants because it gets the statement from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The Department of Social Protection also knows how much stock was sold because of the animal identification system, AIMS, which is under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; therefore, the Department knows exactly what a farmer's income is. More likely than not, farmers forget about the expenses-----

The Deputy will have one more opportunity to contribute further.

I endorse the comments of my colleague, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, on the rural social scheme. If there were more places on it, it would be of great benefit to many individuals and communities because excellent work is carried out on the scheme and Tús also. These are areas where devoting a small amount of additional resources would enable so many more people to participate on the schemes, bring so many benefits to local communities and support the work of so many good, active community voluntary groups that carry out a very valuable service throughout the country. They provide a service that at times the State should provide.

I would welcome input from Natura and its views on the reforms. I am not familiar with the organisation, but I welcome its input. I am not sure I will be able to personally meet everyone but my officials certainly will. I would be very happy to attend the committee and hear the Deputy's views.

Regarding the rural social scheme, in fairness to my predecessor, it is not fair to say she was anti-farmer-----

The farmers would not think so.

She was a member of the Labour Party.

Anything done to the rural social scheme, in terms of additional money received, would have to have regard to additional money received for a CE placement, for example. Farmers should be not be treated less favourably than people living in the cities, but I do not see why people in cities should be treated less favourably either. Any changes made to the rural social scheme would therefore have to take account of what is being done with CE, Tús and Gateway schemes also. As I stated, this is under active review and I want to have options for the budget. It may not be possible to reverse everything done in 2012 and 2013. However, I would like to have a steer from the committee and others as to which of the measures introduced would be the best to reverse and would make the most difference for farmers on marginal land with small holdings who are struggling to make ends meet.

We always hear the mantra that if we tax very wealthy people over 50%, the incentive is removed. Does the Minister accept that the same principle must apply, even more so, when we means test over 50%? When we means test at 100%, which has been the tradition in the Department, we remove all incentive. We recognise this in other schemes where we means test at 50%. Does the Minister accept that, across the board, means testing at 100% or 70% flies in the face of what economists always tells us applies to taxpayers, that if one takes more than 50% of people's earnings away from them, they lose incentive?

I accept the Deputy's point about the disincentive effect. People will not try to earn another €50 per week off farm or doing something else if the €50 will be deducted from their payments. However, the Deputy, as somebody who held my office in the past, will understand any change has knock-on effects on everything else and, when one has limited budgets, to fund changing the 100% to 70% or 80%, one might have to reduce the qualifying figure for the means test. One must examine these matters in the round and assess what any change would cost and how it might impact on the scheme and on other schemes. The Deputy's basic point is common sense. While I do not want to predetermine the outcome of the review, one of the things I am minded to do is to decrease the 100%.

The Minister is moving in the right direction.

Others say it would not be the most effective action, and that the most effective action would be to increase the disregards for children. The consultation process will be about this.

Social Welfare Benefits Waiting Times

Willie O'Dea

Question:

7. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Social Protection his views on the fact that only 2% of applications for the domiciliary care allowance were awarded within the standard timeframe in 2015 and that only 32% of applications for the carer's allowance were awarded within the standard timeframe in 2015; his views on the processing and appeals times for social protection payments in general; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18690/16]

In recent years, the waiting times for the processing of applications for basic social welfare benefits have been gradually reduced. This trend seems to have halted and, in some cases, reversed. I want the Minister of State to address this.

I thank the Deputy for his very important question. I am very well aware of the important work carers do. I am also very conscious of the need to have applications for carer's allowance, CA, and domiciliary care allowance, DCA, processed as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, there are delays in the processing of these applications. Both schemes have seen a considerable increase in applications in recent years. Applications for DCA in 2015 were 33% higher than in 2013. Applications for carer's allowance in 2015 were 25% higher than in 2013. These increases, together with the need to introduce new revised decision-making processes in early 2014, to demonstrate compliance with a High Court decision, have impacted on the volumes of applications processed within the set target.

Reducing these waiting times is a priority for the Department and we are working very hard to make this happen. As part of its programme of service delivery modernisation, a range of initiatives aimed at streamlining the processing of claims, supported by modern technology, have been implemented by the Department in recent years. Operational processes, procedures and the organisation of work are continually reviewed to ensure processing capability is maximised.

In addition, staffing needs are regularly reviewed, having regard to workloads and the competing demands arising, to ensure the best use is made of all available resources. Where additional staffing is deployed to a scheme, such as has happened for carer's allowance, there is a time lag involved while those staff are trained and build up expertise. The Department expects the current delays to be significantly reduced in the next few months, as recently assigned staff get up to speed with the work involved in claim processing.

Did the Minister of State say there had been an increase of 33% in applications for DCA and 25% for carer's allowance?

I see. Based on figures supplied by the Department, for a person who applies for carer's allowance and is refused and must attend an oral hearing, the total time from beginning to end is 41.1 weeks, which is a long time. For an invalidity pension application, the total time is 58.9 weeks, longer than a year. For a jobseeker's allowance application, where there is a question about a means test, it is 40 weeks, or eight months. This applies to people who are very vulnerable, poor and, in many cases, ill. The Minister of State has indicated that he is aiming for new and improved timescales to be introduced as a matter of urgency. The rate of success in appeals regarding these entitlements is extraordinary, which indicates that there must be something wrong with the initial application process. The proportion of appeals which are successful is 60% for some of those benefits.

I thank the Deputy for his response. This morning, the Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, and I met officials at the Department of Social Protection and had a very positive and constructive discussion. We raised the issue of providing the supports and the delays. We dealt with the issue of new and improved timescales, which is a serious problem.

DCA claim numbers increased by 33% from 2013 to 2015 and CA claims increased by 26% over the same period. This means the number of DCA applications increased from 4,829 in 2013 to 6,442 in 2015 and the number of CA applications increased from 14,989 in 2013 to 18,929 in 2015. The figures are rising dramatically. The number of children in respect of whom DCA is paid has increased from 26,000 in 2009 to 33,000 in 2016. The number of people in receipt of carer's allowance has increased to 61,000. These are the figures we are dealing with. I take the Deputy's point. These are very vulnerable people and we need to improve our timeframes.

I thank the Minister for his response. There have recently been reports that the system for monitoring the equivalent of disability allowance in the United Kingdom is going to be introduced here. Will the Minister of State give me a firm assurance that it will not happen and that it is not the intention of the Government?

This was dealt with in the Chamber recently. I give a complete guarantee that the system used in the United Kingdom will not be introduced in this country. We are talking about a health and carers' model. It is a completely different model, and that is essential. It is important to remember that, in recent weeks, there has been a radical improvement for carers when the Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, announced that the carer's grant, now known as the carer's support grant, will be increased to €1,700. This is expected to affect 90,000 grants which will be paid in 2016. It will cost approximately €157.6 million. Reforms and supports for services have already increased and the work has begun.

Anti-Poverty Strategy

Róisín Shortall

Question:

8. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Social Protection his plans to draw up a new national anti-poverty strategy; the timeframe for the completion and publication of the strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18816/16]

The purpose of the question is to ask the Minister if he intends to draw up a new anti-poverty strategy. The previous strategy has lapsed.

Unambitious targets were set in a programme, which not have been met. Does the Minister intend drawing up a national anti-poverty strategy? If so, to what timeline is he working? When can we expect the strategy?

The national action plan for social inclusion 2007 to 2016, NAPinclusion, identifies a wide range of targeted actions and interventions to achieve the overall objective of reducing poverty. It was published in February 2007. The plan adopts a life cycle stage approach with goals set for each life cycle group: children, people of working age, older people, people with disabilities and communities. The plan also includes the national social target for poverty reduction.

NAPinclusion was updated in 2015 for the extended period of 2015 to 2017 to reflect new challenges, which are different from when the plan was drawn up in 2007, and to reflect current policy responses to poverty. These include a greater focus on modernising the social protection system, improving effectiveness and efficiency of social transfers and strengthening active inclusion policies to address employment and social challenges. The updated plan sets out 14 high-level goals across the life cycle. In addition to the required updating, the timeframe of NAPinclusion was extended by one year to 2017 to coincide with the timeframe for reporting on the interim national social target for poverty reduction, which is to reduce consistent poverty to 4% by 2016. We will have the statistics on that only in 2017.

My Department plans to undertake an independent review of the structures and delivery of NAPinclusion during the period 2007 to 2017. The review will be carried out during 2017 in accordance with the priorities of the Government. Consultations on a national anti-poverty strategy beyond 2017 will be informed by this review.

I thank the Minister for his reply. We are all conscious of the scale of poverty in this country and how the poverty rate has increased in recent years. The current rate of consistent poverty is 8%. The greatest scandal in that context is that almost 140,000 children live in consistent poverty without enough food, heating or clothing. In addition, other cohorts such as lone pensioners, single long-term unemployed people and those dealing with mental health problems and addiction are adversely affected. Does the Minister accept the targets that were set were not ambitious enough? Does he further accept the State is a long way from meeting those unambitious targets? Is he prepared to commit to the production of a national anti-poverty strategy that sets targets not just for his Department but for all Departments, with timelines for the actions that will be taken to meet these targets?

The 8% rate of consistent poverty relates to 2014. I expect the 2015 rate will be lower and I will have that figure in November. I do not know what is the rate for 2016. Even in 2005 during a boom period, the rate was 7% but it has worsened in the past ten years, largely as a consequence of the great recession.

The targets, which are to bring down the consistent poverty rate to 2% by 2020 and to lift 90,000 children out of poverty, are ambitious. No country in the western world has ever managed to eliminate poverty because these figures are based on relativities and median incomes. However, if we achieved those targets, it would bring us into line with the Nordic countries and if Ireland were to move from being a middle ranking country in the European Union when it comes to poverty to being up there with the Nordic bloc, that would be a great achievement and that is the ambition.

There are various references to poverty and child poverty, in particular, in the programme for Government but the notion of going with an integrated framework for social inclusion is not adequate. Does the Minister accept an overarching strategy with clear targets that involves every Department is needed? All the anecdotal evidence indicates that the Department will fall far short of the target set for 2016. Is he prepared to give a commitment to ensure poverty proofing of all major budgetary decisions? In recent years, many additional charges and taxes have been brought in with no consideration of people's ability to pay and this has largely impacted on those who are least able to pay. According to the Department's figures, over the past two budgets, the lowest quintile benefited the least from them. Does the Minister accept anti-poverty budgeting is needed? Is he prepared to press that issue with his Cabinet colleagues?

I accept a cross-government approach is needed to this and, as I pointed out earlier - the Deputy agreed with me - it is not all about welfare payments and transfers. We compare well with other countries when it comes to welfare payments and transfers but where we are doing poorly is in the area of services. Many people on low income have to pay for services they would get free in other countries. In addition, a good well paid job is better than any social transfer and, therefore, one has to take into account all those factors.

It is my intention to have a new national anti-poverty strategy to replace the one that has been extended to 2017.

There is a programme for Government commitment regarding plans for poverty proofing of budgets and I will press it with my colleagues, but we will probably not necessarily agree on how it should be done. Increasing pensions, for example, benefits one decile the least, which comprises the poorest people in the country. There are many perversities that people would not necessarily appreciate. The Deputy probably does but many other people do not. One way to do nothing for the poorest 10% in the country, for example, is to increase pensions, but I would like to do so. Some people believe a tax cut is a transfer to people who are in work or who are middle class and better off. My view is a tax cut is just giving people back their own money and it should not be included in these calculations.

That is very simplistic.

Question No. 9 answered with Question No. 6.

Disability Activation Projects

Catherine Connolly

Question:

10. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Social Protection to indicate the Department or agency or private sector operator that will have responsibility for the implementation of the fit to work programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18800/16]

Will the Minister to make a statement on the implementation of the fit to work programme? It has been raised by myself and other Members who are seriously concerned about the Government's intentions in this regard. In particular, page 57 of the programme for Government states, "We will assist local communities and schools in purchasing defibrillators". This is followed by a decision to pursue a fit for work programme and then a reference to overcrowding in accident and emergency departments. I would appreciate clarity on the proposed programme, including where it is at, when it will be implemented and who will implement it.

I would not be too concerned about the order everything appears in the programme for Government. A great deal of drafting and redrafting was done.

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 illness or disabilities. 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 key module of this study was progressed by the fit for work coalition. There are stakeholders led by Arthritis Ireland, the Irish College of General Practitioners, ICTU, IBEC and the Health and Safety Authority. They all contributed to the study.

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, in 2015, a set of certification guidelines for GPs, which sets out defined periods of recovery for common medical conditions, including MSDs.

The certification guidelines build on the Renaissance project, which was an initiative of my Department back in 2003. This demonstrated that early intervention reduced the incidence of progression from acute simple low back pain to chronic disability in 64% of claimants.

Decisions have not been made as to how a fit for work programme might be delivered and specific proposals for such a programme will require further development and scoping out. There are no plans to assign responsibility for the implementation of the programme to another agency or private sector operator.

I assure the Deputy that any proposals will be in line with the wealth of evidence, which shows that generally employment is good for one’s mental health and physical well-being.

I thank the Minister for the clarification that there are no plans to privatise it or to give the contract for it to a private company. He has given an answer he has already given to a another Deputy who asked this question. He referred to a pan-European study. Is he aware of the evidence in England where such a programme, Fit for Work, has been passed over to a private company? That private company is currently being used in Ireland with respect to another labour activation scheme. On the follow-up from that company, the results were seriously upsetting. I will quote from one of them with respect to figures from the UK Department of Work and Pensions. It states that in England, 2,380 people who were declared fit for work were dead within six weeks of that declaration being made by a private company. That is 90 people per month after having their payments stopped. I do not have enough time to go into the evidence, but it is available. The United Nations is investigating that company in England regarding its decisions with respect to disability.

First, this programme is not yet in place and, therefore, there are no plans to have private contractors involved. It is being led by a coalition of groups, including the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Arthritis Ireland, the Irish College of General Practitioners, ICGP. I believe some people, either through misinformation or wanton deliberate misinformation, are trying to equate it to a programme with the same name in England, which was involved in assessing people who were in receipt of disability allowance and the extent to which they would be fit to return to work. This is not about that. This is about a proposal that was brought to us by the Fit for Work coalition, comprising Arthritis Ireland, the unions, IBEC and others, as to how we can ensure people do not progress to disability, that they get the early intervention they need when they initially present with back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders so that they can get back to work, get the treatment they need and not progress to becoming disabled. That is what this programme will be about.

I do not believe I am using rumours or resorting to unfair techniques. There is damning evidence in England regarding a similar programme. I am reassured the Minister has not made any decision yet about rolling out the plan as to who will do this. I ask him to commit to the Dáil today that he will not use a private for-profit company to deliver this programme. It seems to be based on the premise that there is a disbelief that people have a disability and that they have to prove that they are disabled. Rather than relying on a doctor's assessment, a person will have to have a second assessment. From the little of this I have seen here, the Minister seems to be zoning in on those who have back pain. There is a whole range of disability. I ask the Minister to make a statement today that he will not resort to a private for-profit company for the roll-out of this scheme.

I do not know how many times I have to say this before the Deputy might believe me but this programme does not exist yet. First, it has not even been designed yet. Second, it is not the programme that is in place in England. It is not about people who are in receipt of disability allowance or disability benefit. It is about people who have back pain who are ill and it is to make sure they get the supports, medical and otherwise, that they need to avoid progression and potentially becoming disabled.

I have listened to many contributions the Deputy has made in the Dáil and in the media and think she will be a very impressive Deputy because what she says is very articulate and I am sure very genuine, but whoever is feeding her information on this, whether it is an academic, an NGO or some campaign group, they are deliberately misinforming her. They are hoping this scheme is the one that was introduced in England in order that they can start a campaign against it, but it is not.

Labour Activation Measures

Paul Murphy

Question:

11. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection if he has consulted with any organisations in regard to the creation of a new labour activation measure to replace JobBridge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18796/16]

Paul Murphy

Question:

14. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection if any new labour activation measure which he plans to introduce to replace JobBridge will pay participants at least the minimum wage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18795/16]

Jim Daly

Question:

37. Deputy Jim Daly asked the Minister for Social Protection his plans, if any, to discontinue the JobBridge scheme; if so, his further plans to put in place a replacement scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18704/16]

Mick Barry

Question:

46. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Social Protection when he plans to publish details of the new labour activation scheme which will replace JobBridge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18793/16]

A piece of advice for the Government with regard to the previous matter is that if the proposal has nothing to do with the scheme in Britain, perhaps it should not call it the exact same name as the scheme in Britain. People cannot be blamed for thinking they are same.

That may well be good advice but there are more places than Britain and this exists in European countries too.

Considering that, for example, the JobBridge scheme, which we are going to talk about now, came from Britain and that the welfare model, in general, which the previous Government pursued was borrowed from Britain, it is not a significant stretch of the imagination to make that connection.

Questions Nos. 11 and 14 relate to the issue of JobBridge. We welcome the fact that JobBridge is being discontinued as we have been campaigning on that issue for a long time. The Minister's predecessor was a big fan and advocate of JobBridge. My question, effectively, is what is going to replace JobBridge? Will another exploitative scheme, based on people working for free or very little money, be brought into existence? With whom will the Minister consult? Will participants be paid at least the minimum wage?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 11, 14, 37 and 46 together.

As the Members of the House will be aware, I have already announced that I plan to replace JobBridge with a more targeted scheme later this year. I believe economic and labour market conditions have changed considerably for the better since the scheme was introduced in 2011 and that the time is now right for a much more targeted scheme.

JobBridge has been very successful in meeting its objectives over the past five years. It helped about 19,000 mainly small employers to provide valuable work experience to nearly 48,000 unemployed jobseekers. An independent evaluation of JobBridge published in 2013 found that overall satisfaction levels with the scheme were very high. That was the view of the participants. Two thirds of participants would recommend the scheme to a friend or family member, and levels of abuse of the scheme by employers were comparatively low. Most notably, the evaluation found that 61% of participants progressed into paid employment within a short period of time without completing their internship. As the Deputy will know, that compares most favourably with community employment, CE, and other schemes. This is a very high progression rate and suggests that JobBridge has been instrumental in helping about 30,000 jobseekers to secure employment.

I have asked the Labour Market Council to assist the Department in designing the new scheme. The Labour Market Council includes representatives from the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed, INOU, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, IBEC and a number of leading labour market economists.

It is also important that the design of a new scheme be informed by the best evidence possible. It is for this reason that I intend to await the results of a second large-scale evaluation of JobBridge currently under way before finalising the design of any replacement scheme. The results of this evaluation, which is again being undertaken by Indecon, are expected in September and in September I will announce my proposals for a new scheme.

I strongly dispute the notion that a high progression rate from JobBridge into work was proven. There was no causative link proven because there was not a controlled group in, for example, the Indecon study. For example, approximately 29% of people progressed into the employment of the host organisation but 29% of employers also said that if JobBridge did not exist, they would have been highly or fairly likely to take somebody on. What it indicated, therefore, was that there was a substitution going on, a replacement of work for free labour.

There is a problem in terms of the Labour Market Council being the body that consults on this. It is a bit like having the former Senator, Joe O'Toole, oversee water charges when he is clearly in favour of water charges. The chair of the council is Martin Murphy, who is the head of Hewlett Packard in Ireland. It was one of the biggest users of JobBridge. It was also one of the promoters of JobBridge under the previous Government along with Deputy Joan Burton when she was Tánaiste. Is it not a problem to have that chairman with respect to that company involved? The former chairman of Tesco was chairman at the time when there was a huge scandal about taking on JobBridge people for Christmas work. How can the people concerned be neutral in that regard?

If the Deputy were organising a consultation, he would only consult with people he knows will agree with him. There is a wide range of people on the Labour Market Council including, for example, Breda O'Brien from the INOU, and people from ICTU. If someone is serious about a consultation, he or she does not just consult the people whom he or she believes are ideologically aligned with him or her. He or she consults a broad spectrum of people and that is what the Labour Market Council actually does.

Tell that to the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney.

It is important to remember where JobBridge came from. It arose at a time when people with good qualifications could not get employment and employers could not afford to take people on. We are now in a different space. Employers can afford to take people on, and they should. They certainly should not rely on the State to meet their labour costs. It also arose at a time when there was an outcry from people who wanted to take up internships or work experience but in doing so lost their jobseeker's allowance. That is the reason it was brought in. People are very quick to forget that. It was to ensure that people could get work experience and could take up internships without losing their payments.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest those who took part in JobBridge were not satisfied. They may have felt they had no alternative or that it was a better option than sitting at home unemployed. According to the National Youth Council of Ireland, only 45% would recommend it to a friend, and 44% said the company used the scheme solely for free labour.

The bottom line is that any scheme which does not involve a qualification as opposed to the chance to include in one's CV that one worked for free and which does not involve payment of at least the minimum wage will not be acceptable to people because it is about the exploitation of the unemployed and the broader reshaping of the labour market to normalise people working for free and the driving down of wages and conditions. The Government will find it extremely hard to bring back in some model of JobBridge, no matter how it tries to paint it. What we need is investment in the creation of jobs, education and apprenticeships.

Participation inJobBridge was always voluntary for the person taking part and the employer.

Not with the penalties. People lost their dole over it.

Something that pays the minimum wage is a job, not a scheme. There is a difference between schemes and jobs. I do not necessarily agree with the Deputy that every scheme has to have a qualification at the end of it, although I do not rule that out. However, there is a value in gaining work experience. I am not sure if the Deputy has ever participated in an unpaid internship, but there is a genuine value in it. In my past I participated in an unpaid internship here and the US Congress and it was of real value. There is value in gaining work experience that does not necessarily have a qualification at the end of it. I agree with the Deputy that the most important aspect is investment and job creation. I am delighted to see that there are so many new jobs in the economy, with more being created all the time. I watched the Deputy when he was an MEP make a very interesting speech on Venezuela and how much he admired the model used there and noted the extent to which he defended it. He is probably aware that the country which has performed most poorly in job creation in the past year or so is Venezuela, the model he was so keen to defend not too long ago. Even he gets it wrong sometimes.

That is one up for North Korea.

Registration of Births

Brendan Griffin

Question:

12. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Social Protection the anticipated timeframe for addressing the issue of fees for stillborn birth and death registration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18696/16]

This is a very sensitive topic and I thank the Minister for his action on it. Since the question was initially tabled, he has signed a statutory instrument to address the issue of the State charging for the registration of stillbirths. I appreciate his action in that regard. The matter first came to my attention this time last year when I was collecting the birth certificate for my own, thankfully, healthy second son. I noticed that the State was asking for a fee to register a stillbirth and, in the case of children who pass away shortly after birth, a fee for the birth and death certificates. The latter issue remains outstanding. Can measures be taken to address it also? Again, I acknowledge the Minister's swift action on the first issue.

I thank the Deputy for bringing this sensitive issue to my attention some weeks ago. As Members will be aware, I previously announced that I intended to look at the issue of the fee charged for a certificate of stillbirth registration. I am very pleased to inform the House that I have dealt with this matter quickly and that the fee for the certificate of a registration of stillbirth is being abolished. Earlier this week I signed a statutory instrument, as provided for under section 67 of the Civil Registration Act 2004, to provide that there will be no fee charged to parents for a certificate for their stillborn child. This will come into effect next week. As the Health Service Executive has responsibility for the day-to-day running of the Civil Registration Service, I sought the view of my colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, prior to signing the new regulation. I am happy to say he is in full agreement with me on this matter.

The registration of stillbirths is not mandatory. The register was established in 1995 under the Stillbirths Registration Act 1994 to afford parents the option of recording a stillbirth. The intention of this provision is to provide comfort for the bereaved parents. In many ways, the fact that there was a fee had a contrary effect as identified by the Deputy. It is my hope the facility to register a stillbirth will continue to provide some solace for parents at what is, undoubtedly, a very sad and difficult time by allowing them to register that their children were born and were persons.

The Minister acted very swiftly on this issue, which I acknowledge. The scenario outlined demonstrated a lack of sensitivity on the part of the State. Thankfully, the issue in relation to stillbirths has been addressed. On the matter of there being two separate charges for a birth certificate and a death certificate for a child who passes away shortly after birth, is it the case that the position cannot be changed by way of a statutory instrument? Is additional work required and is it something the Minister can pursue? What would be involved in that process?

Section 12 of the Civil Registration (Amendment) Act 2014 provides for the provision of information on a death which occurs during the first seven days of life of a child born alive. This is known as an early neo-natal death. The section has not yet been commenced owing to industrial relations issues within the HSE. Once these issues are resolved, it is my intention to commence the section which provides for the making of a further statutory instrument waiving any fee for the registration of a early neo-natal death.

I thank the Minister. It is a matter of principle and it would mean that there was one less issue for people to deal with at a very difficult time in their lives. I appreciate the Minister's help and his very swift reaction.

I thank the Deputy for bringing the matter to my attention and my officials and I were very happy to be able to make the change. There are approximately 240 registrations of stillbirths in Ireland every year. While waiving the fee has a small impact in terms of the loss to the HSE of some €5,000, there was no difficulty from the point of view of the Department of Health or the HSE in losing that income.

JobPath Implementation

John Brady

Question:

13. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Social Protection if he is aware of the ongoing issues persons are facing when referred to Turas Nua and Seetec through JobPath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18760/16]

The 37,871 people involved in the Turas Nua and Seetec programmes have experienced a nightmare. The figures came from the Minister's Department this week. The issues being faced highlight the vast holes in the Government's job activation measures. Persons selected for the JobPath programme are prohibited from taking part in job activation schemes such as the community employment and part-time job incentive schemes, job clubs and local employment services. They cannot participate in forms of training other than those supplied by the relevant private companies Seetec and Turas Nua. Is the Minister aware of the ongoing issues with Turas Nua and Seetec and will he make a statement on the matter?

The JobPath companies Turas Nua and Seetec have considerable experience in successfully delivering employment services. They are very conscious of the challenges faced by people who have been unemployed for a long time and the need to provide suitable supports for such persons to help them back into work. Thus far, approximately 38,000 people have been referred to JobPath and the response has been extremely positive. Relative to the number of clients referred, very few issues have been raised at this point. Only 53 complaints have been recorded, which represents 0.14% of referrals. The majority of complaints were about people's initial reluctance to engage with the service or in respect of individual customer service experiences where people felt they were not properly treated by the officers involved. Other issues related to logistical and operational policy matters such as travel arrangements and difficulties attending appointments. All complaints are taken seriously and most have either been resolved or are in the process of being resolved.

JobPath is providing activation resources to supplement and augment the Department's own in-house activation resources. The contracts with the JobPath companies stipulate a significant number of requirements which both Turas Nua and Seetec must meet. The contracts have an in-built service guarantee which means that each jobseeker is guaranteed a baseline level of service, including frequency of meetings with personal advisers, a transparent complaints process and a range of individual supports. The companies provide a copy of their service statements for each participant at the initial engagement stage. They are subject to regular checks and on-site inspections by the Department to ensure they are delivering on their contractual obligations. Failure to deliver on contractual commitments, including customer service commitments, can result in penalties being applied to the companies.

I thank the Minister. I am hearing on the ground that some people have been waiting for places on other job activation schemes. One man I spoke with in my constituency had been out of work for a considerable period. On his own initiative, he applied for and was offered a place on a community employment, CE, scheme as a staff artist, but he had been contacted by JobPath and was locked into it. It would not allow him to take up direct and immediate employment via the CE position. He was forced to continue with JobPath. Other issues arise. A participant who was selected for JobPath was forced to pay €120 for a Safe Pass out of the person's own pocket even though the individual had limited funding.

Will the Minister address these issues and examine the serious anomalies in the system that block people from taking up alternative employment immediately?

As the Deputy has pointed out, nearly 40,000 people have been referred to JobPath, of whom thousands have managed to get employment. I do not doubt that there are individuals who have had bad experiences. In some cases, this is because the engagement is a tense one. When people have been on the carousel of CE schemes, training and more CE schemes, getting one-to-one attention is a significant change. However, it is largely to the benefit of most.

If the Deputy wants to give me the details of the Safe Pass case, I will have them examined. Someone should not be required to pay for a Safe Pass, in particular if he or she is on a social welfare payment. Payment of €120 is a considerable amount of money for someone who is on a little more than €180 per week.

We want people to get jobs. If someone can get one through JobPath, it is better than being on a CE scheme or JobBridge placement. A small number of people may prefer to be on either of the latter or Tús than being in a real job, but that is not something we should encourage.

The Minister's faith in these companies' ability to deliver results is astounding. He has defended them. They have been in place for nearly a year and there will be a review, but consider places like Britain where payment-by-result initiatives have been operated by some of the same companies. Only 4% of people who engage in them go on to long-term, secure employment with clients. This must be borne in mind. There is evidence that a number of the companies, such as Seetec, engage in cherrypicking. In the United Kingdom, this is renowned as creaming and parking. As the companies receive payments based on results, they are picking easy targets that allow them to achieve instant results while parking other cases that are perceived as being more problematic in that regard. There is evidence that this practice is creeping into Ireland. This is my serious concern with the privatisation of this area. The matter must be examined. Is the Minister aware of these issues and, if so, will he address them?

If the Deputy has solid or empirical evidence of creaming or cherrypicking, my officials and I would like to see and study it. To avoid cherrypicking, we have included the use of PEX scores in contracts. People are assessed by departmental officials and assigned scores based on the likelihood of their finding jobs on their own at the top of the scale to having great difficulty finding jobs at the bottom of the scale. This control prevents cherrypicking. If the Deputy has empirical evidence to the contrary, we would be happy to see it, as it would allow us to reduce the payments.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.