Priority Questions

JobPath Implementation

Willie O'Dea


43. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Social Protection if his attention has been drawn to the criticisms being levelled at JobPath; if so, the way he plans to address these criticisms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36085/16]

I am raising this question because of the large volume of complaints that not only I am receiving but also other colleagues on all sides of the House about the operation of the JobPath scheme.

JobPath is a relatively new approach whereby the Department has procured additional resources under contract to enable us to provide high-quality case managed employment support services for people who are long-term unemployed. JobPath supplements the internal case management capacity of the Department's Intreo service and the local employment service. In the past year this additional capacity has enabled the Department to provide an intensive employment support and advisory service for some 60,000 long-term unemployed persons who would otherwise not have received such a service owing to Intreo's capacity limitations. While some observers have raised questions about the use of contractors to procure this additional capacity, the number of complaints from participants has been relatively low. To date, we have received only 145 complaints. This is 0.2% of the total number of people who have engaged with the service. The majority of the complaints were about people's initial reluctance to engage with the service having been unemployed for some time. All complaints are taken seriously and have been resolved or are in the process of being resolved, where possible.

Other issues that have been raised with my Department concern such matters as people wanting to take part in community employment, CE, schemes in preference to JobPath, the application of reduced payment rates to people who refuse to participate in the service and data security. All of these issues are being resolved. For example, a protocol is now in place to enable people to take up CE placements rather than commence on JobPath where a placement is available to them. The rules for the application of reduced payment rates are identical to those that apply in the case of all other activation services and any decision on reduced payment rates is taken by officials of my Department and never by the JobPath service providers.

As is the case with other contractors such as post offices, branch offices and CE scheme sponsors, the JobPath service providers may only use jobseekers' data for the purposes of delivering the services contracted by my Department. Both providers are registered with the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner and subject to the provisions of data protection legislation.

On service quality generally, the contract provides for the delivery of a specified standard of service. Payments to contractors are contingent on the providers satisfying inspectors from my Department that they are meeting this service standard. In addition, the providers must attain a satisfactory customer rating in independent customer satisfaction research.

While the contract is at an early stage of implementation, feedback to date has been positive and initial indications in terms of employment outcomes are encouraging.

We all agree that activation is essential, but we disagree on whether jobseekers might be coerced into unsuitable or inappropriate employment. It must be recognised that people who have been out of the workforce for a long time often have issues that make it difficult for them to re-enter it.

I am staggered by the Minister's reference to there only being 145 complaints. With as much certainty as I can have short of counting, I have received that many complaints from different parts of the country. A woman from County Wicklow rang me last night. She was obviously in distress because of her initial interaction with JobPath. I have received complaints from people in my constituency who were invited into a relatively small room and while sitting cheek by jowl with their neighbours - it is a small city - asked questions about whether they had a new suit of clothes for interviews, whether they had ever committed a crime and whether they intended to commit a crime in the future. Who dreamed up these questions? Last June the Minister told me that the Department intended to commission customer satisfaction surveys. Has this been done and have the surveys been conducted? If so, what was the outcome? As the Minister will be aware, a number of studies of JobBridge have been conducted. When will there be a study of JobPath?

The complaints process is as follows: a person initially makes a complaint to the service provider and if he or she is not happy with the outcome, he or she can make a further complaint to my Department. That is the number of 145 to which I referred. It is possible that many of those who have contacted the Deputy have not made a complaint to the Department or JobPath, but they can do so, if they wish. If they are not happy with how things go, they can also complain to the Ombudsman.

The independent customer satisfaction survey is under way and we expect results before the end of the year. As the Deputy will be aware, if the providers fail to secure a score of three or more on a scale of one to five, the payments made to the contractors will be reduced by up to 15%. There is a penalty for providers should they perform poorly in the customer satisfaction survey.

The condition to be met to receive jobseeker's allowance is that a person must be actively seeking full-time work. It may not necessarily be the job he or she wants, but it is a requirement that a person take up employment, if he or she can. If he or she does not wish to do so, he or she can sign off.

We must avoid going down the punitive road. Time will not permit me to read all of the e-mails, letters and other correspondence I have received on this issue, but a person from the Minister's constituency e-mailed me after finding the JobPath experience humiliating, stressful and demoralising. I have received a number of other e-mails. One person's connection with JobPath had accentuated their anxiety owing to the behaviour of some of the staff. Another person stated no benefit or job opportunities had been presented since they were coerced into attending Turas Nua. Yet another person told me about receiving advice from staff who had received a paltry three months of training and many of whom did not have a background in human resources. Perhaps this explains the reason the number of complaints is so small. Some 90% of the people who have complained to me have begged me to keep their names out of it because they felt threatened. That is sinister. I can meet the Minister and show him some of the e-mails I have received. The people who sent them did not want their names to be mentioned because they feared retaliation. That is unacceptable.

I am unsure what the Deputy means by "retaliation". If people are concerned that their payments will be reduced, that cannot be done. Neither of the JobPath providers has the authority to do so. It can only be done by my officials. Sometimes people who attend social welfare offices and Intreo centres have complaints. This may be down to personal interactions, for example, how they have been treated by individual staff members, or their interpretation of what was said to them. However, personal questions sometimes require to be asked in one-to-one engagements. Asking someone whether he or she has a suit in order that he or s he can appear well at an interview is reasonable. Some of the questions people might be asked in interviews are also asked in-----

Surely not in front of their neighbours.

I appreciate that. That may be an issue particular to the office involved, for example, and may be due to its size. That is the type of complaint - about the quality of the service provided, respecting people's privacy and so on - that we want to hear because we might be able to act and make improvements to the office, etc.

Child Maintenance Payments

John Brady


44. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Social Protection the reason his Department places the responsibility for seeking child maintenance payments on lone parents on the termination of the one-parent family payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36229/16]

This is one of the few countries that does not have statutory maintenance agencies. Custodial parents are forced to seek maintenance payments through a combative court system. They are also responsible for pursuing the non-payment of maintenance payments.

The Family Law Acts are within the remit of the Department of Justice and Equality. They place a legal obligation on parents to maintain their children, regardless of whether they are the parents in receipt of welfare payments. In cases where the family unit has broken down, these obligations continue to apply and the relevant maintenance payments can be arranged either directly or through supports such as the Family Mediation Service, the Legal Aid Board and the courts. The arrangement of maintenance payments is, therefore, a civil matter between both parents, regardless of whether either of them is in receipt of a social welfare payment. In most cases, they are not.

In order to be eligible for a social welfare payment, an individual must satisfy the contingencies and criteria of the relevant scheme. Needless to say, eligibility for the one-parent family payment and the jobseeker's transitional payment requires the applicant to be parenting alone.

The seeking maintenance condition ensures that both of these schemes remain targeted exclusively at people who are parenting alone and therefore most in need of support.

In the vast majority of one-parent family payment and jobseeker’s transitional payment cases where maintenance is in payment, lone parents are successful in arranging maintenance themselves or under the family law provisions. The liability to maintain family provisions, contained in the social welfare legislation, is separate to, and does not negate or supersede parents' obligations under family law. Currently, contribution assessments can only be carried out where the one-parent family payment is in payment and that does not extend to other social welfare payments.

The Department is currently reviewing the liability to maintain family provisions. The options include extending the liability to maintain family provisions to jobseeker’s transitional and possibly other social welfare payments, or removing the requirement altogether. This is a very complex issue, and any changes would require significant legislative and operational changes potentially to family law as well as to social welfare law. Any legislative changes will be brought before the joint Oireachtas committee for pre-legislative scrutiny.

I think the Minister would agree that the current situation for lone parents when it comes to child maintenance is bizarre but he is doing nothing to address it. A condition of receiving the one-parent family payment is that the recipient is obliged to seek maintenance from the other parent. After the changes to the one-parent family payment back in July 2015, the Department wrote to the non-custodial parents advising them that they were no longer obliged to pay maintenance unless there was a court order in place. Lone parents are now forced to take out court orders to try to seek child maintenance or else they are at risk of losing their payment. Courts will not issue summonses for maintenance unless the custodial parent has a current address for the non-custodial parent, and that is not always known. The lone parent's address is provided on a court order, therefore giving the non-custodial parent the details. I am sure the Minister is aware that in some circumstances that could put the lone parent in danger, especially if that was a previously abusive relationship. Once a court order is issued the Department assesses court order maintenance as a means, regardless of whether it is paid or not. That is absolute madness. Lone parents are trapped and they must seek maintenance to receive payment or risk penalties.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta.

They are worse off seeking it as it is taken into account as means regardless of whether the maintenance is paid or not.

Tá an Teachta thar am.

Could I just ask the Minister this question?

Will the Minister stop leaving it up to the lone parents and seek to set up a child maintenance system?

With respect, I think the Deputy is getting a few things mixed up. Many lone parents are not in receipt of social welfare payments. This is primarily a matter of family law and under family law, regardless of anything to do with social welfare, people have an obligation to provide for maintenance of their children. That is a civil matter between the two parents concerned. What the Department can do, if the person is on the one-parent family payment - and only the one-parent family payment - is seek a determination order. For example, if a lone parent is in receipt of a disability payment or some other payment it was never the case that the Department could seek a determination. I have a copy of the letter that is issued to partners and it does not say what Deputy Brady said. I will try to dig it out and read it out because the information the Deputy has been given on the contents of the letter is not fully accurate. I wish to make it very clear that it is the Department's policy never to request a lone parent to contact an abusive partner and seek maintenance. We have heard a claim from one representative organisation that this was done and we have asked for information in that case, or in any similar case, in order that we can see whether that was the case but it has not provided the information yet.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire. Deputy Brady can ask his final supplementary question.

If that is the case it was done mistakenly and we want to know.

I have also seen the letter that was sent out. I wish to give the Minister a couple of examples. I know he loves to use examples from the North as a means to attack Sinn Féin so I wish to give him one example of how child maintenance works there and perhaps he could look at that and use it in the future. The Child Maintenance Service in the North sorts out child maintenance for lone parents. The service finds the non-custodial parent, works out how much maintenance is to be paid, arranges the payment to the lone parent and reviews the payment amount annually. If the non-custodial parent fails to make a maintenance payment he or she can be fined up to £300 for non-payment. The service can make contact with the employer who is obliged to provide details so that the payment can be taken from the employee's wages or, alternatively, it can be taken from benefits.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta.

The service will initiate court action as a very last resort.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta.

The Minister needs to look at this issue. It is not enough to say it is a civil matter between two parents.

I call on the Minister, Deputy Varadkar.

Why did the Department send out a letter saying that the non-custodial parent has no responsibility for the child once he or she reaches the age of seven?

I must ask the Deputy to conclude.

The Minister needs to tackle this issue instead of cutting lone parents means.

If we prolong the time for questions in this manner then others will lose out at the end.

Any of those things are principally matters of family law. I am no expert in the UK system but at one stage there was a child support agency, a government agency that would, for want of a better term, go after fathers and get the money from them. If we were to make a decision to go down that road it would be a point of family law it would not be something that would be exclusive to social protection.

I am sorry that I cannot find the letter because I did ask for a copy of the letter that is sent out to the other parent in such cases. I have just found it. It says:

As Mr. or Mrs. X is no longer receiving a one-parent family payment, your liability to pay the contribution assessed by the Department has ended. You should be aware however that this does not in any way affect any other maintenance arrangement, private or otherwise, that you may have in place with Mr. or Mrs. X and this should remain in place.

So if anyone has informed Deputy Brady that a letter issues from my Department saying that such fathers no longer have any liability they have misinformed him and he should be sceptical of what they say to him in future.

Why was the letter sent out in the first place?

Pension Provisions

Willie O'Dea


45. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Social Protection if he will address the anomaly in the calculation of the contributory pension which tends to disadvantage those who took time out of the workforce to care for children or relatives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36086/16]

This problem has been well ventilated. We are all aware of the unfairness in the contributory old age pension system whereby people who have paid fewer contributions can often get a higher pension than people who have paid a greater number of contributions. We discussed the issue last week on Committee Stage of the Social Welfare Bill and we will be discussing it again tomorrow. I just want to find out how far the Minister has advanced with the study he is carrying out on the matter in his Department.

Expenditure on pensions, at approximately €7 billion, is the largest block of expenditure in my Department, representing some 35% of its expenditure. Demographic change alone increases this by about €200 million a year. Maintaining the rate of the State pension is critical to protecting older people from poverty. Entitlement levels are calculated by means of a yearly average calculation, where the total contributions paid or credited are divided by the number of years of the working life. Payment rates are banded so, for example, someone with a yearly average of 48 contributions will qualify for a full pension, whereas someone with a yearly average of 20 will qualify for a pension at 85% of the full rate. The homemaker’s scheme was introduced in 1994 to make qualification easier for those who took time out of the workforce for caring duties. It allows up to 20 such years, in the period since its introduction, to be disregarded when their record is being averaged for pension purposes.

The cost of extending the homemaker's scheme to allow people to avail of the full 20 years currently allowed under the scheme, encompassing periods prior to 1994, is estimated at a potential cost some €290 million in 2017. The cost of any such backdating would have to be borne by existing PRSI contributors, that is, working people aged under 66 and their employers - by increasing PRSI.

Where someone does not qualify for a full rate contributory pension, they may qualify for an alternative payment. If his or her spouse has a contributory pension, he or she may qualify for an increase for a qualified adult amounting to 90% of a full-rate pension, which by default is paid directly to them. Alternatively, he or she may qualify for a means-tested State pension, which amounts up to 95% of the maximum contributory rate.

It is planned that a total contributions approach will replace the yearly average approach from around 2020, and the position of homemakers will be carefully considered in the context of that reform. Officials from my Department are currently working on the detailed development of the total contributions approach with a view to making proposals for consideration in the first half of next year.

As the Minister said, the system already disregards time spent working in the home since April 1994 for the purposes of calculating the yearly average contributions. The problem arises in respect of people who took time out before 1994. Does the figure of €290 million refer to the cost of back dating to the very beginning? If he is moving to a total contributions approach, is it inevitable that there will be losers as well as winners? I can envisage a situation where under a total contributions approach, a person who had been paying for the past ten years and who has paid 520 contributions could find their pension considerably reduced. Of course, it would be a fairer system but we are anxious to ensure that there are as few losers as possible. If the Minister is looking at a total contributions approach, where does that leave the question of credits and what will happen in respect of the homemaker's scheme as it exists at the moment? Will there be some recognition of time spent in the home in a total contributions system?

The figure of €290 million is the maximum amount estimated so that would be the case if we took existing pensioners and recalculated what they might be entitled to under a new set of rules. There would almost certainly be demands to do that. The rules could be changed prospectively but I think those who are already retired would want the rules changed for them as well. The Deputy is right in saying that any significant change to the rules does result in winners and losers. Even a change that makes it fairer would result in winners and losers. One could spend hundreds of millions of euro to make sure there are no losers at the pension end but, of course, that must then be paid for by existing PRSI contributors today. Working men and women, working fathers and mothers of today and their employers would have to foot the bill of anything that resulted from the change because of the way the social insurance system works, which is PRSI in and PRSI out. One thing that is under consideration, and the Deputy will see this when we are ready to produce the document, is replacing the homemaker's disregard with a homemaker's credit so one would count the number of years spent in the home looking after children or a sick relative as a credit.

As the Minister will be aware, since the abolition of the retirement pension, people aged 65 and over who have been compulsorily retired have to apply for jobseeker's allowance initially for one year. I believe it will be two years when the pension age reaches 67. First, the amount is lower. Second, it has given rise to obvious difficulties. I know the same criteria do not apply. The test as to whether someone is actively seeking employment once they are over 65 is not as rigid. I raised this question with the previous Government and was told that an interdepartmental committee was looking at this to see if there was some way to solve it. Can the Minister give us any update on the deliberations of that committee?

There is no compulsory retirement age in Ireland so there is no law saying that anyone has to retire at a particular age. However, for some people, their contracts with their employers require that they retire at 65. Many, though not all, of those people are public servants. The interdepartmental group has already produced its report, which was published some months ago before the summer recess but, in my view, it was unsatisfactory in terms of providing an actual solution to this issue. My strong view is that at the very least for public employees, those who are now required to retire at 65 should not be required to do so. We should bring the age up to 66 and 67 in 2021. I have conveyed that view to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and it is under discussion between the two of us. We cannot interfere in the contracts between private citizens and their private employers but I would have thought that at the very least for our employees in the public sector, we should make that change.

Social Welfare Benefits Eligibility

Michael Harty


46. Deputy Michael Harty asked the Minister for Social Protection if he will consider a change in application of the rules for those in receipt of social protection payments who work a limited number of hours per day, in particular breaking the working week into hours rather than days when calculating reduced social protection payments. [36335/16]

I ask the Minister to consider a change in application of the rules for those in receipt of social protection payments who work a limited numbers of hours per day, in particular breaking the working week into hours rather than days when calculating reduced social protection payments for hours worked during the week.

Both the jobseeker's benefit and the jobseeker's allowance schemes provide significant support to individuals so that they can work up to three days a week and still retain access to a reduced jobseeker's payment. As of the end of September, there were approximately 59,000 jobseekers casually employed in this way.

Any changes to the current criteria, such as moving to an hours-based system could result in significant numbers of additional individuals qualifying for a payment with substantial associated cost implications for the Exchequer. There could also be a significant reduction in the number of people eligible if the number of hours allowed was set at a particular level. The current days-based system can provide significant income supports to jobseekers who are casually employed. While it is not commonly known, an individual can earn a little over €19,300 per year and still retain a small jobseeker's allowance payment while an individual with a qualified adult can earn up to €33,300 if they are both working and still claim jobseeker's allowance.

If there was a change from a days-based to an hours-based system, the design would have to take account of earnings. Furthermore, if an hours-based system were introduced, existing casual jobseekers could lose out if their current hours worked over three days exceeded the new hours threshold thereby creating a disincentive to work longer. In addition to the two jobseeker's schemes, my Department's main in-work support is the family income supplement, FIS, which targets families with children on low incomes and who work at least 19 hours per week. The payment effectively preserves the incentive to take up or remain in employment in circumstances where the employee might only be marginally better off than if she or he was claiming other social welfare payments.

Where a long-term unemployed jobseeker is offered employment of more than three days but less than 24 hours a week, they may be eligible for the part-time job incentive scheme. Under this scheme, they can receive a weekly payment of €119 per week if they are single or €193.90 if they have an adult dependent. The combination of jobseeker's schemes, FIS and the part-time job incentive scheme provides considerable income support for individuals who have part-time employment by allowing them retain access to a social welfare payment.

This question particularly relates to caring agencies which supply home care services and packages. Those caring agencies have difficulty in accessing staff to supply those services. It has been brought to my attention that if you take a notional week as 40 hours and a carer was allowed to work two hours per day for five days a week, rather than losing their payments for the five days, they would lose their payments for the ten hours. In other words, they would get three-quarters of their social welfare benefits and still be allowed to work as carers supplying an essential service to the community looking after people in their own communities. Making it easier for agencies to find carers would give those being cared for access to somebody they would know from their locality, allow carers to have greater self-esteem and contribute to society.

We definitely have a problem here and it will take between now and possibly the next budget to figure out a solution. Employers contact me all the time saying that they have staff and would like staff to work more hours but staff will not work more hours because of the way the social welfare rules work and because they would lose their payments. At the same time, there are people earning €19,300 per year and couples earning up to €33,000 who are claiming jobseeker's allowance. I do not think that is right either. There are lots of people working for salaries lower than that who do not qualify for jobseeker's allowance. We need to look at the rules between now and the next budget and see how we can get them right but as with any change to rules, you will have issues. If we did what Deputy Harty suggested, huge numbers of people who do not qualify for jobseeker's allowance would qualify for it and that would come with an unsustainable cost to the State. One thing that is not well known enough is the part-time job incentive scheme. Under this scheme, a long-term unemployed person who takes up part-time employment for less than 24 hours per week - it does not matter on which day they do it - can qualify for a weekly payment.

Only 460 people in the State currently avail of that and it is hours based not days based. I think the uptake is low because people and employers do not know about it.

Jobseeker's Allowance

Eamon Ryan


47. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Social Protection if his attention has been drawn to the increase in the numbers of young persons being refused access to social protection benefit since the introduction of the JobPath programme; his views on whether this is a result of changes in Government policy or the method of implementation of this policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36329/16]

Why has there been an increase in the number of penalty strikes in regard to young people on the JobPath programme who for varying reasons are being described as not meeting their obligations or not trying sufficiently hard to look for work and therefore are in danger of losing some of their social welfare benefits and some of their dole payments? The total number applying was 2,409 in 2015, 3,211 in 2015 and in the first six months of this year, under the Government's new JobPath programme, it was 2,253, a very significant increase. Why has that increase taken place? Does it come from policy? Is it because we are now outsourcing the assessment of that? What is the reason for the significant increase?

Only people who are long-term in receipt of a jobseeker's payment are referred to JobPath. Accordingly, someone who has been refused access to a jobseeker's payment by definition cannot be referred to JobPath.

In order to qualify for a jobseeker's payment, a person must meet certain conditions, including that they are unemployed and are available for, capable of and genuinely seeking full-time work. People who satisfy these conditions and others relating, for example, to means, residency and social insurance contributions will qualify in the first instance for the payment of a jobseeker's income support.

In addition to providing this income support, the Department also provides employment services and supports to unemployed jobseekers and expects jobseekers, who are in receipt of a payment, to engage with these services in order to improve their prospects of securing employment and achieving financial self-sufficiency.

This approach is in line with the principle of rights and responsibilities whereby an unemployed jobseeker has a right to receive income and employment supports from the State, but also has a responsibility to engage with those State services if requested to do so. All jobseekers acknowledge this responsibility in writing when they claim a jobseeker's payment.

Failure of a jobseeker to engage, without good cause, with the Department's services can have consequences for the jobseeker's payments. Legislation provides that a Department deciding officer, and only a Department deciding officer, can apply a reduced payment in certain circumstances.

It is important to note that the decision rules and process for application of a reduced rate of payment are the same across all the Department's services - Intreo, LES and JobPath. In addition contracted providers cannot apply a reduced rate of payment. They can only refer the case for consideration by a Department deciding officer who makes the decision. The process includes written and verbal warnings, and an opportunity for the jobseeker to re-engage with the services prior to the application of a reduced payment.

Currently a total of 1,282 jobseekers are in receipt of a reduced rate of payment. This represents less than 1% of all people on the live register.

I interrupt the Minister to say that the balance-----

I might just take 30 seconds because I am about to give the Deputy the answer. I am sorry I did not give the answer in the first part.

To date 60,000 jobseekers on the live register have engaged with JobPath. Of these, 499 are on a reduced rate, of whom only 96 are under 25 years of age. Again these figures are under 1% of the people engaged with JobPath.

Given these relatively low levels of reduced payment rates, one cannot draw any meaningful conclusions as to whether engagement with the JobPath service results in a higher rate of penalty application.

To the extent that the data can be interpreted, it would suggest that engagement with JobPath does not increase the likelihood of the payment being reduced than somebody who engaged with Intreo or the LES. This is to be expected as there has been no policy change with regard to the implementation of reduced rates of payment.

Leniency, but 30 seconds rather than a minute.

I do not know if the Minister has ever been on the dole.

I was in my early 20s.

I thought the Deputy said the Dáil for a second.

The Minister has been in the Dáil all right, but he has not been on the dole. Those who have been on the dole might advocate a different approach. I was on the dole in my early 20s and people find themselves on the dole for a variety of reasons. Simply penalising them for not getting back to work straightaway does not reflect the reality of what it is like to be on the dole. I did not think it was appropriate to cut the dole payment down to €100 - I think that was excessive. It is unfortunate that the young people on the dole did not get the same increase in social welfare that older people got in the recent budget.

More importantly, regarding this question, for some reason the number of young people being hit because they are not complying is increasing. It is not compassionate and does not reflect the reality of the lives of young people. Those on the dole need a bit of help and support, and do not need to be penalised further, as we are doing according to the figures I see.

Somebody who had previously been working and making contributions, in the first instance, should be entitled to jobseeker's benefit, which cannot be cut. That is a legal entitlement for six to nine months depending on the person's length of contributions. Only jobseeker's allowance can be reduced. The penalty rates are being used more frequently than they were in the past. That is not related to JobPath. They are being used more frequently in general by Intreo, LES and JobPath. The Deputy should bear in mind that only Department deciding officers can apply reduced rates. It cannot be done by the JobPath providers or LES. We anticipate about 10,000 penalty rates will be applied this year.

There are many different reasons. I read the answer to a previous parliamentary question in which the Minister stated that, for example, we do not treat artists differently. For many people engaged in artistic or other community work, it may not suit them at that particular time. It may be right for them to take the dole, maintain a certain bit of freedom and flexibility because it is precarious and they move backwards and forwards. We need to show flexibility across the range of schemes we have.

There are other instances. It is difficult for people on the dole who lose their confidence and cannot ask the question as to what they are doing. I return to the central point I wish to make.

Setting up a penalising system for people in those circumstances or one that is increasingly penalising them is not the right approach.

Deputy, please-----

We are better off trying to support and encourage them back to work, but not force them back to work.

I reiterate what I said earlier. One of the conditions of jobseeker's allowance is to be actively seeking full-time employment. Other people, who go out to work and pay their taxes, expect those taxes to be used to support people who need that support and are genuinely seeking work. People who have particular difficulties can apply for other payments, including illness payments. On 17 November, 1,282 jobseekers out of approximately 200,000 people on the live register were on a penalty rate. It is not 10% or 5%. Only 1% or 2% of people are on penalty rates. There will always be 1% or 2% who might not engage and not for legitimate reasons the Deputy suggested.