Other Questions

Citizens Information Services

John Curran

Question:

6. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if the restructuring of MABS and CIS will be reviewed; if she is satisfied that the new structure of regional boards represents the best way forward in terms of service delivery to local communities and good governance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19167/18]

This question is in the name of Deputy John Curran but he has given permission to Deputy O'Dea to put it to the Minister. I presume that is in order.

I apologise for the absence of my colleague, Deputy Curran. As the Acting Chairman knows, Deputy Curran is Chairman of the Joint Committee on Social Protection, which is sitting now, at the same time as questions on social protection in the Dáil. Why the two have clashed, I do not know. The question is self-explanatory.

I thank Deputy O'Dea, and I thank Deputy Curran for the question.

The executive of the Citizens Information Board, CIB, is in the process of implementing the decision of the board to reorganise the governance arrangements of the 93 individual local company boards, comprising 42 citizens information services and 51 Money Advice and Budgeting Service, MABS, companies, to create a new regionally based 16-company model comprising eight citizens information services and eight MABS companies. The CIB is not planning to review the decision of the statutorily appointed board.

The aim of the change is to improve the effectiveness of the control environment, financial management and governance of the CIS and MABS networks, which are 100% State funded. The change is about improving the governance framework, focusing on front-line service delivery to citizens, improving the consistency and quality of service delivery and, where possible, extending services for those who need them. We all know there are thousands of unfortunate people who use this valuable service and continue to need it.

I believe I stated on previous occasions that I am very satisfied that the board of CIB made its important decision of February 2017 in the best interest of the citizens it serves.

The first phase of the implementation process has seen the establishment of six new companies, namely three citizens information services and three MABS companies, in south Dublin, in north Leinster, comprising Longford, Louth, Meath, Westmeath and Kildare, and in south Munster, comprising Cork and Kerry.

All staff, assets and liabilities of the 38 local companies involved in this phase have been transferred to the six new companies. There has been no change to service delivery and no reduction in staffing, nor has there been, or will there be any diminution of services for clients.

The remaining 55 companies will transfer into the five new citizens information services and five new MABS companies as they are established, and it is envisaged that the next phase of transfer will be completed before the end of 2018. I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

As the Minister will be aware, among the volunteers, people at the coalface or the people providing the service there is still widespread opposition to this change. People are in constant contact with us about it. The Minister will also be aware that the Dáil voted by a majority of two to one against this. The Joint Committee on Social Protection, which includes a number of Members on the Government side, voted unanimously against what is being done.

I do not want to rehash all the arguments we engaged in but the Minister said in the course of various debates on the matter that what was preventing her from interfering in any way with the decision of the CIB was the advice of the Attorney General that she did not have the power to do so. Is that the only reason she could not intervene? If she had had the power, would she have intervened to stop this process?

The advice from the Attorney General is that I do not have the power, and neither would the Deputy if he were the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection. I am quite happy to take the advice. To answer that Deputy's question, the advice is not the only reason. I have said before and say again for the record that I am satisfied the board of the CIB, which made its important decision in February 2017, did so in the best interest of the citizens it serves. The CIB established an advisory group to assist with the transition to the new governance models. Information sessions have been held for the chairpersons of the local services, providing opportunities for them to seek clarification on the process of transfers to the new regional companies and the winding up of the existing companies.

The CIB has assured me, as it has assured all its clients, members and the Committee on Social Protection, that there will be no job losses, diminution of existing services or closures of services. Most important, there will be no disruption to services. The rationale for CIB's decision is to improve governance arrangements in accordance with the code of practice on the governance of State bodies and to meet the requirements of the Comptroller and Auditor General, which it absolutely has to meet.

The six new regional companies were established on 16 April 2018, in north Leinster, south Munster and south Dublin. The recruitment of the directors for these new regional companies is complete. Approximately half of the positions have been filled by applicants who served as local company board members. Regional managers have also been appointed. Two of the appointees were formerly employed by MABS companies.

Unite, the union, has confirmed to me that its members in MABS companies had voted in favour of the transfer in their recent ballot. SIPTU had previously confirmed the same for all its members in citizens information services. I cannot stress enough how thorough the process has been. One will never make 100% of people happy but the vast majority of people are happy.

The Minister says there have not been any job losses. Has there been any loss of volunteers? Is she happy that, under the new structure, both schemes will attract the same number of volunteers as heretofore? All the information coming to me suggests the precise opposite.

Could the Minister confirm the cost structure of the new organisation? Will it enable the State to provide the same service more efficiently and cheaply or will it cost more?

Volunteers come and go in all organisations so one could not state one has lost volunteers for the specific reason outlined. I would be very surprised if the reasons people ebb and flow between voluntary and charitable organisations were collated.

I had the privilege of speaking to probably 700 volunteers in Kilmainham last year. It is an annual day to reward, respect and congratulate the volunteers of CIB and MABS from around the country. They come to the event, are entertained and enjoy each other's company while having some food and drink. We socialise with them and thank them for volunteering. Not one person told me that day that he or she was unhappy. The volunteers were in high spirits. They were enjoying themselves and were very appreciative of the management of CIB in recognising the value of their contribution.

To answer the Deputy's question, I hope to increase, not decrease, the funding. I am not seeking to take money away from the CIB.

It will cost more to provide the same service.

We have increased funding for it this year so it can provide valuable services to our deaf community. If I can find more money to provide more services to the community, through such a well-run, well-organised and well-governed State body, that is what I will do. I have every confidence in the management and new structure of this organisation.

Labour Activation Programmes

Brendan Smith

Question:

7. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number of participants on Tús and the rural social scheme in 2017; the number of places on both schemes for which a financial provision has been made in 2018; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19279/18]

As the Minister knows, there are many positive dimensions to both Tús and the rural social scheme in that they provide worthwhile employment opportunities for many who, unfortunately, are not in a position to get a job in the labour market. Furthermore, they provide a great service to local communities by providing new facilities and enhancing and maintaining existing facilities. I sincerely hope that, in the Estimates this year, the Minister can ensure anybody eligible to participate in either scheme is not deprived of the opportunity to do so.

Jesus, I hope we would never deprive anybody of the opportunity to participate on an activation course supplied by the State. The problem, and the reason I made the changes alluded to by the Deputy's colleague a couple of weeks ago, was that Tús and the community employment, CE, companies were telling me they were finding it difficult to fill their courses. It is certainly not because we are refusing people.

As the Deputy may be aware, almost €840 million is being provided to be spent on working-age employment supports provided by the Department. It is totally recognised by the Government and probably by everybody in this House that work schemes such as Tús and CE are such positive initiatives. They enable the long-term unemployed to make a contribution to their communities while up-skilling themselves and making themselves familiar in a particular work environment.

As we all have seen, every single town and village in the country has a CE scheme. We know exactly not only how communities benefit from the work done on the schemes but also the huge benefit to the participants. They participate for a variety of reasons. Some are genuinely looking for activation, training and employment while others genuinely just want to give back to their community, be busy, be involved and be socially included.

To answer the Deputy's question specifically, Tús is delivered through 47 implementing bodies, or local development companies, and Údarás na Gaeltachta. At the end of December 2017, there were 6,409 participants on the Tús programme. The 2018 budget Estimate for Tús is just over €100 million. With the ongoing reductions in the numbers on the live register, which I hope will continue, it is necessary to ensure the number and nature of activation schemes, in addition to the conditions governing participation on them, continue to be appropriate to the people we are serving.

Deputies on all sides of this House are fully aware of the positive benefits of the rural social scheme, RSS, which is a supplementary income scheme for farmers and fishermen. The complete success of that scheme is recognised. Of all our schemes, that is the one that is oversubscribed. I am very pleased to be able to add 250 places to that particular scheme. They were allocated several weeks ago, and they are currently being filled.

I welcome the fact there is an increase in the number to ensure that everybody who is eligible to participate may do so. The six-year participation limit for the rural social scheme also needs to be looked at in the future. Some people are coming to an age, or are at an age, at which they will not get a job in the labour market. I suggest that they should be eligible for another year or so. If that eligibility could be changed, it would ensure that people do not have to go onto jobseeker’s benefits in advance of pension payment, which is very important.

It would also be worthwhile if there was a training element to the rural social scheme. There is very good work going on in my own county, where projects like the restoration of old walls of churches or community halls have been taken on. On its own initiative, the local group has added a training element to the work. It is very important to improve the eligibility criteria regarding the time limit on participation and to have a training element.

In some places in rural Ireland people have to travel a distance to participate in a scheme. At the moment, the top-up added to what a person would receive in social welfare payments is something like €22 or €24. At times, that may be used up in travel. Furthermore, we do not want to have one or two people working on their own in isolation. One of the aims of the rural social scheme was to combat rural isolation. It is good when there are a half a dozen or eight people working together, rather than a person in a parish on his or her own doing the job, which would be self-defeating. I would appreciate if the travel element could be looked at.

I am a little confused. The extra top-up payment of €22 is for community employment, CE, and Tús participants. The RSS is an entirely different scheme, and it is genuinely an income support for farmers and fisherman. The governance of both of the schemes is not the same. If I can concentrate on the RSS for a second, prior to 1 February 2017, a person or a participant on the RSS could spend his or her entire working life on the scheme. This resulted in a lack of turnover of places for people. There were not enough places for all the eligible people to be able to come onto the scheme and stay on it, which resulted in there being no ebb and flow. There were people who were outside the scope of the scheme that we were not helping. Additional places obviously fix that. However, because of this, perhaps 50% of the RSS participants have been on the scheme for in excess of ten years. As a result, there were no real new opportunities for people, other than the extra few places that were awarded every year.

From 1 February 2017, we changed it so that a person had to be over 25 to be on the scheme. The change acknowledged that numerous other activation options were available for young people to counteract or to compensate those under 25 who were effectively being excluded. The entry of people aged 25 and over as participants in that scheme was introduced on and after 1 February 2017. People who were on the scheme beforehand obviously got to stay on it.

I thank the Minister for her reply. She might look again at the idea of adding a training element to the scheme. Perhaps that can be enhanced or made a specific requirement.

Does the Deputy mean in the RSS?

Yes, I think so.

There is no training in RSS whatsoever. It is an income support that allows people to be socially included.

I give the Minister an example. In my own county there is a scheme whose supervisor is John Beglan, who is an extremely hardworking and committed man. In other communities local facilities have been enhanced. In my own county, some of the smaller churches had their grounds, boundary walls, etc., enhanced. There was an element of building instruction training.

Would the Deputy like to see that in the RSS?

Yes, I think that would enhance the scheme. It would also give the participants better opportunities to get jobs locally when they finish on the scheme, if they wish to seek another employment opportunity, perhaps in the construction sector. I think it is important to look at the training element, if possible.

I am sorry. I did not mean to interrupt the Deputy, but I just wanted to be 100% sure that I knew what he meant. There is no such training element in the RSS at the moment, because when it was established, I think by one of the Deputy's colleagues, it was specifically intended to address low-income people in the two particular sectors of farming and fishing. It aimed to use the skills of its beneficiaries, most of whom were men, to improve local areas just as the Deputy has described, by refurbishing walls, bridges or church grounds in their own communities. Never say never. Let us have a look at all the schemes and see if there are any improvements that could be made to all or some of them.

Poverty Impact Assessment

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

8. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will report on the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2018-2021; if she will report on the achievements of the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2015-2017; the areas which require further resources and improvements in the context of poverty proofing budget 2019; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18666/18]

Last year was the 20th anniversary of our first national poverty strategy, introduced by the Minister's predecessor, Proinsias de Rossa, when he was Minister for Social Welfare. The Minister has had a consultation on the new plan for 2018 to 2021. How does she evaluate the updated National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2015-2017, and what does she expect to feature in the new plan, given that 750,000 people are still living in consistent poverty?

It is fair to say that tackling poverty remains a fundamental aspiration of all of us, regardless of the Department we serve in. The programme for Government includes a firm commitment to develop a new integrated framework for social inclusion to tackle inequality and poverty. This will be a successor to the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion the Deputy has referred to, which ran from 2007 to 2016, and its 2015 to 2017 update, which was included in this year's analysis.

The Deputy is right to say that my Department has started preparations for the new four-year plan for the period from 2018 to 2021. Like its predecessor, the plan will have a whole-of-Government approach that aims to improve outcomes for the vulnerable and marginalised in Irish society, while recognising a shared responsibility across Government to implement actions to achieve the overall aims. The theme of the new plan is one of active inclusion, which will enable every citizen, notably the most disadvantaged, to fully participate in society, which includes having a job if that is what they want. The primary focus will be the reduction of the rate of consistent poverty, which in 2016 was 8.3%. This will be achieved through a three-pronged approach; by supporting incomes through as high a level of employment as possible and encouraging and assisting people to enter the workforce; by setting targets for the level of relevant welfare payments designed to reduce relative poverty among those who cannot work or cannot find work; and by improving access to quality services such as health, education, childcare, training, housing, community supports and all of the other activities that wrap around a person to enable them to have as good a quality of life as they can, in order to minimise deprivation for all groups, particularly those who are on relatively low incomes.

My Department reports on the progress of actions under the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion through our annual progress reports and the annual social inclusion monitor. The progress report for 2015-2016 is scheduled for publication before the summer, with the 2017 progress report due to be published by the end of this year. I will get it Deputy Broughan as soon as I can. I want to get the 2017 data as quickly as I can, because there is no point in talking about 2015 or 2016 when the economy and the environment in Irish society have changed. I want to see what benefit that has provided to the most vulnerable in society so that I know what we collectively have to do to provide for a better quality of life in the 2019 budget.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The 2016 social inclusion monitor will be finalised by the end of May and will report on progress against a range of poverty targets based on data from the most recent EU survey on income and living conditions.

As part of the preparation for the annual budget process, the Department of Finance publishes the ex-ante social impact assessment of illustrative budgetary measures, including income tax, universal social charge, USC, and social welfare, prepared for the tax strategy group. In the run-up to the budget, my Department undertakes social impact assessments of the main proposed welfare and direct tax budgetary policies in order to estimate the likely distributive effects of these policies on household income. Shortly after the budget is agreed, my Department publishes the social impact assessment of the main welfare and tax measures which have been agreed.

In addition, in the months preceding the budget and immediately afterwards, there is extensive engagement at ministerial and departmental level with community and voluntary groups. This includes the pre-budget forum and post-budget briefing. This represents an important consultative dimension to the social impact assessment, which helps our understanding of the qualitative impact of policy.

The bottom line is that we are definitely not experiencing an inclusive recovery in the economy after the decade of austerity. The statistics are still pretty frightening. The poverty focus 2018 report tells us that over 100,000 working people are at risk of poverty, which is an astonishing statistic, as Social Justice Ireland points out. Moreover, 16.5% of the population, roughly one in six, is surviving on an income below the poverty line. Some 780,000 people are living in poverty, and 26% of those are children. Deputy Doherty is now the Minister responsible. We still have the sixth highest rate of jobless households in the EU. The Minister mentioned the 8.3% target, but I note that we did have a target of reducing the rate of consistent poverty down to 4% by 2016, and then 2% by 2020. Now the Minister has seemingly changed that, and the target has been doubled to 4%.

There is much work to be done there. A significant cohort of our fellow citizens are struggling and have very difficult lives.

The Deputy is dead right that there is no denying the facts. There is no dressing them up or hiding them. There are far too many people in this country who do not have a decent standard of living. The role of the Department is twofold. The first is to support people through the working family payment and the changes that I can and have already made to that scheme to help people to have a minimum standard of living. I hope to be able to improve that further when money allows.

More importantly, we all recognise that the real method to address poverty in this country is to provide people with employment. We have a national strategy to address jobless households. There is another strategy that will specifically address a cohort of people in households who are not working and are not seeking a job, and it will work with those people on a voluntary basis to allow them to have access to the services of the State. We must ensure that people who want to work are availing of the opportunities in the State, whatever difficulties they have or barriers they face, to enable them to get a job, and not just any job. I do not stand over a system that puts a hairdresser in a job picking apples. I want to get people jobs, better jobs and careers. The national strategy will determine how we will do that.

The jobless households strategy is under way. The specific pilot schemes we have for those under 25 and those over 55 are directly targeting those stubborn groups and parts of society where we have not been achieving the targets we would like to achieve. There is so much more to do and there is a long way to go before we get to where the Deputy and I will be satisfied that we have done the job.

There is a geographical aspect to it as well. The midlands, Border counties, south east and south west are particularly badly affected, and perhaps strategies are required in the new four-year plan for those areas in particular. The social protection payment rates are also critical. Social Justice Ireland has evaluated that the minimum rate per person should be approximately €249 per week. One of my constituents believes that the basic contributory pension for pensioners who have worked hard throughout their lives should be €400 per week so they can live reasonably fulfilling lives in their final years. There is much work to be done in that regard.

I wish to raise a final point. The Committee on Budgetary Oversight evaluated the public service performance report for the Minister's Department. I noticed that while the report mentions all the payments the Department makes, there is no connection between that and what the Department is trying to achieve, for example, in the national inclusion strategy. Is it possible that the metrics for this report could be changed so we can know what we trying to achieve?

I accept the broader point. I will ask my officials to look at the report to see if we can make it more meaningful. What we must do is show the Irish people from a transparency perspective what we are doing with the €20 billion that is entrusted to my Department. Most importantly, however, the people we are trying to help need to see the effects and benefits of it.

I acknowledge where the Deputy is coming from with regard to the increase in payment rates, but I doubt that I would ever be lucky enough to get the amount of money that would be required to provide those types of rates. In essence, the Department does not provide fully for somebody's outgoings. I recognise that the moneys we give are not sufficient, especially from an old age pension perspective, to provide people with the quality of life they would have had when they were working. That is the reason I am introducing the automatic pension enrolment so we do not have another generation of people who are short of money in their retirement and to ensure people start planning for their retirement now. I also wish to ensure that, instead of just giving more money in schemes, we enhance the services people get and reduce the cost of living in respect of those services, be they in child care, education or health. It is not just down to our Department to continually change that €20 billion into €25 billion and €30 billion. It is up to the whole of Government to examine all the services we provide for people to ensure they have a decent quality and standard of life and enough money in their back pockets to be able to enjoy themselves.

If we get everybody's co-operation we could possibly get through four more questions before 12 noon. I ask everybody to adhere to the time constraints.

I am sorry, Chairman.

You are fine. I am trying to accommodate the Members who are waiting to have their questions answered.

State Pension (Contributory)

Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

9. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when legislation will be brought forward to give effect to the approach that will correct the anomalies relating to contributory pensions post 2012; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19251/18]

Martin Heydon

Question:

10. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the timeframe for reviews of contributory pensions for those who took time out of work to care for the family, following changes announced in 2017; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19300/18]

Deputy Heydon has indicated that he wants Deputy Deering to take his question. I have no difficulty with that. I call Deputy Aindrias Moynihan to introduce his question.

The people who lost out to the unfair 2012 pension cuts know that time is not on their side. It was right and proper for the Minister to announce that it would be corrected earlier this year. She stated in March that there would be legislation and that people would be contacted in the autumn with a view to payment from the beginning of next year. It is now May and there is no legislation. While it is a small slippage, people are conscious of time. They want to ensure that there will be no further slippage and that it will be delivered.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 10 together.

The introduction of a total contributions approach, TCA, to pensions calculation was signalled by the then Government in the national pensions framework in 2010, with a target date of 2020 for its implementation. On 23 January last, this Government agreed to a proposal that will allow pensioners affected by the 2012 changes in rate bands to have their pension entitlement calculated on a TCA basis, including provision for up to 20 years of a new home caring credit.

TCA ensures that the totality of a person’s social insurance contributions, as opposed to the timing of them, determines what their final pension outcome will be. In particular it will benefit people whose work history includes an extended period of time outside the paid workplace raising families or in a full-time caring role. Crucially, unlike the proposed homemaking credits proposed in 2010, the home caring credit now proposed will apply to periods both before and after 1994. This recognises that most people reaching pension age between 2012 and 2019, if they had taken a home caring break, would most likely have done so before 1994.

This approach will make it easier for many post-2012 pensioners affected by the 2012 rate band changes and who are currently assessed under the yearly average model to qualify for a higher rate of the contributory State pension. A person who reached pension age after 1 September 2012 and who has a 40 year record of paid and credited social insurance contributions, subject to a maximum of 20 years of the new home caring credits, will qualify for a maximum contributory pension where they satisfy the other qualifying conditions. Up to ten years of other credits can be awarded when they were on jobseekers or illness benefit and they are also subject to the total credits not exceeding 20 years.

Legislation has to be drafted and enacted to enable implementation of these arrangements, and a number of options regarding the best approach to passing that legislation are being considered. At this stage I propose to introduce the legislation as part of the social welfare budget Bill later this year. Following this, what is most important is that the information technology, IT, solutions are in line with the legislation because I have made a commitment to pay people from the first quarter of next year. I must ensure that the IT systems are developed to proceed with those plans. Accordingly, it is planned that the reviews will commence in the final quarter of this year, with the first payments being made in the first quarter of 2019.

The commitment we made in January for the payments to be dated from 26 March last still stands. The legislation will be introduced as part of one of our other Bills this year, as opposed to a stand-alone measure, and the IT systems will be ready and up and running to start making payments to the women and men who were affected by the band rate changes in 2012 by the beginning of next year.

The Minister originally envisaged contacting people in the autumn about setting out how it would impact on them. Has that date now moved or does she still intend to contact people even though the legislation might not be available until some time later? The other aspect is that people want to see how this will affect their individual situations and the different conditions attached to it, for example, the ten years that will be available for people to get stamps. Will they be defined in the legislation? Will people have to wait until the autumn to see that and to establish how it will affect them or will it be available much sooner? The date from which the payments will commence was originally set as the end of March this year. Is that date still firm? Perhaps the Minister will respond to those three points regarding the ten years, when she will contact people and the date in March.

I thank the Minister for providing for greater clarity as to when the review is to happen and payments will be made. That is the most important aspect. This has been one of the biggest measures of inequality since it was introduced a number of years ago and it is right and proper that it be addressed now. Does the Minister have figures at this stage for the total numbers of people who have missed out? Will all them, male or female, be addressed?

The legislation is being drafted. I hope to bring it forward as part of one of the Bills currently before the House or perhaps the social welfare Bill later in the year. The proposed timeframe for contacting people has not slipped. Everyone who has become a pensioner since 2012 will be contacted, with a view to assessing them under the changes that have been made. During that process they will be assigned a home caring credit if they were carers before 1994, an illness or a job seeking credit. In many cases, they will already have a jobseeker's credit and an illness credit because it would have been ascertained during the original assessment made for receipt of their pension payment. However, they will be completely reassessed. Payments under the new and old systems will be offered. Pensioners will make the decision on which system under which they want to be adjudicated on. Whoever opts to be assessed under the new system will have his or her payment made, backdated to 26 March when all of the other changes made in the budget came into play. For example, those who are expecting to receive their lump sum at some point in quarter one of 2019 will find that it was backdated to 26 March 2018. That process has not changed and is not slipping. As I said, we are drafting the legislation. I will bring it forward as part of some other Bill with the co-operation of the House because we have a good number of pieces of legislation which are due to pass through the Houses between now and the end of the summer. The assessment will start later this year and it will then be up to people to determine whether they want to move to the new system or stay within the old one once the payments start in quarter one of next year.

There are options to have ten and 20-year home caring credits. The Minister also referred to jobseekers' and illness credits. Will people only be able to claim for a period of ten years in those circumstances? Will this be set out in the legislation and when will it happen? People such as Tommy and Richard worked overtime in 1973 and were not allowed to have their cards stamped because their income was too great at that stage. That year is now a gap in their records. Will those who find themselves in that situation be able to claim for a period of ten years? How will those ten years be defined? I understood there was to be a public consultation process and that people would have the opportunity to make submissions. What is the position for people who served abroad as volunteers with Gorta, Concern, the Agency for Personal Service Overseas or any such organisation? They should also be able to access the ten-year credit.

The important aspect is the timeframe. We have lost a number of years and I believe it is important that the Minister adhere to the timeframes she has outlined. The key point is that we will see the first of the payments being made in quarter one of 2019. I am concerned that everyone who lost out, male or female, will have the opportunity to redress the situation. I understand a number of males do not appear to be any better off as a result of the review.

The overall move from an averaging to a total contributions system will probably be the subject of a public consultation process next month. We will I hope have a very detailed and inclusive public consultation process, for both stakeholders and future pensioners, during the course of the summer months. It will be entirely separate from this particular fix. Ten-year credits are not new and will, therefore, not form part of the new legislation. The intention is to provide a 20-year home caring credit for most of the people concerned. They would not previously have been able to avail of it because it was only introduced in 1994. In the example Deputy Aindrias Moynihan gave, the people in question paid stamp in the particular period. They cannot have two stamps, notwithstanding how much they earned.

Their records are blank.

I do not understand why that is the case. Perhaps the Deputy might come to me with the details and I will look into the matter. If they had worked, they should have a stamp; it is as simple as that.

I reassure the Deputy the timelines have not slipped. The commitment we made earlier this year was to address the anomaly, bring forward the legislation, invite people to be adjudicated on or assessed under the new model or the model under which they were being assessed and allow them to choose whether if they wanted to change to the new model. If they choose to move to the new model, the payment will be backdated to 26 March 2018, even though it will not be paid until quarter one of 2019.

JobPath Programme

Willie Penrose

Question:

11. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to review the JobPath programme. [19220/18]

In a context in which the level of long-term unemployment is thankfully falling rapidly, will the Minister continue the JobPath programme? Will a value for money review of the programme be provided for? I ask these questions in the context of the welcome announcement that from 1 June people will be able to participate in community employment schemes and Tús. If they were not allowed to participate, many schemes across the country would collapse.

I recently announced that people engaged with the JobPath service would, from 1 June, have the option of applying for community employment scheme and Tús placements while continuing to work with the JobPath programme. This will ensure jobseekers can benefit both from the job seeking support of the JobPath service and also avail of part-time work placements provided by Tús or under the community employment scheme. I believe the Deputy is aware that community employment scheme host companies and the ILDN have been in contact with me on a number of occasions in the past year to voice their concern that the vacancy rate for the very valuable services they provide in their counties is too high. The change which will come into effect on 1 June was an easy decision to make and I was pleased to make it.

JobPath is an employment activation service designed to support long-term unemployed persons to secure sustainable employment. Those who engage with the service are assigned a dedicated employment personal adviser who works with them on a one-to-one basis. The providers work with employers to source jobs that are suitable for the jobseekers concerned. To date, approximately 160,000 participants have engaged with the service.

Case management services such as those provided by JobPath providers and the Department’s Intreo service and the local employment service are shown internationally to be the most effective form of what is known as an active labour market programme. Other types of programme include training programmes and schemes such as the community employment scheme and Tús. They also provide important supports. However, they should be delivered alongside case management services, rather than as an alternative to such services.

In 2017, as part of an ongoing programme of tracking customer satisfaction, the Department commissioned an independent survey of customer experience of the JobPath service. Between 76% and 81% of customers surveyed were satisfied with the service and believed JobPath had improved their chances of finding a job. Furthermore, the Department has published four performance reports covering those who commenced engagement with the service between July 2015 and June 2016. Employment outcomes among this group are higher than among other groups not referred to the service. These data and the results of the surveys are available on the Department’s website. In addition, the Department regularly carries out on-site inspections to ensure the JobPath programme is delivered in accordance not only with the contractual obligations but also the motivations and ambitions the Department has for the service.

Additional information not given on the floor of House

To date, 54 on-site inspections have been carried out and, again, the results have been satisfactory.

A full econometric evaluation of the service has commenced and is expected to be completed by the start of quarter 4 of this year. Although I have no plans to review the service at this time, the results of the econometric review will inform our approach during 2019.

I understand the Minister has embarked on an econometric review of the JobPath programme. I am asking that a value for money review be included. I also believe there should be an assessment of the number of people focused on by JobPath aged 60 years and over. I know that many people living in rural areas, particularly women, who were targeted by JobPath could not participate. The programme was managed in a heavy-handed manner and I was very annoyed about it. I am surprised by the satisfaction statistics the Minister has outlined because I certainly did not pick up on them. It is good news that the level of unemployment has fallen. That is welcome, but I certainly do not share the rosy view of JobPath the Minister seems to hold. It did not allow people to participate in community employment schemes and Tús. It blocked there participation in such schemes and the Minister has correctly removed the blockage. I am aware that she has received advice from many people, including from within her Department.

I agree with the Deputy. Bad news tends to travel around the world much more quickly than good news.

However, the survey and, importantly, the job numbers arising from this programme speak for themselves. It is probably the most successful activation programme in the history of the State.

We are conducting an econometric review, the purpose of which is to evaluate JobPath as a service and accurately estimate the impact of its interventions on people's labour market outcomes. My Department is developing a new approach using cluster analysis. The review will spread long-term jobseekers who have engaged with JobPath into clusters based on age, gender, location, employment history, education and other distinctions. It will then examine the actual interventions that each of these clusters experienced and, using a statistical analysis, identify which led to the best outcomes for each cohort. I hope that this will provide a sound, evidence-based database for the improvement of our existing activation services and the design of new ones. Work on the review has commenced and I hope to have it before the end of the year.

Surely the Department will now be able to support people into employment using its own resources instead of outsourcing that work. Regarding CE schemes, surely it is time to change the criteria and allow participants who reach 60 or 61 years of age to continue in those schemes for the next two, three or four years, which would bring them up to the pension age if they have not been in a position to secure alternative employment. For example, the Minister is aware of Dún na Sí Amenity and Heritage Park in Moate. Many of the people who have reached 60 or 61 years of age and have done their five years wish to continue on. They have no hope of securing alternative employment. A lot of work is being done, but CE schemes are part rehabilitation as well as part retraining and part activation. The Moate scheme was starved of people because they were not allowed to continue. The changes that the Minister has made will help, but people who have reached a certain age should be allowed to continue if they have not been able to secure alternative employment or activation. The Minister should make that change.

As I stated at the outset, representations have been made to me by CE host companies and the Irish Local Development Network, ILDN, over the past year. They needed more people to ensure the viability of the services and supports they offered to the people on the schemes and the communities they supported. That is why we made the change.

The Deputy may be under the wrong impression that JobPath providers stopped people from joining CE and Tús schemes. People were simply not allowed to do so under the programme. We do not allow people to be on two schemes simultaneously. It was probably because we had too many people on the unemployment register at one point that this was not possible. Thankfully, the number of people on the register is now dropping, which is why we were able to make the change last week. If the number ever increases again, though, we will have to reconsider that.

I share the Deputy's view on the age limitations. I have been working on this matter since I was lucky enough to be placed in this role last year. I have been unsuccessful so far, but I have another magic ace up my sleeve, so we might discuss the issue again.

I hope the Minister wins that battle.

Fuel Allowance Expenditure

Michael Moynihan

Question:

12. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to increase the fuel allowance for the elderly to cover the extended cold period. [11376/18]

This year saw an extended cold period lasting up to recent weeks, but fuel poverty is a consistent issue. The Department must have contingency plans in place for the future, as there is no point in reviewing this matter after a crisis strikes. Will the Minister outline those plans?

I wish I had a contingency budget just sitting around for rainy days, but I thank the Deputy for his question. The fuel allowance is a payment of an extra €22.50 per week from October to April to more than 338,000 lower income households at an estimated cost to the Exchequer of €227 million in 2018. The purpose of the payment is to assist those households with their energy costs. The allowance represents a contribution towards their energy costs only and is not intended to meet those costs in full. As the Deputy is aware, only one allowance is paid per household.

In budget 2018 and with the support of the Deputy's colleague, I extended the duration of the fuel allowance season by one week to 27 weeks, which is more than half of the year. That season is longer than the winter period in Ireland and provides assistance during what are largely colder weeks when heating costs are expected to be at a higher rate. We are having the most wonderful climate change reactions, however. One day it is lovely and warm and the next it is Baltic. The extension of our changing weather patterns needs to be reflected by a quick response from the Department. Given the severity of the weather changes in March, we were able to make an extra week's payment of €22.50, which was desperately needed. I have no further plans in this regard for this year's budget because I do not have a contingency or a reserve, but the Department is preparing a report on fuel poverty for discussion with the social protection committee. This is being done so that, if adjustments to the scheme are required, they can be made within the confines of the budgetary negotiations this year or next year.

I thank the Minister for her reply. That report will be crucial. The Department will have to identify those people who, living predominantly on their own, must rely solely on their pensions to cover their living costs. All of the fuel allowance is accounted for, but some people are still not using their oil heating or putting on fires at various times of the day because the electricity allowance is not high enough to pay for it. We must use a number of approaches to identify these people, in particular elderly individuals. During the heavy snow fall in the last days of February and first days of March, our constituency offices received telephone calls asking what we could do to help people. When adverse weather threatens, the advice is to check on elderly neighbours and friends and vulnerable people. By and large, that gets done because we have a great community spirit, but the real issue - funding - is hidden well under the carpet.

I hope that the report will be finished in the short term and identify people who need the payment period to be extended.

I hope to be able to bring the report to the Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection before the summer. We need a few months to make inroads if we are to avoid making the budgetary negotiations longer and more painful than they need to be. It will give us time to determine what the impacts are, particularly on families on fixed incomes to whom the Deputy referred. However, there are other payments - "schemes" is not the right word - to people on fixed incomes in recognition of the fact that it is difficult to live an entire life and pay for everything the Deputy described on just that single payment. We have the living alone allowance, the fuel allowance and the new telephone allowance, which will be introduced in June.

I am open to considering ways for us to satisfy people's needs, but I want to base that consideration on data, which I hope we will have to hand in the form of the report this summer.

Rather than pension recipients alone, people in receipt of invalidity pensions or the disability allowance also need to be considered. I hope that the report will do so. That younger widows and widowers who are dependent on pensions do not qualify for a number of payments should be considered as well. In truth, I am referring as a whole to households that are solely dependent on social welfare and at risk of poverty, including fuel poverty.

At the moment, the fuel allowance is only paid to a particular cohort of people, but the report that I hope to bring to the committee will not just address them. Rather, it will be a report on fuel poverty. As the Deputy is well aware, poverty knows no doors or windows that can stop it. The report will be all-encompassing and cover every section of society so that we can determine the best changes to be made to our payment supports.

My Department's supports are focused on people who either have no income and, therefore, no support external to what the State gives them or who, being on low incomes, need supplements to have a certain standard of living.

I will take Question No. 13 if Deputy Penrose is willing to forgo its introduction and the Minister's response is short, and there will then be time for a brief supplementary question and answer.

Community Employment Schemes Supervisors

Willie Penrose

Question:

13. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to address the pension concerns of community employment supervisors. [19223/18]

The issue of addressing the entitlement of community employment supervisors to occupational pensions is primarily a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. For the record, it should be noted that my Department is not the employer of CE supervisors and, therefore, such employees are not public servants. They are employees of limited companies that receive public funding.

It should also be noted that the issue of CE supervisors' pension provision is being examined by a community sector high level forum, chaired by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. My Department is represented on this group, as are the unions, Pobal and other relevant Departments, but it has only one input.

I am conscious of the need for a resolution of this matter. I am also conscious that this issue requires careful consideration, having regard to the hundreds of thousands of people who work in the community and voluntary sector and the implications of any decision on scarce Exchequer resources, particularly in light of the large size of the community and voluntary sector in Ireland.

Is the Minister aware that previous Ministers for Public Expenditure and Reform and Environment, Community and Local Government put in place an ex gratia payment to circumscribe the numbers involved such that no precedential value was set. I have previously given details on the number of assistant supervisors and supervisors on CE schemes who will be left impecunious when they retire and their incomes drop from €500 or €600 per week to €120 or €200 per week, which is a huge decrease. This ex gratia system was accepted by the trade unions and everybody involved. Perhaps when the Department next has an input into the forum the Minister's officials will seek to ensure this payment is brought back to the table as it would solve many of the issues. Many of those involved have only five or six years left in work and as such they will not be entitled to a full pension but they are prepared to subscribe to a pension scheme going forward. They are well aware of the situation. They are not fools.

I am not aware of the ex gratia payment. When it was brought to my attention by Deputy Howlin last week, I was not aware of it so I sought a report on it.

I am happy to meet the Minister to discuss it.

This particular issue is years in the brewing. It has been through a Fianna Fáil Minister for Social Protection and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, a Labour Party Minister for Social Protection and Minister for Public Expenditure and currently a Fine Gael Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. If this was an easy issue to resolve, it would have been done years ago.

A solution is possible.

We do acknowledge that there is a resolution that needs to be found but it needs to be found within the confines of the Labour Court recommendation that it cannot be to the detriment of the CE schemes and placements. Also, as custodians of taxpayers' money we have to ensure that this does not extend to a far wider and greater reach than the original issue that was put on the table ten years ago.

Again, I am happy to meet the Minister to discuss the issue.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.