Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Covid-19 Pandemic

Thomas Pringle

Question:

6. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Social Protection the examinations being undertaken in relation to the instances of Covid-19 compared with the Pobal areas of deprivation throughout the country; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39849/20]

On the social protection examinations that been undertaken since Covid-19 and the areas of deprivation that go along with that, it is no surprise that the areas of highest incidence of Covid-19 are also the areas of highest deprivation and dependence on social welfare payments, together with low pay. Has the Minister's Department looked at and has it got any figures on that issue?

Analysis of the instances of Covid-19 throughout the country does not fall within the remit of my Department as it is more proper to the Department of Health. However, my Department has made enquiries with the Department of Health, which has provided the following information. Since the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, met for the first time, a commitment was given to collect and publish as much relevant data as possible while ensuring individual patient confidentiality is always maintained. While the nature and scale of the Covid-19 pandemic has been unprecedented, the collection of timely and comprehensive data has been instrumental in developing the health service response to Covid-19 and to the advice provided by NPHET and the Department of Health to assist Government decision-making in the wider response to the disease in Ireland. Comprehensive national statistics, information and data about Covid-19, including a timeline of confirmed cases by date, is published daily on the Department of Health website and on the Covid-19 data hub and dashboards. Links to this data can be found on the gov.ie website.

The published data are based on official figures provided by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, HPSC, and the Health Service Executive. All datasets, charts and maps are updated on an ongoing basis and in line with newly published data. I am also aware that the Covid-19 data hub now offers regularly updated local electoral area, LEA, data. However, as mentioned, care is required to ensure patient confidentiality is preserved and no potential identification of individual cases arises. As a result, the data relating to confirmed cases by LEA are published weekly on a Thursday, reflecting new cases notified in each LEA for the 14-day period up to midnight on the previous Monday. The Deputy may also wish to note that a range of data on the epidemiology of Covid-19 in Ireland, including data on county incidence levels and trends in transmission, are published in the daily report by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre and is available on its website along with a daily report on the last 14 days in cases.

In the Department of Social Protection, 2,363 people were in receipt of the enhanced illness benefit as of 23 November. To date, more than 89,000 people have been medically certified for receipt of a Covid-19-related illness benefit payment.

I thank the Minister of State for the information which is, nevertheless, widely available. Has the Department looked at this issue? As the Department of Social Protection, it should be looking at how people are surviving, and Covid-19 is the main event that is taking place. It is not enough for the Department of Health only to be looking at this. The Department of Social Protection should also be looking at this.

I take it from the Minister of State's response that his Department has not taken a look at this. Will he rectify this position because this is vitally important? There are clear links between poverty and Covid-19 outbreaks. The fact that people share accommodation and have to work in jobs that put them at risk and are low paid has huge implications for the Department of Social Protection in our fight against Covid-19.

On the Deputy's question on the Pobal HP deprivation index, this is Ireland's primary social gradient tool used by numerous State agencies for the identification of disadvantage to target resources towards communities most in need. The index is recognised as a robust and reliable tool for the identification of relative levels of affluence or disadvantage across geographic areas by using existing data from the national census. The index allows for an objective regional and local assessment of relative disadvantage and affluence at the small area level which can be used both for targeting resources as well as measuring change over time.

There are currently no examinations being undertaken to map the incidence of Covid-19 to the Pobal HP deprivation index that Pobal is aware of. The Pobal HP deprivation index is freely available for researchers and policymakers to use from the Pobal website. While Pobal had initially intended to undertake such an examination itself, the necessary level of granular geographic incidence rate is currently not available to Pobal for such an examination to take place.

Does the Department of Social Protection not consider that it is something it should be interested in, because I believe it has a direct bearing on people? I ask the Department to look at it and see. I do not think that is too much to ask.

I chair an interdepartmental group which monitors the implementation of the social inclusion roadmap. We monitor poverty levels. The Deputy will be aware of the at-risk poverty rate, which is the percentage of people with an equivalised disposable income below 60% of the national equivalised median rate. We also monitor the basic deprivation rate and key in all of that is the consistent poverty rate, which is the percentage of the population that is both at risk of poverty and experiencing basic deprivation. It was 5.5% in 2019 compared with a 2018 rate 5.6%.

I also chaired the first interdepartmental group three to four weeks ago and I specifically raised this issue with the various Departments. I said that they needed to keep an eye out for the people using their services and how they were going to be adversely impacted by Covid-19, particularly those on the margins. I will be following that up at the next interdepartmental meeting.

JobPath Programme

Brian Stanley

Question:

7. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will consider a review of the JobPath programme; and her views on whether it has provided value for money for the State. [30677/20]

Ní fheicim an Teachta Stanley. An bhfuil an Teachta Kerrane ag tógáil na ceiste seo ar a shon? Is Deputy Kerrane taking the question for deputy Stanley?

Yes. The question asks if the Minister will consider a review of the JobPath programme and her views on whether it has provided value for money for the State.

I thank the Acting Chairman and the Deputy. Internationally and in Ireland, research consistently indicates that the provision of a personal advisory case management service to unemployed jobseekers is an effective method of supporting jobseekers to secure and sustain employment. JobPath is simply a mechanism through which this support is provided. It provides long term unemployed jobseekers with access to an employment assistance and advice service for a period of 12 months. It is a payment by results model with day-to-day operational costs and risks borne by the contractors. They are paid on the basis of performance and, with the exception of the initial registration fee, payments are made only when a client achieves sustained, full-time employment.

Job sustainment fees are payable for each 13-week period of sustained employment, up to a maximum of 52 weeks. The total cost of the JobPath service from 2015 to the end of October this year is €247.9 million. Given the total number of engagements to date is almost 284,000, the cost per client is €873. Delivering 12 months of employment service engagement, which requires meeting every client once every 20 working days, at this cost provides value for money and compares favourably with other contracted public employment services.

To date more than 168,000 individuals had completed at least one full engagement with JobPath. In excess of 64,000 jobseekers who had engaged with JobPath had secured employment. In 2019, my Department published a review, in partnership with the OECD, measuring JobPath's effectiveness. Findings indicated that weekly earnings of people who secured employment after JobPath engagement were 17% higher than the weekly employment earnings of people who secured employment without the support of JobPath in 2018.

Taken with the 26% improvement in employment outcomes or the likelihood of a person getting a job in the same period, it means the overall positive impact was 37% in 2018 for those supported by the JobPath service.

The Minister stated 64,000 people secured employment but she did not add that they did not sustain that employment for anywhere close to a year. In fact, the number who sustained it for a year is much lower.

With regard to the cost per client, the Minister cited a figure of €873. `Will she confirm that the referral fee of €311 is paid every time a person is referred, regardless of whether it is for the second or third time? We are aware that people have been referred for a second and third time. If the fee is paid on each occasion, it does not represent value for money.

On the cost per client of €873, the Minister will be aware that there is a fee for each of the four 13-week periods for which a job is sustained. The four sustainment fees are €613, €773, €892 and €1,965. For every person who sustains a job for one year, there is a payment to the company of €3,718.

I understand the average is €838 per person who sustains a job through JobPath. The Deputy asked whether a payment is received if a person is referred for a second or third time. I believe it is the case but I do not want to give the Deputy an incorrect answer. I will clarify the matter for her.

JobPath is just one part of the jigsaw. We are also expanding the capacity of other contracted employment services, such as local employment services, job clubs and employability services. The contracts are also being extended into next year. I had a very good meeting with the local employment service providers last week at which I outlined clearly to them that they are going to play a vital role in getting people back to work. I want to increase the capacity of the local employment services by 50%, from 20,000 to 30,000. I also want to expand the community-based contracted service into four new geographical areas where a local employment service does not currently exist. My Department hopes to issue a tender for those services before the end of the year. We are also expanding the capacity of job search support services provided by the Intreo offices countrywide.

I welcome the fact that the Minister is to revert to me on the referral fee. If that fee is paid every time the same person is referred, which can be up to three times, and if there are more than 1,000 people in this category, as in this case, it means €10 million alone is given to the companies. If that is the case, as I believe, it does not represent value for money.

I welcome what the Minister said about the local employment service. It is excellent and community based, and it includes the wrap-around supports, which are really important right now when people are suffering in other ways, particularly regarding mental health. Again, I ask the Minister to consider the average payment because there are four sustainment fees that increase every 13 weeks.

With regard to community employment, CE, and additional places in that regard, CE schemes cannot find participants to fill their places because everyone is being pushed into JobPath. The Minister should really investigate the impact of JobPath on other schemes.

The total number of people engaged in JobPath is more than 280,000, giving a total cost per client of €873, delivering 12 months of employment service since engagement. This cost compares favourably with the cost of the Intreo and local employment services and provides value for money for taxpayers. I want to be clear on that.

The maximum number of times a person can be referred under JobPath will be two. One of the two companies delivering the JobPath service is a farmers' co-operative. It is not a commercial enterprise and it is not for profit. The other company is an employee trust. It is owned by the employees and it is not commercial. Neither of the two companies delivering the JobPath service, Turas Nua and Seetec, is profit driven. The House should be made aware that they do not involve people coming in to try to make huge sums of money on the back of people looking for work.

Has there been any analysis of the hard cases for whom JobPath has not been able to secure employment? Has the Minister any figures on this? Has her Department had any engagement with the Open Doors Initiative or the Irish Association for Social Inclusion Opportunities?

We are obviously engaging with people. People referred to the employment services are the long-term unemployed who have difficulty in getting work. They are referred to the services so they can get the help they need to identify suitable jobs. We do not actually provide them with jobs but we provide them with the assistance they need. We continue to engage with them regularly to try to provide the supports. Some of the supports needed to get people back to work are very specific and tailored. What we want to do is work with those concerned, especially through the local employment services, JobPath providers and Intreo offices. All the services exist to help to get people back into the workforce. Sometimes it does not work so we re-engage and try to help those concerned and walk with them. It must be acknowledged that, for some, it is difficult. I acknowledge the work of all the staff in the service. I spoke to representatives of the local employment services and of the local development companies last week. They really are doing wonderful work.

Community Employment Schemes

Alan Dillon

Question:

8. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Social Protection her plans to increase the number of places on community employment, CE, schemes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39720/20]

What are the Minister of State's plans to increase the number of places on the CE scheme? Will he make a statement on the matter?

The CE scheme is a State employment scheme that provides the opportunity for long-term unemployed people to contribute to their communities while at the same time upskilling themselves for employment opportunities that will become available. CE placements can play an important role in breaking the cycle of long-term unemployment for some and improve their chances of employment.

As part of the July job stimulus, the Government announced 3,000 additional places on State employment schemes, including CE and Tús. My departmental officials will work with CE-sponsoring authorities to make the additional CE placements available to suitable initiatives, subject to the agreed scheme qualification criteria.

The CE budget for 2020 is €364 million. At the end of October 2020, there were 19,244 participants in the scheme. While referrals to CE schemes can continue during the period of public health restrictions, the number of new placements has obviously been impacted by both the need for some schemes to suspend or reduce operations and the fact that Department staff have been redeployed to support the payment of the pandemic unemployment payment. During this period, CE-sponsoring authorities were supported in extending the placements of people whose placements were due to end and were encouraged to promote awareness of the benefits of CE and CE schemes in their communities, ensuring the CE vacancies were well publicised. They can advertise their existing CE vacancies free of charge on the Department’s JobsIreland website.

As restrictions are lifted, my Department will work collaboratively with CE sponsors to identify and refer candidates not just to fill existing CE vacancies but also to establish and fill the additional places provided under the July jobs stimulus package. I am fully committed to the future of this programme and I will continue to support and improve it for the benefit of the CE participants and because of the valuable contribution being made to local communities.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. I recognise the full value of the CE schemes, especially for participants in rural communities. They provide vital social and community services that otherwise could not be afforded by many organisations. These include childcare, including early childhood care, environmental and resource work, bus driving, caretaking and other work of this kind. They are very much part of the local voluntary and sports organisations. Participants do fantastic work within their communities. It is crucial that we broaden the CE schemes to include a greater number of people on the live register and that we standardise conditions in respect of duration, pay and the training budget allocated for each scheme.

I would like to get an understanding of what we are doing to improve the budget around training and make it more attractive for participants to uptake into the CE schemes.

Question No. 30, in my name, is identical to Question No. 8 and I cannot understand why they are not grouped.

With regard to the additional places that are being made available, what policy, if any, does the Minister have to include people with disabilities and those from disadvantaged areas, migrant backgrounds, the Traveller community and so on? Does he have any breakdown on the gender issues with respect to community employment and Tús schemes? How many men and women are in those schemes?

I do not have that data to hand but I am committed to ensuring that the groups the Deputy mentioned get access to the CE scheme. That is high on our agenda. CE is focused on the long-term unemployed and it is important to keep that in mind. In March next year, another group of people, hopefully not too large, will qualify for CE. We will be looking at the profile of people who most need assistance and targeting it where it belongs.

We understand that the CE scheme is used as a stepping stone back to employment and that positions are neither full time nor sustainable over a long period of time. I am aware that the former Minister, now Senator Doherty, agreed to an interdepartmental group, IDG, to explore social inclusion schemes. The current Minister previously mentioned that she recently chaired a group meeting. Can she provide an update on where that IDG report is at and when it will be published?

The IDG report is with the Department and under consideration at the moment. I am not sure if it is going to get published by the end of the year but it is under consideration. I hope we will see it early in the new year.

Personal Public Service Numbers

Claire Kerrane

Question:

9. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Social Protection if her attention has been drawn to long delays for persons applying for PPS numbers; the number of applications pending a decision; if additional resources have been put in place to assist with the backlog; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39997/20]

Rose Conway-Walsh

Question:

11. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Social Protection the status of the waiting lists for PPS numbers; if her attention has been drawn to the negative impact this has had on workers and businesses; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40008/20]

This question asks the Minister whether she is aware of the long delays that people are experiencing when applying for personal public service, PPS, numbers. Can she give us the number of applications that are pending decision at the moment? Will she consider putting in additional resources in order to clear the backlog, or is this something she has already done?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 11 together.

The SAFE registration process, which involves the authentication of a person's identity in a face-to-face interview, is the normal method of processing an application for a personal public service number, PPSN.

At the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, my Department temporarily suspended the SAFE registration process. This decision was taken in order to comply with HSE and World Health Organization public health guidelines. Although this suspension was lifted in June when restrictions eased, the throughput in terms of processing applications was lower than normal due to the need to limit footfall into our offices in line with social distancing requirements. In order to deal with these constraints and as an exceptional measure, my Department introduced an email and postal service through which PPSN applications could be made. By its nature this temporary service is not as efficient as the face-to-face process it has replaced. For example, any issues which arise regarding supporting documentation take longer to resolve than would be the case in a face-to-face environment. In addition, delays in issuing PPS numbers arose as staff in my Department were reassigned to deal with a huge increase in claim processing work arising as a consequence of the pandemic. In this context, it was necessary, as I am sure the Deputies will understand, to prioritise getting people into payment above all other activities.

I am very conscious of the impact of the measures we had to take on issuing PPS numbers and my Department has liaised with other public bodies, employers and other agencies to deal with urgent cases as quickly as possible. Since the introduction of this temporary service, my Department has allocated almost 34,000 PPS numbers and is currently dealing with approximately just over 22,000 applications, most of which are now being processed.

In recent weeks, my Department has reassigned resources to deal with these applications. This will result in improved processing times and will substantially further reduce the number of applications on hand over the next few weeks. In addition, as level 5 restrictions are lifted, my Department is now resuming SAFE registrations for PPSN applicants.

As public representatives, we engage with staff of the Department at local level through our constituency offices and many Members of the House will agree when I acknowledge the monumental effort that the staff have put in this year, at a time of national crisis, to ensure that payments were issued to those who needed it. Since March, staff have processed 1.5 million claims, issued 13 million payments to 800,000 people and processed the equivalent of seven years' worth of jobseeker's applications in eight months. On top of that, we issued €130 million in arrears to 286,000 people this year. Next week, we will pay €389 million on the Christmas bonus. I pay tribute to the staff and I know that the Deputies here will agree when I say that the staff of the Department of Social Protection were front-line workers. They provided the absolutely essential supports that people across the country needed. I acknowledge that. It is sometimes easy to forget that the Department and the staff have managed to do that on top of their normal, day-to-day work processing pensions, disability payments and carer's allowance. It is sometimes easy to take for granted that things will run smoothly and payments will be there every week but much work goes on behind the scenes to make that happen. It has been a monumental effort, across the board, by staff in every county to keep the show on the road this year. It is important that we acknowledge the effort, the huge amount of hours, overtime and weekend work they have done to make sure that everybody got their payments as quickly and efficiently as possible.

I thank the Minister. I, too, pay tribute to the staff, not only those who were reassigned to deal with the pandemic unemployment payment but also those who were left behind in smaller numbers than usual to deal with the likes of applications for PPS numbers. I have been inundated by contacts from people for the past number of months. We know that real issues are caused when people are left waiting for PPS numbers. I am currently dealing with someone who is trying to buy a house but has no PPS number and their solicitor has advised that there is a 20-week waiting time for a number. Another person who has moved to my county of Roscommon is looking to set up a business and therefore needs a PPS number for a number of things. He needs it within 30 days to import his car from England. Revenue has told him that he has 30 days to do that but the PPS section has told him he will not have his PPS number within 30 days. That causes real difficulties for people who are trying to do their best in whatever situation they are in.

I asked about the backlog and the Minister said that 22,000 applications are being dealt with at the moment. How many staff are dealing with that backlog?

I thank the Minister and take on board what she said about the PPS numbers. The reason that I submitted this question was that a constituent has had construction staff sitting idle for months now because they could not do the Safe Pass test. Will the Minister liaise directly with SOLAS to ensure that at least those people who are waiting for PPS numbers can do the Safe Pass test? The woman employing the constriction staff has been asking for flexibility to be shown for months to allow her new employees to be able to do the Safe Pass course. Meanwhile, the staff have been unable to work and she has been supporting and accommodating them. I know that the Minister appreciates how difficult things already are for businesses without having to do this.

I completely understand the challenges Covid has presented for the issuing of PPS numbers and I hope to see an improvement in this. If there was some way the Safe Pass course could be freed up, that would be great.

I had a similar question, No. 79, which I would have expected to be grouped. People have been waiting months to get PPS numbers. For example, a lady who is a qualified nurse was waiting from June until October to start work in a nursing home and get up and running. She is an essential worker, as I am sure the Minister agrees. Similarly, a Lisburn man returning from Australia and wanting to get up and running in Cork has been waiting almost six weeks to get his PPS number, facing into Christmas and just wanting to get on with work.

The Minister has outlined some of the measures being put in place. How many people does the Department have on that? How many extra have been put in? Are essential workers being prioritised? If so, how much faster is it for an essential worker? What kind of target does the Minister have in mind to turn around those PPS numbers that are so essential for people who want to get going at their work?

I thank all the Deputies for raising this issue. It is something I am very aware of from my own constituency office. This week, 200 additional people have been moved into the section that works on PPS numbers. Deputies can understand that getting money in people's pockets in terms of the PUP was an absolute priority. Then people were depending on arrears to come. Some people were owed arrears, mainly because insufficient information had come in and we could not process the claims. Then we got the information, processed the claims and they went through 1.6 million applications. This week we have paid out arrears to 286,000 people, totalling €130 million.

That will give some idea of the volume of work that the Department of Social Protection has been dealing with. I accept there have been delays with PPS numbers but Deputies will be glad to hear that more staff are going into it. It is a priority for us to try to process them as quickly as possible. If there are any specific cases the Deputies want to bring to my attention, I will be happy to deal with them. We are doing everything we can and the staff are working as hard as they can to get this dealt with.

I welcome that 200 additional people have been moved into that service to reduce the backlog. As the Minister has acknowledged, there are huge difficulties. While I appreciate that getting money into people's pockets was the priority during Covid, the Minister also acknowledged that there are huge difficulties for people trying to get PPS numbers for various purposes, such as taking up a job or buying a house. I welcome the action the Minister has taken and I hope it will see the average waiting time for people reduce quickly.

I take on board what the Minister says. I look forward to an improvement in it. Perhaps the Minister could liaise on the transfer over of cars. People are trying to get their cars transferred over but cannot do so because they do not have PPS numbers. A bit of common sense and flexibility around it would go a long way. I commend staff who have done Trojan work on this, the PUP and other issues.

A situation is arising for the workers and the Mandate union in Shaws in Castlebar. They think they are not entitled to the PUP because they restarted at work last year. It is a separate but connected question and if the Minister could bring clarity to that, it would be great.

I acknowledge the substantial work staff are doing. The Minister is aware of it as well, as she has pointed out. They are doing it in a very challenging time. I also welcome the 200 extra people assigned to deal with the PPS numbers. That will be helpful. Will the Minister outline what kind of target time she is setting out to achieve? How soon can people reasonably expect that, having made an ordinary application, they will have a PPS number? Will it be a month or six weeks, when it is up and running? Tá sé fíorthábhachtach go mbeadh daoine ábalta uimhreacha PPS a fháil agus tá moill mhór sa chóras. Mar sin, tá sé an-tábhachtach go ndéantar gach iarracht rudaí a bhrú chun cinn. What is the Minister's target time and is she prioritising any essential workers? How much faster is the essential worker getting their PPS number than the ordinary applicant?

I acknowledge the work and the courtesy of the staff in the offices around the country. They are great. A change has been made in PPS numbers. In the past, wives and husbands were linked with the same number. The only difference was that "w" was after the wives' number. That has been changed, thankfully and properly, and everybody has been given their own individual number. However, many women do not know this and I have a case of a woman applying for her driving licence who was told the PPS number she had, with "w" at the end, would not work. She had to get a new PPS number, which is causing further delays. She did not know that. First, will the Minister do something to inform people of this change so they can apply for the new PPS number in time? Second, is there any way they could still use the old PPS number to do things like getting driving licences to alleviate the backlog?

That was a bugbear of mine. My number was changed to the same as my husband's with a "w" on the end of it. That is quite some time ago. I got another PPS number a good number of years ago. I do not know if there are many cases where people have not got the new PPS number. I imagine they are few and far between but I will check it out to make sure people are aware they got one in their own right. I do not know why we ever had to be attached in that manner. They were changed and now, thankfully, they are changed back.

On Deputy Moynihan's question, we have put additional resources in. We will try to deal with the backlogs as quickly as possible. I assure the Deputy that arrangements are in place to expedite urgent cases. We are working through them as quickly as we can. Everything will be done to move them on because I know there are cases where people absolutely need to get PPS numbers as quickly as possible, for example to complete the purchase of a property and the drawdown of a mortgage, as Deputy Kerrane said. These instances are across the board. I confirm to the House we are doing everything we can to move the backlog.

Carer's Benefit

Christopher O'Sullivan

Question:

10. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Social Protection if a person will be allowed to apply for carer’s benefit based on the PRSI contributions of their spouse in which the applicant is either self-employed or does not have qualifying contributions in their own right. [30679/20]

I ask the Minister if a person will be allowed to apply for carer’s benefit based on the PRSI contributions of their spouse, where the applicant is either self-employed or does not have the qualifying contributions in their own right.

I thank the Deputy. Carer's benefit is a payment of up to two years' duration made to people who may be required to leave the workforce or reduce their working hours to care for a person in need of full-time care. Under the provisions of the legislation, to be eligible to claim carer's benefit, a claimant must have paid PRSI contributions in classes A, B, C, D, E or H. Self-employed workers who pay social insurance contributions at the class S rate of 4% are not eligible for carer's benefit.

For a first claim, the carer must have 156 PRSI contributions paid since entry into insurance and either 39 contributions paid in the relevant tax year; 39 contributions paid in the 12 months immediately before the commencement of the carer's benefit; or 26 contributions paid in the relevant tax year and 26 contributions paid in the previous relevant tax year.

Entitlement to social insurance benefits is generally dependent on the applicant's social insurance contribution record, the class of social insurance paid and other qualification criteria relevant to the schemes in question. This is to reflect the fact that the payment is made to an individual to address a contingency that he or she is experiencing.

A claim cannot be made for carer's benefit based on the contributions paid by another person, such as a spouse or partner. Where a person does not have the necessary social insurance record, he or she can claim for carer's allowance. The first €332.20 of weekly income for a single person, or €665 for a couple, is disregarded in the means test.

Any proposal to amend social insurance entitlements would have to be considered in a budgetary context, taking account of the current economic circumstances and the sustainability of the Social Insurance Fund. I hope my reply has clarified the issue.

I thank the Minister for her response. While I appreciate that the disregards and allowance bands are high, I have encountered a few tough examples of self-employed people not being able to apply for the same carer's benefit as someone who has been paying PRSI class A. The best thing I can do is provide an example. A self-employed male electrician has a wife who had been in full-time employment paying class A before she fell extremely ill. He may have to leave work to look after her, but he will only be entitled to apply for a means-tested carer's allowance and savings and other means will be taken into account. This impedes the amount for which they can qualify. There is a number of potential solutions. Although I understand that the wife in this instance may be able to apply for illness benefit based on her contributions, could her contributions be used to allow her spouse to apply for carer's benefit?

We cannot change the principle that benefits are paid to the contributor. As the Deputy mentioned, the means-tested carer's allowance is available. The means test has a generous disregard of €665 for a couple. I understand that there are difficult situations, but we have extended supports for the self-employed. For example, they can now get jobseeker's benefit. This is why many self-employed have been able to benefit from the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, which is only right and proper. Many extra benefits have been made available to the self-employed, but in the case outlined, extending a benefit in the way the Deputy requested to attach it to someone else's contributions would represent a fundamental change in the social welfare system.

I understand the Minister's point about claiming carer's benefit on the spouse's contributions, but I am glad that she raised the example of self-employed people being able to avail of jobseeker's benefit by paying class S. That contribution entitles a self-employed person to invalidity pension. This welcome change was made a couple of years ago. Could a self-employed person making class S contributions be allowed to avail of carer's benefit? Could this potential solution be considered?

Yes. That would entail expanding further the benefits relating to a class S stamp. I always want to consider how to review and improve, but this could result in the contribution increasing, given that the benefit is commensurate with the stamp paid. I will consider the proposal and I would be happy to engage with the Deputy.

Question No. 11 answered with Question No. 9.

Youth Unemployment

Emer Higgins

Question:

12. Deputy Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Social Protection the steps she is taking to combat youth unemployment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39723/20]

Neale Richmond

Question:

34. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Social Protection the steps her Department is taking to combat youth unemployment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39964/20]

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill

Question:

53. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Minister for Social Protection the measures under way in her Department to tackle youth unemployment and to support young persons affected by the Covid-19 pandemic; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39999/20]

Can the Minister imagine being told this time last year that she would have to wear a face mask when walking down Grafton Street? The changes we have seen, including in our economy, have been unbelievable. This time last year, our unemployment rate was at just 5%, meaning that 95% of people were working. Today, the number on the PUP is three and a half times that unemployment rate, with half of them being young people. What are we doing to support our young people and reactivate the youth labour market?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 12, 34 and 53 together.

We know from past recessions that young people tend to be disproportionately impacted by any labour market shock. This is because many employers operate a last in, first out protocol when reducing their labour forces and young people tend to work in occupations and sectors that are most immediately affected by economic downturns, for example, retail and hospitality.

Research recently published by my Department shows that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been no different. Youth unemployment stood at just over 10% in quarter 1 of 2020 based on the labour force survey data, with approximately 20,000 under-25s on the live register. By quarter 3 of 2020, these figures had increased to 20% and 25,000, respectively. By the end of October, and if we include PUP recipients, more than 45% of young people in the labour force were unemployed. However, it is important to note that the Government extended access to the PUP to students who worked part time. As a consequence, one in four of those in receipt of PUP and under 25 years of age have self-certified as students. Using internationally recognised standards set by the International Labour Organization, these students would not normally be considered or counted as unemployed.

While young people are disproportionately affected, we know from past recessions that youth unemployment levels typically fall quickly once economic activity resumes. However, the evidence also shows that some young people will remain disconnected from employment and that those who cannot find their footing again tend to suffer permanent scarring effects, with unemployment and social isolation becoming entrenched.

We are taking a number of important steps to create opportunities and options to help young people get back to work. My Department and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science are developing a range of support measures to assist young people. Measures announced under the July jobs stimulus package to combat unemployment include expanding the capacity of Intreo centres to provide enhanced employment services and supports with the assignment of 100 job coaches; expanding the benefit of the JobsPlus recruitment subsidy to employers who hire young people from the live register; providing 35,000 new places in further and higher education courses; providing incentives to employers to take on more apprentices through the provision of a grant of €3,000 to employers for each new apprentice recruited; and facilitating access to the back to education allowance and the back to work enterprise allowance to those displaced by the pandemic by waiving the usual qualifying period. My Department is also developing a new work experience placement programme for those out of work for at least six months to encourage employers to provide jobseekers with the necessary workplace skills to compete in the labour market, thereby helping to break the vicious circle of no job without experience, no experience without a job. I expect to launch the programme in early 2021, subject to public health restrictions.

In developing these programmes and services, the Department is working closely with, and being advised by, the Labour Market Advisory Council, which is composed of leading market experts, representatives of industry and workers and representatives of unemployed people. We will keep these programmes under review and report progress on a regular basis.

Those are stark statistics.

Almost half of under-25s are now unemployed, and when students are removed from that, we are still talking about one in three Irish people under the age of 25 being unemployed. That is absolutely startling. The Minister has today outlined a comprehensive response to that in terms of incentivising employment opportunities, apprenticeships and third level and further education places for those young people. We need to make sure they are not adversely affected in the long term, which is why I am pleased to hear the Minister outline her plan to tackle youth unemployment in Ireland.

We are absolutely committed to working closely with young people to get them back to work and help them do that. We will, therefore, have the Pathways to Work strategy and I will be launching that early next year. We will significantly ramp up the number of places available on training and employment support schemes. There will be 35,000 extra training places and 10,000 new apprenticeships. That is being led by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, and as I said earlier, funding was secured as part of the July stimulus.

The public employment service, which covers the spectrum of services, including local employment service, JobPath, job clubs and employability service, which is focused on helping people with disabilities get into the work force, has a current capacity between all those services to deal with a total caseload of approximately 106,000 people. I want to increase that capacity by about 87,000 to bring it up to around 193,000. We will, therefore, be ramping up the capacity of the local employment services next year.

Has the Minister had any engagement with opendoorsinitiative.ie with respect to employment purposes?

I am sorry, engagement with whom?

It is the Open Doors Initiative which works with disadvantaged people to help them with employment purposes. Has she engaged with it on a departmental level?

We have the employability service to work with young people and others with disabilities to get them back to work. I am happy to engage with the Open Door Initiative as well.

We want to increase the number of people being referred to the local employment services by approximately 50% next year. We will also be tendering to extend the service into several geographical areas which do not have those services. I have spoken to the local development companies to advise them this will be up for tender and I will be encouraging them to put in a bid to do that work. It is, however, a competitive process.

We are also assigning 100 new job coaches into the Intreo offices around the country to advise and support people. We want to increase the number of people availing of the back-to-education allowance by approximately 7,700. Approximately 19,000 people are currently on schemes such as CE and Tús. I want to increase that number of places on those schemes up to approximately 25,000 next year. We have secured additional funding to do that.