Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

Steven Matthews

Question:

107. Deputy Steven Matthews asked the Minister for Social Protection if her attention has been drawn to cases whereby persons currently in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment are offered short-term, temporary work; if they will be allowed return to the payment following the completion of this work; if not, if they will they be required to apply for jobseeker’s allowance; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the latter may act as a disincentive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35268/21]

I am also asking the Minister a question on the pandemic unemployment payment where persons are currently in receipt of that payment and are offered short-term temporary work. This is especially the case in the music industry, where a gig may happen and they will go back to work on it. Will such people be allowed to return to the payment following the completion of that work or, if not, will they be required to apply for jobseeker's allowance?

Will the Minister also comment on whether she would consider that this would be a disincentive for people in that industry?

The pandemic unemployment payment or PUP was an emergency measure introduced in the exceptional circumstances of Covid-19 to help cushion the financial impact on people temporarily laid-off work as a direct result of public health measures mandated by the Government. It has been an important support for hundreds of thousands of workers and their families through Covid-19. To date, over €8 billion has been paid out on the PUP to nearly 900,000 recipients.

As part of the national economic recovery plan, the Government announced the extension of the pandemic unemployment payment until February 2022, meaning that a payment that was originally intended to be in place for just 12 weeks will run for almost two years.

In light of the Government decision to defer the lifting of certain public health restrictions on 5 July, I have announced that the PUP scheme will remain open for new applications until 8 July 2021, which is a week later than previously announced. This will ensure staff who may have returned to work this week in anticipation of indoor hospitality reopening on 5 July will have the opportunity to re-apply for the PUP if they need to.

From 8 July people who are laid off should apply online for a standard jobseeker's payment, including the increases for adult and child dependants, as appropriate. In most cases, given people were granted paid social insurance contributions while in receipt of the PUP, people who take up employment from PUP will qualify for jobseeker's benefit in the event that they need to claim a jobseeker's payment in the future.

Given its exceptional nature, there will undoubtedly be some cases where the transition from PUP into employment or onto another welfare payment will give rise to some questions. However, I am pleased to say that our experience has shown that people are willing to return to work as restrictions are eased. This confirms research by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, that indicates that the vast majority of people choose to take up work rather than remain on welfare even in situations where the financial benefit of working is low or in some cases even when it is negative.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

I also note that in a recent budget perspectives paper the ESRI pointed out that for most people income from employment will exceed the value of the PUP payment. I would also advise the Deputy that where an employee closes their pandemic unemployment payment to return to work but has been temporarily placed on a shorter working week they may be entitled to a jobseeker’s payment or short-time work support. As has been the case throughout the pandemic, the position with regard to the PUP will be kept under review as the public health advice evolves.

I thank the Minister. I am referring in particular to the music industry and to the large cohort of people who work in that sector in the sound, power and production areas.

Where they may be offered gigs throughout the summer, there might be two or three days of work, and that is through other Government supports for live music events through the Department of the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin. People taking up that work know it will be for only two or three days. They know their industry is not open fully. Will they be able to return onto the PUP at the end of that two-day or three-day gig they might get or a series of gigs throughout the summer? We know that that industry will not open up fully for some time. For example, I know of a sound engineer down in Wicklow who is at the top of his game and in high demand, but there is no work out there for him at the moment. If he gets offered a couple of days' work, he has to weigh up whether he will be back on jobseeker's at the end of that work. It is important he keeps his talent active and keeps his craft and his skills alive, but he has to weigh up the benefits of taking on that work.

I wish to make it clear in the House again, because sometimes there is misinformation relating to artists and musicians, that I do not expect artists or musicians to retrain or to reskill. I wish to make that clear because I have been misquoted here before, not by the Deputy but by others. All my Department is doing is making people on the PUP aware of the various supports available to them. The Deputy mentioned people on the PUP. I have worked very closely with them. They can earn up to €960 over an eight-week period and still maintain their payments. I am also working very closely with the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, on a basic income guarantee scheme for artists. That is something we want to introduce. We have worked with the sector. There is the part-time job incentive scheme for people who come off the PUP, so maybe the people to whom the Deputy refers could look at that scheme. There are a number of schemes available, but I cannot introduce sector-specific social welfare schemes. I will just be straight up about that. It is not possible. In fairness, though, the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, has put a lot of supports and a lot of investment into the music and entertainment sector.

I accept that the Minister cannot introduce sector-specific schemes, but there are sectors that we know cannot reopen or can reopen only in very limited circumstances because of crowd control measures or social distancing. As the Minister has pointed out, there has been unprecedented support for welfare payments and employment supports across the past 15 months and I think everybody recognises that, but we have to look at these cases and allow for flexibility where we want these people to return to work and they want to return to work. This is their job. It is what they love doing. They want to be out there entertaining and putting on these shows. I am not just talking about the artists or the person on the stage; behind every lighting rig and every sound desk is a highly qualified, skilled engineer working away. We want to allow them to work. We do not want them to have to take two gigs during the summer and then go back onto a lesser payment because their industry is not open. We have to address that.

We also have to be fair about these schemes and look at all the people who have been on the standard jobseeker's payment since before the pandemic. As I said, I cannot have sector-specific social welfare payments. That has always been the case. To be fair, the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, has worked very closely with this sector and a good deal of supports have been made available through the Government. I am happy to engage with the sector, as always, but I have been very clear that I cannot have a specific support that looks at just one sector and not at another. Anything we do in social welfare is across the board. These payments have been available for a year and a half, as I said, and they will continue until next February, which will be almost two years from their introduction.

Pension Provisions

Dara Calleary

Question:

108. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Social Protection the progress on the provision of pensions for community employment scheme supervisors; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35338/21]

Seán Sherlock

Question:

113. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Social Protection the status of pension entitlements for community employment supervisors. [35357/21]

I want to know the current position on the CE supervisors' pension claim. I know the Government put a proposal on the table recently. I want to see an update on that. There has been very negative feedback to the proposal. I also want to ascertain the Department's plans in this regard.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 108 and 113 together.

As the Deputies will be aware, CE supervisors and CE assistant supervisors have been seeking for several years, through their union representatives, the allocation of Exchequer funding to implement a 2008 Labour Court recommendation on the provision of a pension scheme for CE supervisors and assistant supervisors who are employed by CE scheme sponsors. This claim creates some difficulties because the State is not the direct employer of the supervisors. Within this context, officials from my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform held discussions on proposals to progress and to resolve this complex issue while having regard to the wider budgetary framework. Officials from my Department also held discussions with unions representing CE supervisors and assistant supervisors.

At the start of April agreement was reached with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on proposals to resolve the long-standing issue. These proposals include a financial package. I am confident these proposals are a solid basis for progressing and resolving this complex issue. Discussions on these proposals are ongoing between my Department and the unions representing CE supervisors and assistant supervisors. The unions have made some observations and these are now being examined by my officials in conjunction with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. My officials continue to progress this matter as a priority, and I hope these discussions can reach a conclusion in the near future.

As the Minister of State said, the Labour Court in 2008 made a recommendation which would nullify the Government view on the State not being the direct employer of supervisors or assistant supervisors. The Minister of State knows an incredible amount about the schemes and we have discussed them this morning. Every scheme is dependent on the commitment, dedication, talent and skills of the supervisor and the assistant supervisor. Without those, CE would not be the very successful scheme it has been. As the Minister of State said, the proposals were put forward in April. Today is 1 July. What timeline has the Minister of State in mind for resolving the issue? The proposal, as he said, is a solid basis for progression, but there are a lot of concerns about the detail within it, the fact that it relates only to service since 2008 and the fact that it is taxable. Many of the supervisors and assistant supervisors I have spoken to have said the offer is so small after tax that they would have been as well off not having done anything over the past 20 years of their lives, never mind the commitment they have given to communities.

I ask for urgency on this. It has been going on for far too long. Unfortunately, many who started the campaign have passed on. We owe it to all these supervisors and the assistant supervisors to resolve this issue fairly for once and for all.

I share the concerns Deputy Calleary outlined about the risk that we feel is inherent in this that the outcome of the negotiations will be such that the amount paid to retirees would be derisory, rendering the process almost null and void in the context of the pound of flesh that supervisors have given through their years of service. The Government should not at the end of this process be levelled with the charge that it was a token process. The process has to be such that the amount of moneys that will be awarded to people will be commensurate with their years of service and meaningful for those people. I accept the bona fides of the Ministers in the Department and accept the fact that there is a process to be gone through in respect of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, but I ask the Minister of State to ensure that the moneys that are paid at the end of the day will be meaningful given the supervisors' years of service.

I thank both Deputies for raising this. I expect they appreciate that there is a negotiation process ongoing and that I would be very slow to impact that adversely, so I will not comment on the details except to reiterate and to acknowledge the work of CE supervisors, assistant supervisors and participants across the country. I have met supervisors and participants from Newmarket, Ballina, Killinarden and Churchfield in the past four or five weeks.

The work they do is astonishing and their embeddedness in communities is remarkable. They are not looking for thanks from me this morning. It would be remiss of me to go into too much detail on what is happening in the negotiations, other than to say we are examining the counterproposal from the unions and we hope to respond to it in the coming weeks.

I welcome that there is engagement. That is important but the Minister of State should be under no illusions about the frustration and anger of the supervisors and assistant supervisors with the proposal on the table. Many have told me they feel that they have been boxed into a corner, that this offer will be put on the table and if they do not take it, they will be told they were made an offer and did not take it. That is adding to their anger and their frustration with the manner in which this issue has evolved in recent years. The Minister of State's tributes are noted but tributes and good wishes do not put butter on the potatoes or pay the bills. This has been going on far too long. I am conscious that other areas of the public service are watching this process. However, there is a Labour Court recommendation and the Government cannot lecture people on taking the Labour Court seriously if it does not take it seriously.

We know these people. They live within our communities and we know the work they do. We deal with them every day of the week. They are of us and our neighbours. The work they do cannot be measured easily in metrics but we all know instinctively its value, sometimes over decades in the case of some supervisors. I reiterate the call that has been made that the process and outcome have to be meaningful in terms of financial recognition of that service. All of us in the political landscape openly acknowledge the role of community employment schemes. We recognise the value that they have brought to the public realm and otherwise. It would be very unfortunate if the outcome of this process was such that people felt their personal dignity, as workers, was undermined by a derisory package. I implore the Minister of State, and I know he will take this into account, to reflect that work in a package that is commensurate with years of service.

I commend Deputies Calleary and Sherlock on tabling these questions. I acknowledge the work of the Minister and Minister of State in trying to resolve this matter but I agree with everything the two Deputies have said. This issue needs to be resolved now. I call on the Ministers to listen to the counterproposal put forward by the unions. This issue has been going on for far too long. It is frustrating and disheartening for people who play a pivotal role in all our communities. I appeal for progress and urgency in the approach to resolve this matter once and for all. I thank the Acting Chairman for allowing me to contribute briefly.

I concur with the Deputies' comments on the huge work CE schemes have been delivering in our communities for many years. Running in parallel with CE schemes is the rural social scheme, RSS. While I acknowledge that the cases highlighted focused on the CE scheme, the RSS engages in similar activity in rural areas. I seek clarification on whether the work towards a solution will also address the case for RSS supervisors who are effectively in the same situation or if that is possible.

I genuinely thank all the Deputies for their contributions and acknowledgement of the importance of community employment. I will give some points of information in response to Deputy Moynihan's question. The 2008 Labour Court recommendation deals with the CE supervisor and assistant supervisor pension issue solely. It related to these two categories of employees and did not deal with job initiative scheme or Tús employees or the RSS, which is a different type of scheme. It is in this context that officials in my Department, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the unions representing the community employment supervisors and assistant supervisors held discussions to progress this issue.

Another Deputy made the point that some CE supervisors had passed on. My understanding is that should an agreement be reached, the estate of a former supervisor could apply to whatever scheme is agreed upon. The Deputies will appreciate that I do not want to go into too much detail and that my officials are working on a response.

Social Welfare Benefits

Gary Gannon

Question:

109. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Social Protection the estimated cost of removing the 13-week requalification period for those persons on partial capacity benefit; and the status of removing the 13-week anomaly by early intervention and referral. [35390/21]

Will the Minister for Social Protection outline the estimated costing of removing the 13-week requalification period for those persons on partial capacity benefit, PCB, and the status of removing the 13-week anomaly by early intervention and referral?

Partial capacity benefit is a scheme which allows a person with a reduced capacity to work to return to employment or self-employment and continue to receive a social welfare payment from my Department for a period of up to three years.  It is intended to act as a stepping stone payment to help a person with restricted capacity re-enter the labour market and establish an independent source of income.

Key features of the scheme include that participation is voluntary; there is no requirement that a person must undertake work that is of a "rehabilitative or therapeutic" nature; there is no restriction on the number of hours worked; there is no restriction on earnings; a person who participates in the PCB scheme may return to an illness benefit or invalidity pension payment if, for example, the employment ceases or if the person cannot continue to work; and that a person on PCB, with an underlying entitlement to invalidity pension, will retain his or her free travel pass for a period of five years.

The duration of time a person can be in receipt of partial capacity benefit is linked to the payment the person moved from, subject to a maximum of 156 weeks.  In the case of illness benefit, the maximum duration of the payment is 624 payment days and this duration also applies for the purposes of partial capacity benefit.

Until recently, people formerly in receipt of Illness benefit who completed their maximum allowed duration on partial capacity benefit were being automatically placed back on that payment once they had the 13 weeks of PRSI contributions required to requalify for illness benefit.  This was an administrative practice which was not in accordance with the legislation governing the scheme and I understand the Comptroller and Auditor General also drew attention to this fact.  The Department has, therefore, discontinued the practice.  While legally those who benefited from this practice would actually have been overpaid, I should make it clear that we are not pursuing any such overpayments.

It is a very welcome announcement that the Department will not pursue overpayments. That will alleviate the anxiety of many people. Partial capacity benefit was introduced in 2012 when there were 700 recipients. That number increased moderately over the years and now stands at 3,172 recipients. Partial capacity benefit aims to extend illness benefit or invalidity pensions. However, when the entitlement to illness benefit expires, the recipient of PCB is sometimes left without any social welfare payment for 13 weeks while waiting to requalify. This fear of losing eligibility for payment may be the cause of the modest increase in the numbers on the scheme over the years. This was highlighted in the internal review of the scheme by the Department. Implementation of all the recommendations from this report, including the 13-week requalification anomaly, was part of the report, Make Work Pay for People with Disabilities, submitted to the Government in 2012. Is the Minister still committed to recommendation 12 of that report and will she provide an update on the work on the 13-week requalification period that sees people lose their payment while waiting to be requalified?

The 13-week period was an administrative practice that resulted in the overpayment and this practice has now discontinued. However, the Department now contacts customers 13 weeks in advance of the end date of the payment duration period and the correspondence issued outlines the options for the customer to consider prior to the payment ceasing. Where a person completes the allowed period on partial capacity benefit, a new application can be made.

The application must meet all the eligibility criteria including, in the case of persons in receipt of illness benefit, the requirement to have completed 26 weeks in receipt of the payment. My officials contact them 13 weeks in advance of the payment being due to finish.

It is important to clarify that this issue was raised with me very recently by advocacy groups working in the area of disability. It is important that we examine whether that is happening on the ground. It is also important to say that Ireland has the unenviable title of having the lowest employment rate for people with disabilities in the EU. Poverty and social exclusion among people with disabilities is almost 20% lower than the EU average at 50.8%. This is a small scheme, but it is important that we fix the anomalies that we know exist within it.

A wide range of supports are available to help people with disabilities to get back to work. We have the EmployAbility Service and the ability programmes. I was delighted that we were able to provide funding so that the ability programme, which was co-funded by the EU and was due to finish in June this year, could continue. I worked very closely with the group and with the Minister of State with responsibility for disability, Deputy Rabbitte, to find a solution. The group is doing some very good work on the ground in terms of helping people who have disabilities to get back into the workforce. That is just one support and there are other supports available. We continue to review them all the time. I work very closely with the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, on how we can improve the outcome for people with disabilities who wish to return to the workforce.

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

Steven Matthews

Question:

110. Deputy Steven Matthews asked the Minister for Social Protection if her attention has been drawn to cases whereby full-time musicians who are currently in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, due to the ongoing closure of their industry, are receiving phone calls from social welfare officers to ask if they have considered moving to the jobseeker's payment; if this is an operational procedure by her Department; if all persons in receipt of the PUP are likely to receive such a call; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34832/21]

Has the Minister's attention been drawn to cases whereby full-time musicians or those in the music industry who are currently in receipt of the PUP due to the ongoing closure of the industry, are receiving phone calls from social welfare officers asking if they have considered moving to the jobseeker's payment? Is this an operational procedure by the Department and are all persons in receipt of the PUP likely to receive such a call?

My Department is very much aware that many people from the music or arts sectors are not yet in a position to return to employment. For these people, many of whom are self-employed, the PUP continues to be an important income support. Rather than seeking to move people off this payment, I was pleased to work with the sector and to make changes to the scheme so that self-employed artists and performers can earn €960 over an eight-week period while continuing to receive the PUP.

The Government also set up the arts and culture task force and recovery oversight groups. In response to the task force recommendations, I am working very closely with my Cabinet colleague, the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport, Gaeltacht and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, to develop a basic income guarantee scheme for artists.

Separately, my Department is developing and rolling out a range of supports to help all people displaced from employment as a result of the pandemic to return to employment. My Department is now engaging with people in receipt of the PUP for a prolonged duration to check in with them and, where appropriate, advise them of the range of supports and services available to retrain and reskill. As an initial phase of this engagement, the Department has started to make contact with people who have been in continuous receipt of the PUP since it was first introduced in March 2020. These contacts do not target any sector, nor do they exclude any sector. They are designed to be supportive and informative. The response to date has been very positive and it is heartening that many of the people contacted are confident that their jobs should return over the coming weeks.

To be absolutely clear, we do not expect artists or musicians, who are obviously still waiting for their sector to reopen, to engage in retraining. My Department is making people aware of the supports that are available across the board and it is up to individuals to decide on a voluntary basis if they want to take up those supports. The Deputy will appreciate that this initial engagement with PUP recipients is an essential first step to ensure persons whose employment has been most affected by Covid are aware of the options available to them.

I welcome the Minister's statement to the effect that the engagement is across all sectors and that the purpose of the call is to advise and inform people of what options may be available to them, which she reiterated. I am aware of her recent response to Deputy Cannon on the matter. The Minister was clear that she does not expect musicians or artists to retrain.

As I indicated in my question, there is a cohort of workers engaged in work which supports that of artists and musicians who we do not expect to retrain because they will be going back to work when we reopen. We will continue to support those in the industry to perform as much as possible in the coming months. I welcome the Minister's clarification that the calls are just to provide advice and offer guidance to people.

We all know that the sector has had a really difficult time as it has been shut down since March 2020. What we have done is tried to support the people involved in every way we can. When I engaged with them, they were very pleased that they can earn up to €960 and still keep the pandemic unemployment payment. That meant they could do the occasional gig and it did not affect their payment. I understand that they are in a very difficult situation.

To be fair, the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport, Gaeltacht and Media has put many supports in place for them. I know many artists who welcomed the supports. We must continue to work with the sector. Through the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport, Gaeltacht and Media, with the support of her Government colleagues, we have given every consideration we can to help them through what is a hugely difficult time.

All Members across the House acknowledge the tremendous work being done by the Department of Social Protection, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and her predecessor as Minister, now Senator Doherty, all the staff across the Department and in Revenue. Some 15 months ago the Department had to react to give payments to people across society who had never been in receipt of payments before and to make the process as easy and straightforward as possible. I welcome the Minister's commitment that we will continue to do that where necessary. When those phone calls are being made, could it be made clear that it is advice and guidance that are offered not encouragement to move to a different payment, because that can have a detrimental impact on somebody who is waiting to get back to work, who can see light on the horizon in that regard? It can be quite upsetting to receive a phone call like that.

All my Department is doing is making people on the PUP aware of the various supports that are available. There are a lot of supports and there is no point in the Government putting them in place if we do not tell people about them. It is all voluntary. If a person is confident that his or her job is coming back, that is fine, but if someone needs help, we are here to help. That is the one message I always want to get out: social protection is there to help people when they need it. That is what we do. What we are saying is that people should have a look at what is available and if there are supports we can provide, we want to help.

The staff in the Department of Social Protection have been absolutely amazing during the pandemic. We paid out €8 billion. More than 24 million individual payments have been issued and almost 900,000 people have received support under the scheme. The work that has been done by staff in the Department of Social Protection has been outstanding.

Proposed Legislation

Joan Collins

Question:

111. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Social Protection if her Department has, in conjunction with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, initiated the drawing up of anti-victimisation and blacklisting legislation within six months in line with the recommendation in the report of the Joint Committee on Social Protection, Community and Rural Development and the Islands entitled, Examination of Bogus Self-Employment, published on 16 June 2021; and if so, when this legislation will be published. [35331/21]

Has the Minister's Department, in conjunction with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, initiated the drawing up of anti-victimisation and blacklisting legislation within six months in line with the recommendation in the report of the Joint Committee on Social Protection, Community and Rural Development and the Islands entitled, Examination of Bogus Self-Employment, published on 16 June 2021? If it has, when will this legislation be published?

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. I share the concern that employees should be correctly classified for social insurance, taxation and employment rights purposes and that they should be entitled to protection against victimisation if they challenge how an employer classifies them. While this latter question is primarily one for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, I draw the Deputy's attention to the fact it is a criminal offence under section 252 of the Social Welfare Acts for an employer to knowingly and falsely classify a person as self-employed, subject to a penalty on conviction of up to three years imprisonment.

I note the publication of the June 2021 report on this issue of the Joint Committee on Social Protection, Community and Rural Development and the Islands. I am sure the Deputy knows that my officials provided information and assistance to both the previous and the current committees in their deliberations on this matter and that my Department's response to the committee's draft report is appended to its final report.

From the material provided, the Deputy will know that my Department takes the issue of false self-employment very seriously indeed. That is why it has established a dedicated investigation team, called the employment status investigation unit, to investigate employment arrangements across all sectors.

With regard to the committee's recommendations, they will require detailed and careful analysis and, as they issued just two weeks ago, it will take some time to form a view, to receive legal advice on their implications and, in addition, to consult affected stakeholders. I note the specific recommendation referred to by the Deputy crosses my Department and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Any legislation arising will then need to be drafted and accommodated within what is already a busy legislative agenda.

The reason the committee put forward that the legislation should be brought in within six months is that, in December 2019, at the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Mr. Tim Duggan, assistant secretary of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection said:

[L]egislative provisions are being developed to encourage workers to apply to scope section for clarity about their employment status. These are anti-victimisation measures that will allow workers to make a complaint to the WRC if they are victimised by employers because they sought a determination from scope section.

When he was pressed, he said:

There are some small difficulties with it, as the Senator highlighted earlier, but we are seeking to address them. That is definitively on the roadmap to progress that early in the new year.

Therefore, we were told by the assistant secretary in December 2019 that this was being progressed and was to come to the Dáil in 2020. I am asking for clarification. What is the current position?

I thank the Deputy. I intend to publish a code of practice on employment status. The purpose of the code of practice on determining employment status is to explain, in as clear and as user-friendly a way as possible, what the courts have decided constitutes an employment relationship. It is an explanatory guide and it sets out and explains the legal obligations that already exist. Workers and employers are entirely bound by these legal obligations and, even if the code did not exist, they would be bound by these legal obligations because they have been set down by the courts through case law.

The code is an important awareness-raising tool in the effort to combat false self-employment in the economy. It was first drafted in 2001 and revised in 2007. However, as the labour market and relevant case law have developed since then, a revision is now needed. The work of revising the code was undertaken by my Department, Revenue and the Workplace Relations Commission, so there are three players in this. The Deputy referred to a meeting of the joint committee. Putting this into legislation is tricky and is not as straightforward as it might appear.

Thank you. The Minister can come back in shortly. I call Deputy Collins.

That was made clear by Mr. Duggan in December 2019, when he indicated clearly that the process had started, that there were a few small issues to be addressed and that it would be published in 2020. It is now June 2021. The reason we put a period of six months in the report was to give a bit of impetus to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and, we hoped, the Department of Social Protection. We know from the committee, where we heard from various employee representatives and groups, that many workers fear engaging with the scope section for fear they will be blacklisted and denied work in their respective industries in the future. I know from people in the film industry that they have been blacklisted because they have challenged the way they work in the context of bogus self-employment. Can the Minister confirm that we will get legislation in the next six months?

I thank the Deputy. False self-employment is a problem that the Department of Social Protection takes very seriously. We want to make sure that employees receive their proper PRSI contributions so they get their entitlements, and that is our focused role. Revenue looks at it from a tax perspective and the Workplace Relations Commission looks at it in terms of workers’ rights.

The scale of false self-employment is probably exaggerated by some commentators. Research and statistics over the past 20 years indicate that levels of self-employment in the State have remained more or less constant and are not rising. We have an inspection unit which goes on-site and we have had a number of inspections. In fact, it is my plan to increase the resources of the inspection unit so we see what is happening on the ground. If it is taking place, we want it to stop. There are fines in place and we will implement them.

With regard to legislation or the suggestions that came from the committee, we will certainly look at those. However, bringing legislation into this space could actually create more problems than it solves. I am treading cautiously, to be honest with the Deputy.

Question No. 112 replied to with Written Answers.
Question No. 113 answered with Question No. 108.

Poverty Impact Assessment

Claire Kerrane

Question:

114. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Social Protection when she plans to publish the poverty impact assessment of the reduced rates of jobseeker's payments for young persons in consideration of the serious inadequacy of these rates and the impact of the pandemic on youth unemployment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35179/21]

When will the Minister publish the property impact assessment report that was carried out in regard to young jobseekers?

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. The current rates of welfare payments for young people were constructed to incentivise young jobseekers aged 18 to 24 years to access further education and training, with the aim of improving employment outcomes. A young person who takes up a place on a training, education or employment programme qualifies for the full adult rate of payment. In this way, the State is seeking to address the issue raised in the EU and elsewhere of the so-called NEETs, that is, young people who are not in employment, education or training. A number of countries have similarly reduced unemployment payments for young jobseekers.

The initial evidence in Ireland in a report by Maynooth University was that the age-related rates had a positive impact, with a reduction of over 50% in average unemployment durations for people aged 18. Of course, one of the consequences of this approach is that young people who do not take up an employment, education or training programme receive a lower payment. It is important, therefore, that we balance the incentive or progression effect against the income impact on people who do not take up employment, education or training. Accordingly, in order to inform future policy direction, my Department undertook a poverty impact assessment on the reduced rates of jobseeker's payments for young people. The outcome of this assessment is currently under consideration and I intend to publish the report shortly.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, young people were among the first to lose their jobs due to the fact the sectors that traditionally employ young people, such as retail and hospitality, were particularly badly affected. To address this issue, the PUP was made available to students, who would not normally receive an unemployment payment. Many of the sectors that traditionally employed young people are now reopening and actively hiring new staff. A key priority for the Government is to get young people back to work. I plan to launch Pathways to Work in July.

I appreciate that where young people take up a course or training, they get the full amount. That is more difficult now and has been during Covid. The majority of young people receiving jobseeker's payments are on reduced rates. It is not just due to age. Many of these people live at home and the whole household income is taken into account with regard to means, which can see them get less or nothing at all in some cases. The report about poverty and its impact is important. Sinn Féin tabled an amendment to the Social Welfare Act in 2019. The report was due to be published within three months, which was a short timeframe, but it is now more than a year and a half later. I received an answer to a parliamentary question last July which stated that the report was being finalised. It is now a year later and we still have not seen that report. Will the Minister guarantee that it will be published before the summer recess?

It would be fair to say that my Department has had a fairly busy year. I know the Deputy appreciates that. Some 24 million individual payments have been issued to almost 900,000 people. Our priority has been to get these payments to people. If we had not done that, we would rightly be criticised here. I assure the Deputy that I will consider the poverty impact assessment and publish it afterwards. I am happy to have a further conversation with the Deputy at that stage. I will see what the report says and will certainly look at this issue. The programme for Government commits to looking at improvements to jobseeker's supports for young people, which I am committed to examining. I will also engage with representatives from various youth representative groups as part of my Department's pre-budget forum. I want to hear what they have to say about this.

They will say that we need to end the age-related payments, because it is not right to base a payment on age. It should never have been the case. It has caused poverty in many cases. I look forward to seeing that report. I hope that it will be published before the summer recess and well before the budget, because as the Minister said, the programme for Government contains a commitment to restore those payments to a single level. That should happen and I hope we will see steps towards it in the budget.

The youth employment support scheme, YESS, has 1,000 participants after being launched in October 2018. That number is low. Have we looked at the issues with that scheme? Perhaps employers were not willing to engage with it. It is a shame because it was a good scheme. Will the new work experience scheme that the Minister is working to launch shortly replace the YESS or will both remain?

I will launch the Pathways to Work scheme on 12 July. The best way that we can help young people is by helping them to get back into employment so that has to be the priority. I will outline the different schemes at that stage. There will be intensive work to assist people to get back into employment because it has been a difficult time. I was keen to support young people during the pandemic. Students received the pandemic unemployment support because I was aware that students lost their jobs as everybody else did. I was glad that we were able to do that. Approximately 47,000 students received the pandemic unemployment payment. As the economy has reopened, that has decreased by about 20,000. That leaves many young people and students who may have finished college and we want to give them all of the support that we can to get them back to work.

Employment Support Services

Rose Conway-Walsh

Question:

115. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will review the profit-focused approach set out in a tender for the expansion of local employment services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35409/21]

I acknowledge the great work done by the Department of Social Protection and the people working on the ground. They had a significant task to meet the demand for the pandemic unemployment payment and other payments. I want to go back to talking about the local employment service. I believe that the Minister is making a monumental mistake and I need to ask her some specific questions about it.

I thank Deputy Conway-Walsh for raising this matter. It is wrong to look at the tender published on 26 May as profit-focused. It is absolutely client-focused with a strong focus on local services, community linkages and client service levels and outcomes. It is expanding service provision into seven counties that currently do not have a local employment service. About 90% of the fees to be paid under the contract are based on client service rather than outcomes. The outcome fee is an additional payment and is about 10%. The evaluation criteria are heavily weighted towards client service and community linkages. The request for tender published on 26 May is the product of an extensive process involving lengthy consultation with the sector and the engagement of external consultants.

The current cost met funding approach, used with existing local employment services and job club contracts, involves scrutiny of all day-to-day expenditure, placing an undue administrative burden on both the provider and my Department. This approach diverts valuable resources away from supporting clients. It does not enhance employment outcomes for the clients of the service and it does not recognise or reward in any way high-quality innovative providers. We have some good providers and others which are not so good.

Moving to a new funding approach, which pays for each client referred, coupled with a strong emphasis on community linkages, linking with all the other services in the area, and quality of service provision, will reduce the administrative burden, encourage innovation and is more likely to deliver enhanced outcomes for those availing of the service.

The procurement process now under way invites tenderers to demonstrate how they can best provide a quality employment service, giving them the scope to demonstrate their expertise, which we know they have, their professionalism and their commitment, which is not in doubt.

I question the Indecon report. It is a public document and was the basis for the decision that was to be made here. I believe that there is an alternative to this decision-making, despite what has been said about the EU directive. We have to question the data and the statistical information. I believe the data are inaccurate. In Mayo, for example, it was stated that there were 65 Pathways to Work referrals in 2016 when there were actually 650. Why is it only based on one year when most of the decisions would be based on multiple years? The referrals quadrupled in recent times. It was said that there was 5% attendance when there was 80% to 90% attendance in the Mayo region. I question the basis for the decisions that are being made. How much will providers be required to have as reserves? What is the financial capacity required by the companies for tendering?

They will not need reserves because they will get the payment upfront whenever a client is referred to the local employment service. I reiterate we are expanding these services under the first phrase of the request for tender. We are putting it into areas that do not currently have this employment service. When a customer or client is referred to the local employment services from the Intreo office, the service immediately gets a 45% payment. That means that it has the money to focus on the client. When the client signs up to a plan, the service gets the next 45% of the payment upfront and has that money to help the client to look for a job and provide support in every way that it can. The final 10% is paid when the client gets a job. These are upfront payments that are totally focused on the clients. That is the most important issue here.

It is important that organisations are not excluded on the basis that they do not have the financial capital. Will those currently employed in local employment services be affected once new contracts are in place? If a group of local employment services misses out on this contract in the tendering process, will they be protected?

Will there be a transfer of undertakings for existing staff to ensure job security for them? What plans are in place for any redundancies that have to be made, any lease agreements that have to be broken and any contracts with service providers, including the disposal of assets around that? Technically, those assets belong to the Department. What plans does the Minister have in place for that?

I am absolutely appalled by the treatment of centres for the unemployed. Two centres for the unemployed have been operating in Mayo for 35 years with enormous voluntary work being done in them. They are being closed down and it is the wrong time to do so.

I have raised concerns about the request for tender with the Minister for quite some time and she is responding. However, the difficulty is that the document out as part of the current process reflects many of the fears we expressed that the request for tender will not capture the very unique and holistic nature of the local employment service. Are there plans to change the next request for tender in light of that feedback?

I reassure Deputies that the request for tender will take account of local knowledge and community engagement. There is a strong emphasis on that in the request for tender. I have spoken to a number of the providers. I understand the Deputies' concerns, but we have taken them on board. There has been significant engagement with the particular group for whom we are expanding the service. I am satisfied that, at the end of the day, we will make sure that clients are number one throughout this process and will get the service they need to get back to work.

Deputy Conway-Walsh raised the issue of redundancies. It is the case that the local development company is the employer. I hope that providers can come together and work collaboratively. As I said, the client is the number one person who needs the support to get back to work.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.