Update on Employment Activation Measures: Department of Social Protection

I welcome Mr. John McKeon and Mr. Niall Egan from the Department of Social Protection.

I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

The opening statements submitted to the committee will be published on the committee website after this meeting. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I ask members, witnesses and visitors to ensure their mobile phones are turned off as they interfere with the sound recording of the committee and the live broadcast.

Today's meeting provides an update on employment activation measures. Last October, the committee heard details from the Department of Social Protection on the progress being made on the Pathways to Work strategy. I am pleased we are having a further update on employment activation measures today and invite Mr. McKeon to make his presentation.

Mr. John McKeon

I thank the committee for the opportunity to appear before it today, both for the opportunity to discuss activation in this session and subsequently to discuss developments relating to payments and services for lone parents. I am joined by my colleagues Niall Egan, a principal officer in the Department with responsibility for jobseeker and lone parent income policy, and by Erica Klein, assistant principal officer with responsibility for one-parent family payments. In this first session, I propose to provide a short update on activation developments. As committee members will be aware, I made presentations on this topic on a number of occasions, most recently on 28 January. Unfortunately, time constraints on that occasion limited the time for discussion, so rather than take up much of the committee's time today by repeating what I said then, my presentation today is a shortened version of that provided on 28 January. I understand the committee clerk has circulated copies of that presentation and I and my colleagues will be pleased to address any questions on today's statement or that of 28 January.

As members of the committee will be aware, the Pathways to Work strategy set out a comprehensive reform of the State’s approach to helping unemployed jobseekers return to work. It was initiated in 2012 as a strategy for the period 2012 to 2015 and is designed to complement the Action Plan for Jobs as part of a twin-pronged approach to tackling the jobs crisis that emerged in the final years of the last decade. The Action Plan for Jobs is focused on stimulating employment growth. Pathways to Work is focused on making sure that as many as possible of these new jobs, and other vacancies that arise in the economy, are filled by people who are unemployed jobseekers.

I do not intend to outline the wide range of reforms implemented as part of Pathways to Work as these have been outlined to the committee previously, but they include, for example, the merger of the community welfare service, the FÁS employment service and the Department of Social Protection in order to provide a one-stop shop experience for job seekers; the development and implementation of a case management approach based on client profiling; one to one engagement between clients and case officers; personal progression planning; the streamlining of decision-making to reduced decision times from weeks to days; the development and launch of new services and schemes such as JobsPlus and JobBridge; and the introduction of a social contract of rights and responsibilities, including penalty arrangements for those not engaging with activation services. Reform also involves, certainly over the past year, a significantly increased level of engagement with employers.

As stated in previous presentations, while it is very difficult to ascribe a cause and effect relationship between the reforms implemented and the reduction in unemployment, there are definite signs that Pathways to Work has had an impact. In particular, it is notable that the jobless growth phenomenon that was typical of economic recoveries following other recessions is not being repeated. In fact, jobs growth in Ireland led rather than lagged economic growth. Other signs that the approach has had an impact are that some of the key targets set out have been achieved ahead of time. For example, over 60,000 long-term unemployed people have moved into work since the Pathways to Work strategy was launched, the persistence rate from short-term to long-term unemployment has also fallen from 33% to 29% and the progression rate to employment for people more than two years unemployed has already reached its end of 2015 target of 40%. I have provided an up-to-date statement of performance against the individual metrics as an appendix to my statement.

Looking ahead, while the initial focus of the Department of Social Protection’s reform programme focused on improving services, via Intreo, to those newly unemployed people identified at high risk of becoming long-term unemployed, its focus in the Pathways to Work 2015 is to augment this approach by increasing the intensity of engagement with people who are long term unemployed and the level of engagement with employers. Persuading employers to offer employment opportunities to people who are long-term unemployed, predominantly males over 35 years of age, is a particularly difficult challenge.

In 2015, this will involve implementing a structured process of engagement of people who are long-term unemployed, which will see approximately 8,500 people being referred to the Intreo activation process each month; rolling out JobPath, a payment by results contract model with third party providers of employment services specifically targeted at long-term unemployed jobseekers; establishing a professional account management and sales capability within Intreo, targeted at employers; introducing new schemes, including FirstSteps and JobsPlus Youth, to give effect to commitments made in the Government’s youth guarantee implementation plan; developing new IT capability, including an upgraded jobs website, to respond more effectively to employer and jobseeker needs; expanding the number of places on JobsPlus, the jobs subsidy specifically designed to support long-term unemployed jobseekers; introducing the back to work family dividend to address work incentive and welfare trap issues; and providing access to employment services and supports to lone parents transitioning from the one-parent family payment.

In addition, it is planned to improve the evaluation of process and programme effectiveness and inform future developments by commissioning quantitative and qualitative assessments of the impact of Pathways to Work, changes in job seekers' progression to employment and also job seekers' satisfaction with the services. These evaluations will be conducted with the input and advice of the Labour Market Council, which is a forum of labour market experts and stakeholders established by the Tánaiste in late 2013.

I hope this summary of past and future developments has provided the members of the committee with some insight into the Department's activation programmes. My colleagues and I will be happy to take any questions that committee members might have.

Can I ask whether we are time-constrained today?

Yes; we are hoping to finish within the hour on this topic and then move on to the next topic of one-parent families at 2.30 p.m.

I notice there are a number of representative groups here to discuss one-parent families. I do not propose to delay proceedings.

If I can just be clear from the outset, we are here until 3.30 p.m. That is one hour for each topic. If members would co-operate with me on that, hopefully we will get our business done as efficiently as possible and each topic will have a full hour.

We did discuss this topic quite recently, as Mr. McKeon has stated. He has given us an abridged version of the up-to-date position. What exactly has changed since the last day? A number of questions were raised and recommendations made. What, if any, changes have occurred since we last discussed this, albeit quite recently?

We have had a number of thrash-outs of the various job activation schemes over the last couple of years. I have explained my opposition to some and my support for others. I have a few specific questions. One is about the staff allocation to JobPlus and JobPlus Youth and also to JobBridge. One change since the last time the witnesses were here has been the announcement of JobPlus Youth and First Steps. Can you explain why First Steps is not called JobBridge Youth, given that it is very similar? A question also needs to be raised in relation to the work placement programme which predated this with Tesco and Diageo. It now seems that the likes of those companies will be availing of the new JobBridge for young people to displace existing jobs. It is not just Tesco - there are other companies out there that I have complained about - but we already know that Tesco Ireland is contemplating major lay-offs. Has it been taken into account that while Tesco is contemplating laying off staff, it is availing of JobBridge or an equivalent scheme? Does that factor into any of the discussions within the Department, and does it set off alarm bells that jobs will be displaced, with the State subsidising a company with high, albeit decreasing, profits? I believe Tesco made £1.4 billion in profit last year. I do not have a clue what Diageo's profit was but I know the CEO is on a wage of £7.4 million per annum. In the past, those companies would have taken people on at entry level at a lower rate, rather than taking on people for a number of months fully subsidised by the State. In some ways JobBridge, or its equivalent, would be displacing jobs which might have been low paid or low entry-level. We all know of young people coming out of school who, in the past, would have been able to get into employment on a paid level on very low wages and work their way up. Now, more and more, they are expected to take on up to nine months' work for no pay but a social welfare top-up, and the company does not have to pay a penny or contribute in any way. In the past, companies would have had to make the payment and train the staff at that entry level.

I wish to ask specifically about one-parent families. Has there been a decrease in the number of one-parent families in the workplace? What are the figures in this regard? Has there been a decrease or an increase? In relation to activation programmes for one-parent families in the future, what does the Department envisage? We have seen figures recently to the effect that the number of lone parents in the workplace has decreased. The fact is that child care support is not there at the moment to facilitate many lone parents to get back into the workplace. I know the witnesses cannot comment on the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, but do they think that is a factor?

Mr. John McKeon

I will try to take the questions in order. If I skip any, please tell me. I am not trying to avoid answering any questions - I will try to answer them all - but when there are so many, sometimes it is hard to keep track of what I have answered. The last day I gave an update on the labour market situation in terms of unemployment rates and so on. Since then, the Central Statistics Office has released the live register figures. It showed that the unemployment rate had dropped from 10.6% to about 10.5%. One of the interesting things the EUROSTAT publication estimated, based on the CSO figures, was that unemployment was now about 21%, whereas the last day I reported it was 23%. They are statistical measures in terms of updates.

Since then, there have been no new policy developments that were not signalled. There have been, as Deputy Ó Snodaigh pointed out, announcements and launches by the Tánaiste of some of the initiatives which we signalled on that day, particularly First Steps and JobPlus Youth. They are designed to deliver on the Government's commitments under the implementation plan for the Youth Guarantee. First Steps is a programme targeted at supporting disadvantaged youth in taking their first steps into the labour force. That is why it is called First Steps rather than JobBridge - to make the point that this is for the many young people who are disadvantaged, may have left school early, may have been on Youthreach programmes, may have been released from the Probation Service or may have addiction problems. These are the young people we are talking about - young people who, even during the Celtic tiger years, would probably have been unemployed. The initiative tries to target that group of young people in terms of work experience. That is what First Steps is about. It is similar to, but different from JobBridge. It is similar in that it is a work experience or internship type of opportunity. It is different in that training will be given to the young people in advance of a placement with an employer. It is different in that the placement with the employer is four days a week and not five days a week. The young person will have a dedicated case worker assigned to him or her from the Department to work with him or her on the fifth day of each week on training and education options and lessons from the internship.

The other thing that is different about it is that the employer does not get to select the candidates. With the JobBridge scheme, which is voluntary, the employer advertises the position on the JobBridge website, people apply and the employer chooses the candidate. In this scenario, we select young people who we identify as being particularly disadvantaged and who we feel would benefit from a work placement. The employer is asked to sponsor these young people.

We are always conscious of displacement. A standard requirement of the JobBridge scheme, which will also be part of this scheme, is that any opportunities offered are not to displace existing workers or to be used to fill vacancies created by redundancies. This is a particular concern for us. The rules of the scheme do not allow this to happen. Unfortunately, there have been some instances of this, but we take action when we believe employers are doing it. I would emphasise that this scheme is for young people who are particularly disadvantaged. To be fair to the employers mentioned earlier, I was involved with both of them and the schemes they ran. They took on young people who, not to put too fine a point of it, might not otherwise have got past their reception desk. They gave them a chance. Most of these young people have gone into employment having had a lot of intense support. This is a good thing. We have to be conscious of this.

I will ask Mr. Egan to deal with the questions on one-parent families.

Mr. Niall Egan

The figures for 2011 show that 49% of recipients of the one-parent family payment were in employment. This figure has decreased. It decreased in 2013 and, based on the information we have, it was down to 36%. I have to give a caveat for this information, which is that we gather it at a particular point in time but on a regular basis. The figure increased in 2014 and in 2015. As the end of January 2015, 45% of recipients were in employment. There are a number of reasons for the fluctuations. The key large change is the economic crisis. It affected everyone, including lone parents in employment. Many lone parents lost their employment. Another key factor is what happened at the start of 2012. Previously, recipients of the one-parent family payment could participate on a community employment scheme, receive their one-parent family payment and also get a current payment of the community employment allowance. This was stopped. A direct result of this was a significant decline in the number of lone parents participating in community employment. This was a key factor.

Questions were asked about activation supports for lone parents. There are about 70,000 recipients of the one-parent family payment. Everyone who is familiar with that cohort realises the diversity in the range of people in it. It includes very well educated individuals with doctorates as well as people with very poor literacy and numeracy skills. There is no set single programme that is suitable for one-parent family payments recipients. This makes it difficult to engage with them. However, what is available is the range of supports we have on foot of the reforms that we will speak about later. This is the broad range of supports available through the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Education and Skills. These have largely been designed for job seekers but they will now be available to others and will cover a range of people.

Child care is an issue. It falls within the remit of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. Working with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and in order to encourage lone parents into valuable schemes such as community employment, we have introduced a community employment scheme for child care. This has significantly improved the number of lone parents availing of community employment. We have also introduced an after school child care scheme on top of the available supports the Department of Children and Youth Affairs makes available. Is it enough? I would argue it is not. However, it is a start and it is something the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has announced it will examine.

As lone parents are such a diverse group, the Department has, through the Irish Research Council, undertaken specific research on what works in terms of activation, both internationally and in an Irish context. This looks at specific measures for lone parents as well as the supports required. Dr. Michelle Murphy from NUI Galway is undertaking this research. This will be a key piece of research which will help us to tailor our supports for lone parents.

The improvement in the unemployment figures over the past number of years is to be welcomed. However, a worrying aspect during that period is the speed with which the long-term unemployed are finding work or getting back to employment. The delegates spoke of an increased engagement with this cohort of people and with employers in order to get those people back into the workforce. Will the delegates elaborate on this process? How is it going and what is its level of success? What are the difficulties with it? What is the level of awareness by employers of the very good incentives available to take on people from this cohort?

Whether it is lone parents or unemployed people, some of the programmes on which the delegates spoke are designed to bring people back into education and training and, particularly, into an employment programme that will ultimately give them secure employment and financial independence. This is very important. Whether one is a lone parent or an unemployed person, accessing training and education helps. The more available these programmes are, the better the chance we have of bringing people out of what is known as the cycle of poverty. One thing Mr. McKeon stated in his presentation jumped off the page at me. This is in the document dated 18 February. It states, "However, notwithstanding the availability of this support, and as members of the committee will be aware, lone parent families continue to experience high rates of 'consistent poverty' compared to the population generally." Will Mr. McKeon expand on what he means by "consistent poverty"?

In areas where there is very high unemployment, there are also a wide range of schools and colleges, particularly VEC schools and colleges, which are making very significant efforts to reach out and attract people, and there is a significant response. Education and training are two very much linked interventions in people's lives. I get the impression from talking to some of the VEC colleges in Ballyfermot, Inchicore and Crumlin that they believe there could be additional recognition and support from the Department of Social Protection. I am not fully aware of the support the Department gives. However, they feel there should be additional recognition and support. A lot of resources are being put into that kind of intervention by the VECs, particularly the City of Dublin VEC. Sometimes, perhaps, they are not getting the appropriate recognition, response or support from the Department of Social Protection. The Department of Education and Skills, under the new Minister, is very much engaged with this issue and is reviewing how she can be of additional support to them.

However, people who are unemployed are flocking to these colleges. This is a great opportunity and we should not miss it. Sometimes, people put themselves forward and it does not work in the first instance. They may be reluctant to go back again. Perhaps there should be more discussion with VECs, colleges and schools, or someone should be appointed to liaise with them, assess what they are doing and its success and how it can be enhanced.

An issue that often raises its head in my constituency office, and, I imagine, in other constituency offices, relates to a scenario when a husband or wife wants to go back into the workforce. One of them may be working and, basically, the other parent cannot sign on the live register. Previous Governments had certain schemes but those schemes were got rid of. If a person cannot sign on, either for credits or payment, there is no scheme he can get on to improve his skills or re-educate himself. This is a major issue. Almost twice a week in our constituency offices we are reminded that there are no such schemes.

These people have given the State a great service. They have raised their children and they are keen to go back into the workforce but there is nothing there for them. They cannot get on any schemes because they are not allowed to sign on or register for credits. They are in no man's land. It is a scandal. We need to look into this and see whether we can bring back the schemes that were in place previously. We need to get these people re-educated and back into the workforce. They have given the State a great service and they want to go back into the workforce.

Mr. John McKeon

I will try to address the questions in order. Reference was made to long-term unemployment. Long-term unemployment is decreasing; in fact, it is decreasing at a slightly faster rate than unemployment generally. The long-term unemployment rate has dropped from 9% one year ago to approximately 6% now. There are problems with long-term unemployment. The cohort who are long-term unemployed is partly made up of people who have been unemployed for between three and five years. There has been a marginal fall in the number of people who are three years unemployed and a small increase in the number of people who are five years unemployed. Most of these are male and over 35 years of age. The figures for this cohort are particularly worrying. This is why Pathways to Work 2015 is focused on initiatives to help in this area and to continue some of the work we started last year.

Committee members raised the question of engagement with employers and the long-term unemployed. Several things are happening in this area. I will outline what we are doing in the area of engagement with employers. We have spent much time in the past two years trying to get our message out to employers. We held mass briefings for employers and spent a good deal of time with the various employer representative bodies and individual employers briefing them on the various supports that are available. Arising from that process, we have made changes to some of the supports. Members will be aware that previously there was a PRSI exemption scheme and a revenue tax assist scheme for employers who took on people who had previously been long-term unemployed. At most, we had 1,200 people on that. Arising from the feedback from employers, we changed this to the JobsPlus scheme. Now, we have over 4,000 people on JobsPlus. JobsPlus has changed the system. Previously, a rather convoluted application process was necessary to reclaim PRSI paid or to offset the employment costs of long-term unemployed people against corporation tax. We have changed this into a payment to employers for every month that they employ a person who was previously long-term unemployed, up to a maximum of two years. The amount paid varies from a little over €300 per month to a little over €400 per month, depending on the prior duration of unemployment of the person concerned. Interestingly, the cut-off point in this case is that if someone has been unemployed for 12 months but less than two years, the subsidy paid by the State is €7,500 over a two-year period. However, if someone has been unemployed for more than two years, it is €10,000 over a two-year period. The figures for the take-up for JobsPlus indicate that a little over 61% of the job seekers who have benefitted from the scheme have been unemployed for more than two years. Let us consider the figures in this area prior to JobsPlus, particularly the cohort of long-term unemployed and the profile and distribution of long-term unemployed who went back to work. A total of two thirds of those people had been unemployed for between one and two years and one third had been unemployed for a period greater than two years. JobsPlus has turned that around. It appears to be having the effect of increasing the number of unemployed people who are hired by employers, with a particular focus on the long-term unemployed.

I will provide a little more detail about what the Department is doing with employers. It is something of a new departure for the Department. We are setting up an account management structure. We have already appointed a number of managers within the Department, whom we call employer engagement managers. Depending on the size of the geographical division, we have either one or two full-time employer engagement managers in each of our regional divisions. Their job is to go out and find jobs for job seekers and promote the placement of job seekers with employers. We are building on this and setting up what we term an account management structure. This is similar to the way a commercial firm in a business-to-business market operates in that all of the major employers in the State are allocated a dedicated account manager. That account manager's job is to work with the employer to anticipate employment requirements and plan in advance in order that we will get job seekers, particularly those who have been long-term unemployed, placed with those employers. We will be starting the recruitment process for that account management role shortly.

There was a question about job seekers. It is a fact that has been on the record for a long time that the number of caseworkers in the Department was insufficient to deal with the vast number of people who were unemployed. At one stage, at the height of unemployment, we had approximately 800 unemployed people for every caseworker. European norms would be approximately 200:1. In fact, many European countries operate at approximately 100:1. We have done two things in response. First, we have doubled the number of caseworkers from 300 to 600, which has brought the ratio down to approximately 500:1; second, we went to tender for the contracted employment model or the job path contract employment support model. We are finalising the contracts at the moment. When that gets up and running it will bring the ratio down to the European norm of approximately 200:1. The model is particularly focused on people who are long-term unemployed. That is the position on working with employers and working with people who are long-term unemployed.

There was another question about the supports for people in education and training. The Department provides many supports for people in education and training. There are a number of specific and special income support schemes, including the part-time education option and the back-to-education allowance.

Department caseworkers operate a referral mechanism for people who are unemployed. People are referred to the training part of what is now the education and training boards, which used to be FÁS. When people go on those programmes they get a training allowance and so on. I would be disappointed if people are not benefiting from that in the way they should and I would welcome reports of individual instances in which people believe they are not getting the support they should. It would not be the first time I have heard of it. The last time I was before the committee I made the point that we carried out nearly 300,000 one-to-one interviews with job seekers last year. Among that number of 300,000, there are always going to be cases that are less than perfect. I trust, however, that it is only a small minority of cases. Anyway, if people can give me examples it will help us to improve our service.

I will ask my colleague Mr. Egan to take the question on lone parents and consistent poverty presently, but first I will address the question about the husband-and-wife or partner situation. Where two people are unemployed, both parties can access the services of the State for training, education and casework. This requires them to split the claim and that is something we encourage people to do, rather than entering the classic scenario of one breadwinner, whether that is the male or female partner. In the latter scenario, the person would typically claim the payment and then claim a qualified adult payment for the partner. However, it is possible to split a claim such that both people can be individual claimants in their own right and both can get the supports that are available. It is not something people seem to know about, although we keep telling them. It has been expressed to me before that there are cultural issues and so on behind this. Anyway, we tell people about it and it is something we promote.

What about where one partner is working and the other partner is not? The first thing is that they do not have access to the full range of services, but that is not to say they do not have access to any services. We take walk-in clients in our Intreo case centres. We take walk-in clients in the local employment services as well and we support them with personal progression planning and identifying the options available. They have access to the part-time and evening education options and so on in the education and training boards. It is not that they are excluded from everything. However, we have to be honest about the nature of some of these schemes.

There are many more people on jobseeker's payments than we would like to have. The State imposes on them an obligation to be genuinely seeking, and available for, work. We have limited resources. When we impose an obligation on one category of job seeker to make themselves available for work if they want their income support payment, our priority in allocating those scarce resources has to be that cohort. It has to be the people to whom we say "If you do not co-operate, you do not get a payment." We have to make options available for them to satisfy their job search obligation. We have to be conscious of that. It is not to say that as the situation improves and the numbers on the live register fall, such issues would not be considered in the allocation of resources. They would be considered, because we would be very conscious of the qualified adult situation. We can address that partly through claim splitting, but we are conscious that there are people who want to be in the labour market but are not. As resources allow, we in the Department are looking to extend a wider range of services to them.

How easy is it to split the claim?

Mr. John McKeon

It is very straightforward. I give presentations to job seekers from time to time and anecdotally, although I hate to say this, when I raise the issue, a very small minority might respond, particularly women, by saying their husbands will not let them do that, which is terrible. We support and encourage it.

Mr. John McKeon

It is quick, yes.

Mr. Niall Egan

As regards Deputy Byrne's query about the rate of consistent poverty for lone parents, the one-parent family payment scheme has been around since 1997, but despite that time and the large investment in it - it peaked at approximately €1.2 billion in 2009 - lone parents have always been more at risk of consistent poverty than the population at large. For the past couple of years they have been more than twice as likely to be at risk of consistent poverty than the population at large, despite the structure of the one-parent family payment. That issue has been around almost since the scheme was created. We cannot keep going as we are with the one-parent family payment. Something has to change in respect of the reforms. We will talk about that later.

I do not want to want to cross over into that area now. Could the witnesses give an up-to-date figure for participants on the Gateway scheme and how close the Department is to the target of 3,000 formerly unemployed people working with the local authorities? In respect of the Gateway scheme, there are people who want to work and those who do not want to work. That is a harsh reality. A scheme such as this is ideal for the numerous people who cannot find work and want to work. I know they are required to be unemployed for two years, and 20% of places are kept for people who refer themselves. I am anxious to see people who have been unemployed for three or six months and would love to refer themselves to the local authority get work experience there. The local authorities have the wherewithal to manage these people who want to contribute. The Department should do a little more for those within the 20%. I appreciate that it is dealing with the long-term unemployed to make them a priority, but would it consider relaxing the criteria for the 20% who refer themselves to allow people who have been unemployed for six months get onto the scheme? It would be in the interests of the local authorities and of the people who want to get the work.

What penalties does the Department impose on people who are invited onto the Gateway scheme, which is compulsory, if they refuse to cooperate? Have there been sanctions affecting payments for many people, or have they been disqualified from receiving their payments for a period of time or indefinitely? I know that the early trend showed a significant number who gave up their payments when they were called for Gateway. We all know that people operate in the black market, or have jobs and claim social welfare. Does the Department have any figures for those who volunteer to give up their payments when called on to the Gateway scheme?

I thank the Vice Chairman for allowing me to come to the committee meeting and ask some questions, because I am not a member of the committee. What is the global figure for all participants in all the different activation schemes? There is some debate about the relationship between the number on schemes and the apparent fall in unemployment.

Does the Department in any way track the relationship between emigration and the fall in the unemployment figures? I presume that people who leave the country do not appear anywhere else on the system. Does the Department track that to show how falls in the unemployment figures relate to emigration or actual engagement with labour activation or employment?

I have a few very vociferous constituents who feel there is a problem with the JobsPlus scheme. The argument goes that when people who are trying to get back into work contact employers to go on the JobsPlus scheme, the employers say they must be joking, and why would they take them on when they could use JobBridge. I hear that quite often. How does the Department respond? I hear the witnesses say the figure is 4,000, which is not bad, but I get quite a few reports of people who would like to go on JobsPlus but find that a lot of employers do not entertain that because it is a better deal for them to pay people nothing and effectively get free labour through the JobBridge scheme.

While I take the point about positive discrimination towards the long-term unemployed on JobsPlus, there is another side to that equation. A similar argument is as follows: why would an employer take somebody on for €7,500 in the first year of unemployment instead of taking the €10,000 that is provided if the person is unemployed for more than two years? People come to me who have tried to get on the JobsPlus scheme but because they have been unemployed for less than two years the employers ask why they would take them on when they can get €10,000 for people who have been unemployed for more than two years. It is an understandable grievance on the part of somebody who is more recently unemployed who cannot get back to work because of the way the incentive works.

One-parent benefit has featured a little, but not as much recently-----

The Deputy was not here at the beginning of the meeting when we said we would deal with that later in its entirety. Unless his question is about job activation, he might wait.

It is to do with employment and how it is defined. Carers for adults who, as a result of the changes in the one-parent family scheme-----

Unless the Deputy’s question is specifically to do with an activation scheme, he might wait until 2.30 p.m., when we will discuss the one-parent benefit. I want to get there as quickly as I can. If the Deputy can hold that question, it will be more appropriate in the next session.

Does the Department acknowledge the fall from 41% to 34%? I have heard a figure of 60%, on which Mr. McKeon might comment. He seems to acknowledge that the removal of the concurrent payment has led to deactivation, not activation, but the Department is claiming that it has come back up a little. Is there an acknowledgement that it was a retrograde move that has to be remedied if it has driven people from community employment schemes? Does the Department see any correlation between this and the rather startling figures recently recorded in various reports for the increase in the levels of deprivation and child poverty? Lone parents have been driven out and impoverished as a result of changes that were supposed to improve their circumstances.

I call Senator Marie Moloney as she has to leave for a vote. She will be followed by Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Catherine Byrne.

I apologise, as I will have to leave shortly for a vote. I ask the delegates to bear with me as I am not feeling the best today. It is quite possible that my questions were dealt with while I was out of the committee room, in which case I will read the answers in the transcript.

The issue of displacement was touched on before I left the committee room. At a previous Oireachtas committee meeting I discussed at length the fact that I was aware of companies that had full-time employees, took on individuals on JobBridge placements and reduced the full-time employees to part-time workers. The Department gave us a categoric undertaking that no company would be allowed to do this and that if one was found do be doing so, the JobBridge places would be pulled from it. I hope that is the way it is and that it will so continue. I am aware, however, of a number of companies that took on a person on a JobBridge placement and subsequently took on the same person under the JobPlus programme. Although I know that Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett is knocking it-----

-----in a way, it has potential and merit. A lot of people are very happy with having had a JobBridge placement because they have subsequently secured a full-time job. The employer was also able to avail of the JobPlus programme following the JobBridge placement.

As I came into the committee room, I heard the delegate speak about the Gateway scheme; therefore, that issue may have been dealt with. Do we have figures for the scheme at this stage and is it successful? Some councils have started to hire people permanently. I want to know if those invovled in Gateway are being given the first bite at the cherry. Are jobs being offered to them?

The delegates never got to answer my first question about the staff allocated to the JobBridge and JobPlus programmes. Although I am not knocking JobBridge, JobPlus is specifically a job creation mechanism; it is a State subsidy for job creation. If it is skewed within the Department such that more staff are allocated to dealing with subsidised work placements under JobBridge than to the job creation mechanism, that is an anomaly.

My other question concerns First Steps. I ask the delegates to bear with me because this is the first time it has been mentioned at this committee. It is not included in Pathways to Work 2015-----

I am trying to limit the discussion to questions; therefore, the Deputy should try to avoid making statements. In deference to those members who have not yet received answers, I want to make sure there is time for them. The Deputy is raising new questions.

They are new questions to do with a brand new programme that was announced two weeks ago and did not appear in Pathways to Work which was launched last year. We did not have sight of it. Advance training is mentioned, but we have no idea what exactly it means, how long it will last, or whether it will be mandatory. Why was the decision taken to set this up scheme, rather than continue with the worthwhile work placement programme which was linked with Tesco and others and was working well? Why create a "JobBridge lite"?

My final question follows on from what the Senator mentioned about Gateway. Has the moratorium been fully lifted in local authorities? The work being carried out by Gateway participants in filling sand bags, cleaning streets and picking weeds was previously done by parks department and maintenance staff. In other cases librarians' work is being carried out by JobBridge interns. As these jobs have not been filled for a number of years, there is jobs displacement, although it has not taken place only in the last month or two. If councils are now using Gateway, will they continue to be allowed to use it or will they reactivate the positions previously filled by parks department staff, road cleaners and whatnot?

I thank Mr. Egan for his reply. We will expand on the consistent poverty issue in the next session.

Do the officials have statistics for the numbers of people who are lone parents or are in one-parent families who have gone back to education? I have been conducting a study and to quickly run by the figures-----

Would this question not be more appropriate to the next session?

It has to do with education. Will that issue be dealt with in the next session?

The next session is about one-parent families when we can discuss any aspect of that issue.

I will hold onto my question for the next session.

Mr. John McKeon

The questions on Gateway will probably be the quickest to answer as, although I have loads of figures, unfortunately, I have just noticed that I have no figures for the Gateway programme. I will, therefore, send a written response. I do not want to quote the numbers from memory, but the numbers are on track to reach 3,000. There was a fairly slow take-off, but the figure has accelerated.

On changing the eligibility criteria, there was a policy decision taken, but we can certainly feed back the committee's views and talk to the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, and the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Humphreys about it. The rationale for picking the particular threshold was to focus on persons who were long-term unemployed. It is very difficult to make exceptions to which we can hold hard. Once we make an exception, the whole thing begins to unravel. That would certainly be my advice from an operational perspective. There are trade-offs to be made.

In respect of the total numbers on schemes, Table 10 in the live register statement from the Central Statistics Office produces them. It shows that the total number on schemes in December 2014 was 86,027. The figure was 86,162 at the end of December 2013; therefore, there has been a small decrease. This shows that the reduction in the level of unemployment during this period was not due to people being shifted into an employment programme. The employment programme numbers have been relatively steady for the past few years. It includes full-time FÁS training for unemployed persons but not some of the part-time and evening training programmes which would not impact on the numbers on the live register. We rely on the numbers produced by the Central Statistics Office which is independent of the Department.

We keep an eye on the emigration figures. It is true that if we had not seen an increase in emigration in the last period - certainly up to last year - there would, without a shadow of doubt, be more people on the live register. That cannot be gainsaid. However, particularly in the past two years, the numbers emigrating have been falling. From a statistical point of view, the reduction in employment has happened, notwithstanding the fact that the outflow due to emigration has reduced.

Does Mr. McKeon have numbers?

Mr. John McKeon

I have some. The net emigration figure in 2011-12 - the emigration figure minus the immigration figure - as estimated by the CSO for the year to April 2012 was 35,000.

In the year to April 2014, it was 20,000. The net figure has dropped approximately 15,000 in two years and unemployment fell during those two years. The CSO produces its emigration forecast around mid-year every year for the period April to April. At an absolute level, there has been net emigration since 2010 of approximately 145,000 people but during the period when unemployment has been falling, the numbers emigrating have been falling. In statistical terms the fact that the number of people emigrating is falling is adding people into the labour force which tends to increase the unemployment rate if employment is not growing. The fact that the emigration has been falling-----

Anyway, it is important for all of us to realise that there are two great factors in our lives. One is growing this economy in order that we can pay for the services people want. The other major factor is brought home to every Deputy who goes home every weekend, that is, the fact that we run this country for the people who live in this country. Approximately 80% of boat owners have boats of less than 10 m. The greatest number of people involved in direct fishing are actually small operators living in coastal communities. The reality is they are trying to get from €5,000 to €7,000 and not have the dole man come after them. They are not thinking about grandiose plans of billions of euro. They are simply wondering how they can make the bills next year and how they can hold their communities together. I see no mention in the document about what we are going to do for these people.

I am particularly surprised that there is no reference in the BIM annual report to the work done by this committee on the coastal communities in which we highlighted the specific issues faced by this major sector in terms of human beings trying to eke a living out of fishing and the sea and indeed seaweed, which is not mentioned either. I see no mention of whether it is Bord Iascaigh Mhara's intention to act on the strong cross-party recommendations, which had the backing of every political party and none, in the form of Deputy Pringle, represented in the Oireachtas. Where are we on that issue? In terms of actual human beings that is the greater number in the game.

In this country we seem to be so hell-bent on the macroeconomy that we forget this is all about ordinary human people trying to survive and make a little more. They are beset by more and more regulation. Even if BIM implements all this, if we do not do something about the small people on the ground nothing will change. Our communities are being destroyed. I am disappointed that there seems to be little in the BIM report that would do anything in line with the report put together by the Oireachtas. I am surprised that there was no reference in the statements today to the important work done by the joint Oireachtas committee over a long period, work which has all-party support.

What is the percentage of Irish people leaving the country?

Mr. John McKeon

I do not have that data with me but it is all available. The Central Statistics Office publishes that data.

I ask Deputy Byrne if her question is specifically about emigration?

Mr. John McKeon

Many people who emigrated were emigrating from jobs. I do not recall the proportion but in the year to April 2013, a good proportion were people emigrating from work, in that they were not emigrating from unemployment.

Where is that information available?

Mr. John McKeon

The Central Statistics Office has that information. A more detailed study was undertaken by University College Cork. I recommend the UCC website as having the best information on the figures.

I thank Mr. McKeon.

Mr. John McKeon

I will answer Deputy Ó Snodaigh's question about JobBridge versus JobsPlus. We cannot always control what employers do. We would try to position the two schemes as complementary in the way Senator Moloney suggested, in that they are not competitive. I refer to the numbers in the past year since JobsPlus has been in operation. The numbers of people on JobBridge have fallen slightly by about 300 or 400, whereas the numbers of people on JobsPlus have increased from basically zero to just over 4,000. This does not indicate that people are still being pushed into JobBridge. The number of people who have come from JobBridge into JobsPlus is about 20% - I do not have the exact number but I can send it to the committee for circulation. About 20% or thereabouts of people on JobsPlus were previously on JobBridge with the same employer. We regard the schemes as complementary.

I understand the question as to why would an employer take on someone who has been 12 to 24 months unemployed for €7,500 when they can get someone who is two years unemployed for €10,000. It comes back to the numbers and where we have the critical requirement to respond and the cohort that we need to support - the longer-term unemployed. I will quote some numbers which I know were accurate a couple of years ago and I do not believe they have changed much in the interim.

I must draw Mr. McKeon's attention to the time remaining and I ask him to deal with the questions to hand.

Mr. John McKeon

We will deal with them. For example, a person who became unemployed in 2012 had a 50% chance of getting employment within the next 12 months. If that person was not successful in finding employment in that period, his or her chances of getting employment in the 12 to 24 month period was about 20%; if not successful in the 12 to 24 month period, his or her chances in the next 24 to 36 month period, was in low single digits - low as in 1% approximately. That is the reason it is structured in a particular way. We have a large number of people in that cohort and as things stand, if there is a two-year gap in a person's CV, the chances of an employer giving that person an opportunity are remote. There are trade-offs but that is the nature of our business in the sense that decisions have to be made and it is not possible to have a perfect continuum. That is the background.

With regard to Senator Moloney's question about displacement, we respond to parliamentary questions and representations from Deputies and we also have an online facility where people can report instances and we act upon them. On the question of the number of staff deployed on JobBridge and JobsPlus, I do not have the information on the precise number with me. JobBridge is operated by a small policy-based team known as the JobBridge policy unit which is comprised of three people. JobsPlus has approximately the same number of people, three or four people working at the centre. Both schemes are supported by our divisional and operational structure for processing applications. JobBridge takes a bit more operational time because we do inspections to ensure that any issues of displacement are captured or allegations of abuse are investigated. We carry out random samples. However, in cases of abuse we send out inspectors to meet the intern and the employer and to check the records. This takes a bit more governance.

On the first step issue, this was not pathways to work nor was it the youth guarantee implementation plan. We called it the youth development internship. We have changed the name from youth development internship which is a bit of a mouthful. It is, in effect, an extension of the programmes we ran with Tesco and with Diageo, to make it more widely available. The Tesco programme had about 40 or 50 people and the Diageo programme had approximately 20 people. We are extending the programme to about 1,500 people. The core of the programme is built on what was learned from those two programmes.

Is it a mandatory programme?

Mr. John McKeon

It is mandatory. We identify young people whom we believe to be disadvantaged and who could benefit from the programme. A case worker interviews them. It is down to the individual judgment of a case worker and where the case worker determines that this is an appropriate intervention for the young person, then it is mandatory. There are two elements to the training. It is proposed to hold a one-week job preparation programme to help young people with work etiquette and job requirements, for example. A continuing element of the programme is that the employer will provide on-the-job training.

I have one question. Is Garda vetting holding up job activation?

Mr. John McKeon

A number of years ago there was a backlog in Garda vetting. I am not aware of any current backlog that impacts on us.

The issue will be in the Dáil today.

Mr. John McKeon

If it has not come to my attention there is a good chance it is not an issue.

It was a big issue a number of years ago.

That concludes our discussion in this part of the meeting. I thank the representatives of the Department of Social Protection for their assistance. I look forward to the assistant secretary sending us some of the details he was not in a position to provide today.

Mr. John McKeon

The clerk was taking better notes than I was. I ask if the committee could send me a note of what items I had promised to provide, in order to keep me honest.

I am sure the clerk will offer assistance. We will suspend to allow for the witnesses to withdraw and for the next witnesses to take their places.

Sitting suspended at 2.28 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.