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.