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Tuesday, 2 Mar 2010

European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion: Discussion with Office for Social Inclusion.

I invite Ms Catherine Hazlett, Office for Social Inclusion, to make her presentation, for ten to 15 minutes, following which there will be questions from members of the committee.

Ms Catherine Hazlett

I hope to complete my presentation in less than 15 minutes.

I thank the committee for the opportunity to provide a briefing on the Irish programme for 2010, European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion. I hope the committee found the background note about the European year useful. In my presentation I will briefly highlight some of the main points covered in the information note but I intend to focus, in particular, on some key events in the Irish programme to explain to the committee what they are intended to achieve in fostering the aims of the European year and how it is planned they will input to the development of the social inclusion strategies. I look forward to hearing the committee's views on the plans for the year.

Each year since 1983, the EU has initiated a European year awareness campaign on various different issues. The European Council and the European Commission have designated 2010 as European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion. The proposal to designate 2010 as that European year is intended to reaffirm and strengthen the initial political commitment of the EU at the start of the Lisbon strategy in March 2000 to make a decisive impact on the eradication of poverty.

The European year aims to raise public awareness of poverty and social exclusion in Europe and to convey the key message that poverty and exclusion are obstacles to social and economic development. The objectives which the European Commission has identified for the European year are to recognise that people in poverty have a right to play a full part in society, to bring about public ownership of the cause of social exclusion through emphasising everybody's responsibility in tackling poverty and marginalisation, to promote a more cohesive society where nobody doubts that all society benefits from the eradication of poverty and to secure commitments at all levels of Government and society to bring about progress.

Some 29 countries are participating in the European year including the 27 member states, Norway and Iceland. The social inclusion division in the Department of Social and Family Affairs has been designated as the national implementing body for the Irish national programme. The division has overall responsibility for preparing, co-ordinating and implementing the programme. A national advisory committee has been established to advise the national implementing body, which is the social inclusion division, on all aspects of the programme for the year. The national advisory committee comprises some 30 representatives of Departments, statutory agencies, local authorities, the European Commission, the social partners, including the trade unions, employer and farming organisations and national voluntary sector bodies.

The committee's approach to its task is that all levels of society have a part to play in the eradication of poverty and exclusion. The advisory committee met three times in 2009 to prepare for the year and a further meeting is scheduled in the coming weeks. In drawing up the national programme for the year, the social inclusion division undertook preparatory consultations to seek views on the appropriate themes for the programme and the activities that could be undertaken during the course of the year. This process involved eight workshops with community and voluntary groups that work with children, people of working age, older people, carers, migrants, Travellers, people with disabilities and communities. It also included three regional workshops which were organised by the European Anti-Poverty Network. The particular focus in those workshops was on involving people who experience poverty and social exclusion and the groups and organisations that work with them. There were also consultations with the senior officials group on social inclusion, the local government social inclusion steering group and senior officials in central Departments, for example, the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and the Office for Older People. The calendar of events for the year has been shaped by these consultations. We have supplied the committee with some copies of the calendar for the year.

I shall outline for the committee some of the flagship events and their intended outcomes in regard to advancing the goals of social inclusion. The national action plan for social inclusion provides the priority themes for the year. They are children, people of working age, older people, and people with disabilities.

The Minister for Social and Family Affairs formally launched the Irish programme on 5 February 2010. Some 200 participants attended the event in Dublin Castle. This was followed by an international conference in Dublin, Building a Social Europe, organised by the European Anti-Poverty Network with support from the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

The calendar for the rest of year includes four key strands. There will be four regional seminars in April and May on social inclusion topics relating to child poverty, access to quality work and learning opportunities, access to services for older people and for people with disabilities. The purpose of the seminars is to explore how policies and services are experienced, how barriers to implementation might be removed and how delivery might be shaped to better meet the needs of the respective groups of people. An important aspect of the organisation of these regional seminars is that they will strive to bring all interests together in a common purpose. Seminars will be organised by the community and voluntary sector groups and they will involve the people at the centre of policy implementation, people experiencing poverty and local and national groups that work with them, as well as the officials responsible for framing the responses and implementation.

The proceedings of these events and the views and the suggestions for progress will be documented and will form the core agenda for the annual social inclusion forum which will be held in November. That will bring the formal conclusion to the year. That forum brings together more than 300 national local organisations and the senior officials responsible for social inclusion policies. The forum results in feedback for the individual Departments and agencies about the impact of programmes on the ground and it results in a report to the Cabinet committee on social inclusion, children and integration, about how policies are experienced.

A second strand of the programme relates to the social inclusion weeks. These will focus on promoting innovation and sharing good practice about ways to bring about greater social inclusion. The week in May will promote local work, for example, in the hundreds of community projects around the country, such as the family resource centres health care projects. The emphasis will be on how local communities and people are responding to the needs of their areas. It is anticipated that many of these local community activities, in particular those that receive grants under a funding initiative which is to take place for the year, will take place during the May social inclusion week.

Some of these events are designed to highlight issues that face particularly vulnerable groups, such as migrants, Travellers and minority groups. The local development partnerships will lead many of these activities. The October week will have a similar focus, that is, to showcase local initiatives but it will focus particularly on the work of the local authorities and the collaborative work they are doing with communities to tackle disadvantage. Some important anchor dates for these two weeks relate to 15 May, the UN day of families, and 17 October which is the UN day for the eradication of poverty.

A third strand of the programme for the year relates to harnessing expert knowledge and in combating poverty and social exclusion. That strand of the programme focuses on the exchange of expert knowledge about ways to measure progress on social inclusion policies and what has worked in other countries. Technical specialist workshops will explore how poverty is measured in comparison with the methodology used by other European countries and how progress on reducing poverty can be measured and benchmarked against the best performing countries. Other expert seminars will consider mainstreaming equality objectives. There will be a cross-Border conference which will examine rural disadvantage and will have an input from the European Commission.

Young people are involved in this expert knowledge as well because projects from the young social innovators programme, that is, a programme for transition year students, will showcase young people's solutions to bring about a more socially inclusive society in Ireland.

The fourth strand relates to making sure that all actors in all strands of Irish society have an opportunity to participate. The idea of shared purpose is central to the calendar of events, thus the participation of a wide range of organisations, such as sporting and other bodies, is a prominent feature of the calendar of events for the year. Organisations that have expressed an interest in participating include the family support agency, the Equality Authority, the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, the National Disability Authority, the GAA, the Camogie Association, the IRFU, the Sports Council and many others. These organisations do so on the basis of their own funding and showcase the work they are doing in many of these areas.

The European Commission has identified that promoting awareness and knowledge about poverty and social exclusion and how they are barriers to societal progress are important aims of the year right across the EU. Another important aim is to affirm the importance of collective effort in the engagement of all interests — Government, local authorities, community and voluntary groups and, in particular, people experiencing poverty themselves in bringing about a more inclusive society.

The Irish programme of events has been designed to achieve these aims. Furthermore, the arrangements for the year will test models of engagement with key interests and provide the basis for developing robust structures for consultation with stakeholders including people experiencing poverty in the development of strategies for social inclusion and in the ways in which they are implemented.

The reports of the consultation events and the expert workshops and, most importantly, the annual social inclusion forum will be brought to the attention of the senior officials with responsibility for implementing policies and the Cabinet committee on social inclusion, children and integration, to inform the development of the strategies for the future. At European level it is anticipated that the outcomes of the year will provide a significant input to shaping the Europe 2020 strategy. That strategy will build on the Lisbon strategy and is now at consultation stage. The outcomes of the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion will contribute to the draft strategy's stated objectives, one of which involves empowering people in inclusive societies. I look forward to hearing the views of the committee on the programme.

I thank Ms Hazlett, Ms Ward and Ms O'Flynn for their valuable presentation. We all pay lip service to combating poverty and eliminating social exclusion but, thus far, we have signally failed to more. It is important that we renew our commitment every now and then. This is what the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion is all about.

The national programme is very welcome. I am delighted to see some significant dates and weeks on which there will be special emphasis on workshops, fora, regional activities and local authority initiatives. We are disappointed at the degree to which some of the structures that have been in place have been pared back through cuts in the budget of 2009. We have raised on numerous occasions, at this forum and others, the fact that the Irish Human Rights Commission lost 24% of its budget. The Equality Authority was hit harder still. The National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism was subsumed into the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Combat Poverty has ground to a halt. Quite a number of bodies established specifically to deal with social exclusion and to combat poverty no longer exist. It is ironic that Ireland has taken those steps just as it is about to embark on the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion. The delegates have no control over this but, nevertheless, it means we are starting a couple of steps back from our normal point of departure. There is a great deal of work to be done.

What is the budget for the year? We can talk forever about doing work but unless there is a significant budget, we will not make much progress. Is the budget earmarked for specific activities or does it come under the general heading of the national programme as outlined?

The ministry for integration has been abolished. Are specific activities being designed to deal with integration of ethnic minorities and the new Irish communities scattered around the country? In times of economic hardship, there is likely to be increasing pressure on those communities. Therefore, there is greater need for social inclusion mechanisms to be put in place. I would like to see positive and substantial developments in this area.

This morning, representatives of the Irish Elderly Advice Network visited the Houses in addition to representatives of the survivors’ network. Approximately one third of the survivors of abuse in Irish institutions, be it the Magdalene homes or the industrial schools, are living in the United Kingdom. The representatives were visiting Ireland and have many issues and concerns. Does the programme of the delegates extend beyond this jurisdiction? Many Irish in Britain experienced very considerable social exclusion and poverty. Is addressing this part and parcel of the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion and its national equivalent?

I am glad the Department will make an input into the Lisbon strategy and Europe 2020 and contribute to the draft strategy's objective of empowering people in inclusive societies. In the Lisbon treaty, which is now part of EU and domestic law, there are very specific statutory commitments to social inclusion, in addition to commitments associated with the Charter of Fundamental Rights. It is in this context that future policy and legislation should be informed. There is now a framework in place. It might be desirable to consider how the Lisbon treaty could be related to the national programme and whether there are elements thereof that could be incorporated into the Department's work.

I am delighted to see what the Department has proposed. We are not starting from scratch but from a minus position because of the cutbacks. The difficulties associated with the present economic circumstances will worsen our position but that is all the more reason to have a very strong strategy to deal with social inclusion. Circumstances are likely to deteriorate while the economic crisis persists. Therefore, we strongly support any steps that can be taken to alleviate the problem.

I welcome the delegation and thank it for its presentation. There is no doubt but that during a recession, efforts to promote and maintain social inclusion are particularly important.

I have a few questions on the circulated submission on the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion. Speakers referred to an event in May, the young social innovators' annual showcase. What is the Department's involvement in this? Much of the work being done among social entrepreneurs and social innovators appears to involve coming up with a new way to deal with some of the social difficulties that have been alluded to. This work appears to be more successful at capturing the imagination and energy of people than traditional methods such as participating in a charity or working for a political party. I want to know a little more about the annual showcase and the Department's involvement.

My second question is on funding. Speakers referred to the pressure exerted by funding constraints this year. The delegates referred to the EU funding initiative for this year. What kinds of funds does the Union provide to promote the objectives the delegates referred to? Has there been any change this year to the amount of funding available?

The delegates referred to family resource centres, which are to be the subject of consideration in the social inclusion weeks in May and October. I became aware of the centres only recently when I visited one in Hill Street, off the top of O'Connell Street. I was really impressed by the work they are doing which is very proactive and deals with problems before they develop as opposed to dealing with their consequences. I would like to hear more about how the delegates support that work.

Following on from my second question about the availability of funding, do the delegates do any work to try to make people such as those in the centres aware of funding opportunities that might exist other than money which might come to them from local authorities or central government? In dealing with these kinds of organisations, I find they are very hard pressed at times to keep the show on the road. They are not aware of opportunities that may exist to help fund the work they are doing.

I follow what Senator Donohoe said about family resource centres which, like many organisations, are feeling the pinch at present. Much of the work they do is not fully appreciated by the wider community. The family resource centre nearest to me is in Newbridge. It has grown from very small, humble beginnings and expanded every year to provide wonderful services to a community that is very appreciative of what is provided. People avail of the centres. There is no limit to the number of services offered, whether it is minding very small children or providing information technology courses for older people and generally getting involved in the community. It is a tremendous resource for individual families but also helps to bring the community together and creates a great spirit. The resources we are investing in family resource centres constitute money well spent and the country is much better off as a result of our investment.

On the subject of the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion and the contribution made to that, I look at the timetable and am very conscious, as were a number of my colleagues, of the funding the centres receive during the year. I look at the events planned, such as conferences, seminars and workshops. I hope I am not becoming too cynical as I get older. These events are important and it is important we promote awareness of poverty and social exclusion and educate people to make them aware of what is available, what we are trying to promote and how we are trying to change the country. For all that, one finds the same people turning up. The organising and running of conferences and seminars becomes a business on its own. One can travel around to them. There is a list of events lined up and one can guarantee that for the most part, the same people will turn up at all of them. I wonder about that.

Are the delegates satisfied, having organised such events, that this is the best use of their resources? What percentage of the annual budget will be spent on these conferences, seminars and workshops? I know they are important to a degree and I do not want to sound too cynical, but I feel they do not attract a sufficiently wide audience. There are repeat visitors and participants. Perhaps the delegates might explain the thinking behind this.

There has never been a more appropriate time to focus on these issues than at present. The European Union has correctly identified what is likely to be part of our everyday lives for the foreseeable future and that is very useful. The delegates have linked into this extremely well.

On the issue of how we have combated social exclusion and poverty during the past ten to 15 years, the boom times, from my knowledge of our respective constituencies, I know there are people who were socially excluded ten years ago and are still that way even though we came through great times. The degree to which the local social fabric has broken down was not in any way altered by the Celtic tiger. There is a huge blight in urban areas of social exclusion, poverty and a lack of all the goods people seem to identify with a successful economy. For example, unemployment is as bad as ever, although other factors have contributed to that.

There is the say no to ageism week, which is useful but it is no harm to comment on it. The reality is that at present, quite a number of people who are getting on in years find themselves isolated. If anything goes wrong and a member of a household has an illness or disability, this creates problems and unease for people in the age group in question. They listen to various experts who appear from time to time to suggest all kinds of remedies for social exclusion, none of which seems to bear any concern about their situation or the possibility of their social inclusion. Such people usually find themselves on long waiting lists for all kinds of services. Probably the most serious thing that can happen to a person who is dependent on others or on society in any way is to find himself or herself on a long waiting list for health services or, unfortunately, social welfare services, as happens at present. People may be on a long waiting list for social housing. There are long waiting lists, full stop. It does not reassure older people to find that those who require long-term institutional care, for example, must go on another waiting list and must be assessed several times before being provided with the necessary accommodation. That is only one example.

There are still young people falling off the social ladder, so to speak. There continues to be a serious rate of drop-out from the education system which the delegates covered in their programme. It was the case ten and 20 years ago and is still the case. The sad thing is that even though as a society we seem to have progressed, we have let many people drop through the loops, as it were, and that still remains the case. For example, we all have at this time in our respective constituencies hundreds of people on housing lists who have been on them for up to ten years. The degree to which they have confidence in the system is being eroded rapidly. That is a fact of life.

I do not want to make the delegates' job even bigger. We have had these conversations in the past, inside and outside the Department of Social and Family Affairs. The points the delegates have headlined are very valid. The degree to which our society is capable of tackling those issues head on remains to be seen. If we do not do that, the problem grows and our society comes under pressure. At a time of great financial difficulty, there is the possibility of even greater pressure.

Cuirim fáilte roimh ár gcúirteoirí agus impím orthu mo leithscéal a ghabháil nach raibh mé i láthair chun éisteacht leo ar dtús agus go bhfuil orm éalú i gceann cúpla nóiméad. The guests are very welcome and I offer my apologies that I was not present to hear their presentation, although I have read the papers. I apologise also that I must leave very shortly.

I agree with the thrust of what others have said. There are two levels to this issue. One is the generation of societal awareness of the many challenges that face us at the level of poverty and social exclusion. We are all aware that social exclusion is not something that can be confined to an absence of material means. There is a wider set of issues on which we must reflect together. There is also the issue of moving people from passivity to activity, taking on board what Deputy Power said. He has experience. We all agree a minority of people engage with these kinds of initiatives and a majority are broadly supportive but are happy to let others get on with the work.

Two issues strike me today. There is concern about the quality of our education, and the horrible phrase "grade inflation" is used. I believe part of tackling social exclusion or the potential for tackling it lies in promoting a culture of participation and excellence in education. I lecture in a third level institution in Blanchardstown which has done excellent work in being situated at the heart of an emerging community and, through its networking with local schools and the provision of education, to advance people's participation in third level education. A quality issue is now emerging throughout the country which should be of concern to this discussion because if we want to be able to compete internationally and bring people who are socially excluded into education, we must maintain quality. Does the delegation have any thoughts on that in light of the topical nature of that discussion?

A second issue occurred to me as I read the delegation's paper. It is a question I often ask. The delegation referred to the participation of the various actors and strands of society. While it may be that they are not absent, is enough being done to engage churches? I am not just thinking of the Catholic Church, which is the majority church. I am very conscious of the participation of many members of immigrant communities in various churches. In Ireland, tremendous contributions have been made over the years by organisations such as Crosscare in Dublin and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Is there any way in which the energy and vigour of the churches can be harnessed to get new people to participate and help generate awareness of the work the delegation is doing and trying to promote?

In my experience as a church-goer, even when attendances decrease collections seem to increase, and people in that section of society dig deep. Can they be encouraged to dig deep, not just in terms of money but in terms of energy as well? I am not just referring to the traditional community but also to the new communities for whom a church is an important part of their experience of life. I am not asking the question in a critical way. It is a genuine inquiry whether enough thought has been given to a possible liaison with church groups and bodies to draw in people in terms of awareness and participation. I apologise for not being present to hear the delegation's answer but I will read the record.

We hope the Senator does because I intend to continue the meeting. I suspected he would be going elsewhere.

I referred to waiting lists. Every waiting list is a threat to an elderly person, something which should be borne in mind. Children are also on waiting lists for almost every service available, including orthodontics, for which we all know they can wait five, six, seven or eight years. It can be a serious issue. There is also a new type of poverty emerging whereby people who left college or school, went into employment and had eight or ten years of continuous employment, are now unemployed, perhaps the first time in their lives, and find themselves on a waiting list for a particular service. Such people are quite vulnerable.

We hear regularly how politicians should bestir themselves on issues other than that before the committee. As all members of the committee and the delegation will fully appreciate, it is in the nature of the business done by public representatives. They interact with members of the public and hear the complaints from them as to how the system affects them or does not respond to their needs at a particular time. While we always value expert opinion, we have practical experience which shows that without continual monitoring and nudging from public representatives, things would be a lot worse. To my mind, there is no better way to get inspiration for a legislative programme than to find out how the legislation already in place affects the people for whom it was intended.

That said, the delegation does not require assistance from the committee. It knows the issues and has been working on them. I spent 20 years as a member of a health board and local authority. Many of the same problems existed 20 years ago, which is frightening. Did the delegation refer to ageism? It did. The issues we foresaw 20 years ago and tried to address still exist and are emerging once again. There is ample space and need to address issues, something which has already been identified. I invite the delegation to respond and thank it for its presentation.

Ms Catherine Hazlett

I thank the committee for its views and questions, and will try to answer as many as I can. There have been some very good suggestions of areas we might explore further. Deputy Costello——

He had to leave to attend another meeting.

Ms Catherine Hazlett

——and other members of the committee raised the question of the budget for the year, which is €436,000, of which €260,000 comprises the contribution to the Irish programme and to which the European Commission contributes €174,000. Some members of the committee asked for a detailed breakdown of the money. I will ask Ms Ward to give the committee some of that information.

Some of the work and initiatives we plan to undertake during the course of the year will go to procurement. For example, even though we will ask the voluntary and community sectors to organise seminars, we have also asked them to submit proposals on how they will do them and what they will cost. We will be able to give the committee a broad indication of the different strands of the budget. We will hold some of the information until tenders have been submitted because it is sensitive information. We will be delighted to give the committee a full breakdown within a few weeks.

Another question referred to integration and asked what strands of the programme would examine issues concerning ethic minorities and new communities. Workshops are planned around some of the issues faced by migrant workers and newcomers to Ireland, a number of which will take place during the social inclusion week. There are also specific seminars organised for the groups concerned.

Deputy Costello asked whether the Irish in Britain are included in the programme. That issue has not emerged as a particular project which has been proposed to us, but there are projects within Ireland which assist the Irish who lived in Britain when they return to Ireland. I do not know if any such groups have submitted applications for funding under the European initiative, but there is one group in Ireland which works with emigrant groups who are returning home. We could examine the possibility of encouraging that group to participate in the events of the year to highlight some of the issues.

Deputy Costello also referred to the links between this year and some of the European instruments and objectives. The activities planned within the Irish programme fit in with the principles of many of the European instruments such as the EU regulations on social security for migrant workers and the directives on equal treatment. All of those come up as themes within the programme. There is a Council of Europe social charter, particularly the right to protection against poverty and social exclusion and the European code for social security as well as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Issues that arise within these conventions and the extent to which Ireland is fulfilling its obligations have spawned themes which will be part of the objectives which are built on in some of the workshops. There are links and they will become more apparent probably at the end of the year when at official level we can draw the programme together. I do not expect in the local workshops that some of the high level instruments would be a key focus of debate but certainly the conversations around the key problems that people are experiencing will be related to some of those issues.

Other questions related to young social innovators and what that programme is about. We have had a very good response from the young social innovators programme, which is an initiative for transition year students. Certainly there is great enthusiasm among the students to participate in the year and my colleague, Ms Joan O'Flynn, will give the committee some further details.

Many members raised the issue of the family resource centres. These are funded under the family support agency which is one of our key partners in developing the programme for the year. Certainly there was a huge acknowledgment of the work of the family resource centres as more than 500 small groups around the country have applied for small funding initiatives. The family resource centre in Hill Street was mentioned, as was one in a rural area and one in Newbridge. The services being provided to individuals by family resource centres are clear from the proposals made to us for small scale funding. What they want to do is highlight the work they are doing in their own local communities. We expect that funding will be decided in the next few days. Many of the family resources centres should be quite successful.

Deputy Power raised the issue of the same people turning up at the seminars. Of course that is an issue. One of the important parts of this programme is to ensure more happens at local and regional level because people cannot travel and they do not all come to Dublin. The opening and closing events are held in Dublin but most of the seminars, workshops and showcases are intended to take place at local level. An important aspect is to ensure that people experiencing poverty and those who are users of the services of family resource centres and of the health projects get the opportunity to participate at local level in the activities and initiatives that are highlighting the year for them.

We were asked about the best use of resources. Some of our conversations about the budget will reassure the committee that we are trying to get the best value for money from the programme. The sporting bodies, the cultural organisations and some of agencies, such as Pobal and the Equality Authority, organise initiatives from within their own resources and are not seeking anything from us. We have discovered there is a great enthusiasm for participating in the year. More than 500 applications have been received for a small funding initiative where grants of the order of €5,000 are being offered to local groups. We have been told this is higher than the number of applications received in Germany and France. I wish to reassure the committee that the evidence is that there is a huge enthusiasm and a knowledge at all levels for the year and the opportunity to promote information about what is happening in terms of tackling local disadvantage.

The chairman raised questions about poverty and to what extent it has been eliminated and what progress has been made. Part of the social inclusion division's work relates to monitoring the poverty trends. It is quite a technical process and we would have indicators. For example, 2008, which is the last year for which the CSO data are available on monitoring progress, would show that the rate of overall population of poverty in the population has fallen to 4% in recent years. The target in the Government's action plan is to eliminate consistent poverty by 2016. Certainly, the 2008 figures would indicate that the strategy and the plan to tackle social inclusion, in so far as poverty was concerned, was on track at the end of that year. The challenge now is that progress should be maintained.

Other Deputies asked about older people and the Chairman asked about services for children. We are trying to make the workshops as practical as possible. In consultation with the local groups on how we should frame the year, one of the issues that emerged was that they want practical outcomes from the workshops and the local seminars. Much thought has been put into how the themes and questions to be discussed at those seminars should be framed. There is a focus on the barriers people are encountering on a day to day basis in terms of getting access to services, whether it is for older people seeking access to transport, care, opportunities for learning and life-long learning. What can be done in terms of implementation and delivery that can overcome some of those barriers having regard to the fact that the financial situation is very difficult? If changes can be made to improve that delivery, the people who are experiencing poverty will have the opportunity to tell us how these services could be better framed to meet their needs.

Senator Mullen raised the issue of general social awareness. The points I have made about the large number of applications for the funding initiative and also the enthusiasm under the young social innovators programme might give the Senator an understanding of the commitment we find at local level. I will hand over to colleagues, Ms Fiona Ward and Ms Joan O'Flynn, and see if there are other questions that I have overlooked.

Ms Fiona Ward

I will speak about the budget for the year. As Ms Hazlett said, the total budget for the year is €436,000, of which €262,000 has been contributed by the Exchequer and €174,000 by the European Commission. We have a detailed breakdown of the budget. We have gone to tender for the delivery of some aspects of the budget and that tender process in ongoing. When that process has finished, I can provide the committee with a complete detailed breakdown of the budget. We have gone to tender to the community and voluntary sector to deliver the four regional seminars. That process is due for completion this week. We have had a number of tenders in already. They will deliver the regional seminars, access the participants and provide a report to us at the end.

We have our one off initiative, the expert workshops, on specific themes — urban renewal, rural renewal, Traveller issues, migration, poverty rates and a technical event on the indicators of poverty measurement. We are providing grants of about €6,500 to the organisations providing those workshops to cover the costs of hiring events, catering, refreshments and so on. The cross-Border conference on rural renewal will be organised by Pobal and involve the European Commission. Pobal is providing most of the funding for that conference.

The social inclusion weeks will run from 15 to 21 May and from 17 to 23 October. The weeks are designed to highlight best practice and showcase locally-based social inclusion initiatives. We provided €50,000 for each of those weeks to assist the groups. The May social inclusion week will be led by the local development partnership groups and the October week, as Ms Hazlett said, will be led by the local authorities. That money is to assist them with the funding of art competitions, the printing of posters. etc. It is simply a small contribution towards funding the week because there are 34 local authorities and when €50,000 is divided among them, it does not amount to a great deal of money. Essentially, it is a contribution.

We also have €120,000 in our funding initiative, which Ms Hazlett mentioned. We received 581 applications under that initiative and we hope to announce the recipients later this week. Approximately 40 grants will be awarded under it, which accounts for €120,000. We have general administration costs. We want to undertake an independent evaluation of the committee and will go to tender for that. We provided support to the European Anti-Poverty Network Ireland for its conference last week. The budget covers those areas.

Ms Joan O’Flynn

I would like to respond to the queries regarding the young social innovators. This is a programme run by an independent organisation. It has been in situ for a number of years and therefore is well established within the post-primary school curriculum.

One of the elements of the programme is that a number of challenges are set for young people and one of the challenges in 2010 is combating poverty and social exclusion, particularly in the context of the EU year. The programme is a social awareness and social action initiative. It is intended to support the student to learn about the particular topic but also to do something about it, thereby being an active agent in understanding and addressing the particular issue.

In advance of the showcase, which is the highlight of the year and happens once a year, bringing together a couple of thousand transition year students to learn from each other's projects, a programme of work is done in supporting teachers to be involved in the work. This year we are aware there are 80 school projects by transition year students throughout the country examining the issue of poverty and social exclusion. Some of those topics are of particular interest to young people in that they are very much issues that affect them, including the cost of school books, the experience of recession in terms of the way it is affecting their young lives, and how to manage their money better.

Many of the projects are outward looking in terms of the community. They include the issue of intergenerational contact between young people and the elderly, particularly socially excluded elderly people, issues experienced by people with disabilities, issues in regard to homelessness, learning difficulties, issues of integration of different religions within the local community, and also women's and children's issues. One project is examining the experience of women in prison and how women are supported to reintegrate into the community.

The themes reflect the priority themes of the EU year and the output of that work will be available to us in May 2010 when the schools come together at a showcase in Croke Park to learn about and share their experiences with other students throughout the country.

Ms Catherine Hazlett

A question was raised about the family resource centres and whether we are doing anything to assist them in drawing down funding. The Family Support Agency provides the support for the family resource centres. The family resource centres provide a variety of services. They have that administrative support and a resource worker who should be in a position to draw down funding but I will certainly bring it to the attention of my colleague in the Family Support Agency.

I would appreciate that. I have corresponded with the family resource centre in question in Hill Street and I was taken aback by the excellent work it does. They are all under the same type of funding pressures as anybody who is receiving funding from the State. If there is an opportunity to help these people through this time it should be taken because it is money well spent. I would appreciate if that could be done.

I thank the representatives for their presentation. It was interesting and serves to focus our attention on the issues their organisation, and society, has to confront. As public representatives we must lend our support to them as well. I thank the representatives.

Ms Catherine Hazlett

We thank the committee. We listened to the questions and got some ideas.

The joint committee went into private session at 3.05 p.m. and adjourned at 3.25 p.m. until 2.45 p.m. on Tuesday, 9 March 2010.