JobPath: Statements

The Minister is very welcome.

I thank the House for the invitation to outline my Department’s activation polices and in particular the important role of the JobPath initiative. Getting and keeping a job is the most effective way that people can be lifted out of poverty, achieve financial independence and have improved living standards. As a result of the improvement in the economy and the range of activation activities carried out by the Department of Social Protection, much progress has been made in helping people to return to employment and in helping some people to get jobs for the first time. We are continuing with a range of programmes and JobPath, the subject of today’s debate, is making a real difference for people who are long-term unemployed. The results to date are positive and the feedback from those who have participated in the initiative has also been positive in a clear majority of cases.

The service is still in its early days and the employment outcome data, although promising, should therefore be treated as preliminary. It will take some time to build up a definitive view of the service. A small number of poor experiences by participants can attract negative commentary and there will always be people who have a bad experience of any programme, service or scheme but I want to assure the House that independent reviews of outcomes to date of the initiative are very positive.

The Government, in the Action Plan for Jobs and the Pathways to Work strategy, is targeting continuing strong economic recovery and employment growth, as well as ensuring that unemployed people benefit from the increases in employment.

The action plan led by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation creates jobs, and Pathways to Work, led by my Department, ensures those who are on the live register get those jobs or at least a fair share of them. The economic recovery is unusual in Ireland in that employment growth has been matched almost equally with a fall in unemployment. This is proof positive that Pathways to Work is a success. Generally, growth in employment and falling unemployment are lag indicators in economic recovery, with economic growth happening first, employment rising later and unemployment only falling after that. In Ireland, unemployment has been falling since the beginning of the recovery and is falling as fast today as it has at any period in recent years.

The most recent data show that unemployment has fallen from a peak of more than 15% in 2012 to 6.6% last month, a rate which is lower than the EU average. The long-term unemployment rate peaked at 9.5% in the first quarter of 2012 before falling to 3.6% in the last quarter of last year. By the end of 2016, long-term unemployment accounted for 54% of all people unemployed, down from almost 65% in 2012. The number of long-term unemployed in the third quarter of 2016 was 80,000. This compares with 200,000 in early 2012.

The JobPath service was designed to augment and complement my Department’s existing employment service capacity, which is provided by Intreo, the local employment services and job clubs, as well as employment activation schemes like community employment, CE, Tús, Gateway and, formerly, JobBridge. The additional capacity provided through the JobPath service has allowed the Department to provide the type and intensity of services required by jobseekers, particularly those who are most distant from the labour market and find it hardest to get jobs and keep them. Many more jobseekers are getting one-to-one engagement and support than ever before. While I appreciate that for some that attention may be unwelcome, for most it is welcome.

How does it work? The JobPath service is based on the referral of long-term unemployed jobseekers. For the purposes of the JobPath service, all long-term unemployed people on the live register are categorised into groups based on how long they have been unemployed, for example, one to two years, two to three years and so on. Selection for referral to JobPath is by means of a stratified random sampling using these groupings. The objective is to ensure equity in selection and that the people referred are representative of the long-term cohort on the live register. Selection is carried out by my Department and not by the JobPath companies.

My Department refers each customer selected to JobPath for a period of 12 months. Two contractors are delivering the service: Turas Nua and Seetec. Generally speaking, Turas Nua provides services in the southern part of the State and Seetec in the northern part and Dublin. It is not unusual for Government services to be provided through private companies by means of contracting or outsourcing. Indeed, many community employment scheme sponsors and community service programmes are registered companies as well. Some even turn a profit. The contractors provide services from locations that are accessible to the customer by public transport or private motorised transport with a normal journey time or commute of no more than 60 minutes. Where such services are not provided, my Department will quickly engage with the provider to ensure they are provided or that our clients are helped to access services.

At a time when there is concern about the loss of post offices, banks and Garda stations in rural Ireland and small towns throughout the country, Seetec and Turas Nua offices are opening throughout the country, many in small towns, providing a local job service in local towns for the first time and creating employment in their own right. The JobPath service provider writes to each referred jobseeker inviting them to attend an initial information session presented jointly by an official from my Department and a representative of the contractor. The letter of invitation includes a standard notification to the customer about the need to engage with the provider and the nature of the services and support that will be provided. The subsequent information session provides customers with information on customer rights and responsibilities, the JobPath programme itself, the service provided by the contractor and a copy of the service statement. After attending an information session, customers are given an appointment for their first one-to-one meeting with a personal adviser. This meeting should take place as soon as possible after the information session. The date of this first one-to-one meeting is the start date of the 52-week engagement period on the programme.

When meeting their personal adviser, each customer receives a guaranteed baseline service, including a personal progression plan. The plan sets out the skills and competencies of the customer, identifies any obvious barriers to employment and helps the customer to identify his or her particular goals and interests in a return to employment. With the JobPath service, jobseekers have access to a personal adviser who works with them over two phases. In the first phase, which lasts for up to a year, the adviser provides practical assistance in searching, preparing for, securing and sustaining employment. The second phase starts when the jobseeker is successful in finding work. During this phase the personal adviser continues to work with the jobseeker to provide any extra support needed for a period of up to 12 months. This helps the client to stay in employment and hold on to the new job. It is a service we were never able to offer before.

When my Department refers a customer to JobPath, it requires the customer to engage appropriately with the service provider. The service provider is required to make every effort to encourage the customer to attend. Customers who do not attend or do not engage with the service can be referred back to the Department by the service provider. In such cases, my Department will examine the circumstances of non-attendance and seek to facilitate the customer’s engagement. I wish to stress that any decision regarding entitlement or payments being reduced or stopped can only be made by officials of my Department, officers designated by me using statutory instruments, and not by the JobPath companies. The rules are the same and apply to all jobseekers. One must be genuinely seeking work to receive a jobseeker’s allowance or benefit. Taxpayers are willing to support financially with their hard-earned tax euro people who are looking for work, but they should not have to pay for those who are making little or no effort to help themselves and find work.

JobPath is a payment by results model. All initial costs are borne by the companies, such as costs of premises, staff, etc. The companies are paid registration fees and job sustainment fees. A registration fee may be claimed only when a jobseeker has developed a personal progression plan. Job sustainment fees are payable for each 13-week period of sustained employment, up to a maximum of 52 weeks. The total payments to the JobPath companies amounted to €26.8 million in 2016. The jobs must be full time, that is, more than 30 hours a week, with some exceptions. This means JobPath companies are incentivised financially to assist people to find full-time jobs that they are likely to hold down and are therefore suited to. Precarious part-time employment that is not sustained provides little or no revenue or profits where the company is concerned.

The Department has recently published its first performance report on JobPath. Should Senators wish to examine it in more detail, this report is available on our website. The initial data on the impact of the service are very encouraging, showing high levels of satisfaction among clients of the service and that people who engage with the service are more likely to secure employment than those who do not. Employment outcome data show that compared with a similar group of people who did not take part in the service, people who availed of the service were 23% more likely to have started a job. The difference is more marked and even better for very long-term unemployed people. For those out of work for more than three years, some 44% were more likely to have found a job if they participated in JobPath than others out of work for as long who were not referred. These outcomes refer to full-time jobs of more than 30 hours a week. In short, JobPath works.

The results of an independent customer satisfaction survey recently undertaken indicates that jobseekers feel that they are receiving a good service and that JobPath has improved their chances of securing employment. Between 76% and 81% of customers were satisfied with the service provided and only between 5% and 8% expressed dissatisfaction. Over 90% of customers reported that JobPath staff made them feel valued and that they have a good relationship with their JobPath adviser. They also felt that the service had improved their chances of getting a job.

The service was implemented on a phased basis from June 2015 to July 2016. The numbers referred initially were low but this is increasing, with more than 82,000 customers referred to date. As has always been the case, we do not allow people to chop and change mid-stream between different services, programmes, courses or schemes. JobPath is no different. If someone is unsuccessful after a year’s effort on JobPath, they can become eligible for schemes like CE. This is a good approach, as it means they have tried and have been supported to try to get a regular job before falling back on schemes like CE and Tús.

It will take time to accumulate data on a sufficient number of clients who have completed their engagement period for a complete and robust assessment of the outcomes. The first statistics on outcomes were published in January 2017 and fresh statistics will be published each quarter, with the next release available next month.

The improvements in our economy are very encouraging and we are clearly experiencing a jobs-led and job-rich recovery. There are, however, no grounds for complacency.

We know that for a variety of reasons it is hardest for those who are long-term unemployed to return to the workforce. JobPath is one of the targeted measures introduced by my Department to assist those returning to the workforce. The results are encouraging and exceeding expectations. We hope to see the continued successful delivery of the service, in conjunction with other activation measures, including local employment services which now have reduced caseloads, jobs clubs, community employment and Tús.

I again thank Members for giving me the opportunity to speak and look forward to our discussion on the matter.

Fianna Fáil welcomes the fall in the level of unemployment. Credit must go to the people and businesses that are responsible for the recovery which is due to their resilience, skills, hard work, entrepreneurialism and determination to move forward to secure a better future for themselves, their families and communities. Despite the fall in the level of unemployment, the recovery has not reached all sections of society and thousands remain unemployed, many of whom are long-term unemployed and in danger of remaining at the fringes of society, spectators rather than participants in their communities and society at large. It is clear that a concerted effort must be made to make this an Ireland for all rather than an Ireland for certain people or certain sections of society.

While Fianna Fáil is in favour of measures that support people in getting back into employment, it is imperative that activation measures such as JobPath be holistic in their approach, sensitive to people's needs and do not replicate the mistakes associated with JobBridge. Furthermore, Fianna Fáil does not support programmes that are punitive and coerce jobseekers into taking up unsuitable and inappropriate jobs. It must be recognised that those who are long-term unemployed, or at risk of becoming unemployed, may have a number of issues that make it difficult to enter the labour market. Therefore, it is essential that the Department puts checks in place to ensure the two private companies, Seetec Limited and Turas Nua which have been charged with responsibility for delivering JobPath, will be trained in how to deal with and be aware of factors such as mental health issues, family breakdown and substance misuse that may impact on a person's ability to work. At the heart of any activation programme must be the individual and his or her particular needs. It is important that the Department engages continuously with all stakeholders involved in the activation programme in order to improve it.

The Minister has outlined how the programme works and the benefits associated with it. Some of my colleagues who instigated this debate have raised concerns about JobPath. One of the major concerns is not being able to access community employment schemes as JobPath takes precedence. Concerns have been raised that those who have been referred to JobPath can no longer participate in community employment schemes. Public representatives across the country have received complaints from people who have been offered a place on a community employment scheme but who have subsequently been referred to JobPath and must participate in it rather than take up the place on the community employment scheme. Many of the people who have contacted their public representatives would prefer to take up a place on a community employment scheme which in many instances would be more suitable and appropriate to their needs. It is claimed that JobPath is eroding community employment schemes to the detriment of communities and those who benefit from vital services community employment schemes provide throughout the country.

It has also been reported that those who run community employment schemes cannot fill vacancies because of JobPath. In December 2016 the manager of the Offaly Centre for Independent Living claimed that JobPath was causing untold damage to existing community employment schemes and that there were vacancies on many such schemes that could not be filled. JobPath is being blamed for suffocating them and denying them a supply of staff by removing the referral process and imposing even more stringent constraints within the eligibility criteria. Community employment schemes have grown to develop a great social and economic benefit and we must be mindful of the impact JobPath is having on them. While the goal is to move the majority into full-time, sustainable employment, we need to be cognisant of the fact that a one-size-fits-all approach is not suitable for everybody. There is a need for a degree of flexibility in the activation system and an awareness of people's age, skill set and previous experience, as well as their needs and goals. The social welfare system should not completely remove a person's right to choose and should be flexible to allow people, if they have the choice, to choose between a community employment scheme or JobPath.

I note the customer satisfaction survey of participants in JobPath and acknowledge that it is much better than JobBridge. Although the findings are very encouraging in terms of staff friendliness and engagement, there is a lot of room for improvement. I look forward to hearing how the Department will take on the concerns I have raised and improve the scheme.

Before I offer criticism, I congratulate the Department of Social Protection which has done a lot of good work over many years to provide access to further education and training for members of society. I benefited from its support when I returned to college in 1990 and will be forever grateful for its assistance and the humane approach taken by the officials with whom I dealt. There was no political element to my interaction; I was just a member of the public who dealt directly with the Department, which is the way it should always be. Officials are well capable of doing their job without interference from politicians.

Any scheme that brings people back into the workforce and allows them to upskill and retrain must have the full support of all sides of this House. No scheme has yet been developed that is perfect in every way and there will always be complaints. There will always be a better way of doing things and somebody who knows better than everybody else. That is fine because that is what allows such schemes to evolve to deliver better programmes. The Department gets a kicking enough of the time, but it has been innovative, far-seeing and co-operative in the way it has dealt with programmes. However, political decisions need to be taken.

Seetec and Turas Nua are two English companies, one with an Irish name. The Minister should look at their websites and see to whom they report. It saddens me that offices are being opened by these companies around the country when we have the perfectly good Education and Training Boards Ireland, ETBI, which is capable of delivering programmes at the highest level. It saddens me that the further education sector which I entered in 1990 is still struggling to find its position in Irish society. The abolition of FÁS and the commencement of SOLAS have taken us a long way, but ETBI can do so much and needs to be included in the centre of this scheme.

Some of the back-to-education initiatives are excellent as ideas, but there is not enough financial support. People who find themselves unemployed, for whatever reason, should be offered a pathway back to work through education and training. ETBI and individual education and training boards have been exceptional in meeting the needs of the unemployed. The guidance service available in every community is excellent in helping people in identifying skill shortages. This is not the place to discuss people going back to study at level 5 when they already have level 8 or 9 qualifications. That is a matter for the Minister for Education and Skills and I will discuss it with him at some stage in the not-too-distant future. However, I ask the Minister to engage more with ETBI. I am not saying the Department does not engage, but it needs to do so more.

Instead of opening new offices, let us utilise what we have already. There are 17 further education and training colleges in the country. We need to integrate education and training further into those colleges. I know that SOLAS is working towards that. Speaking as a former president of the Teachers' Union of Ireland, TUI, I know from some of my former colleagues, that there will be difficulties in doing that. The TUI was never afraid to negotiate and was never afraid to meet a Department halfway. That has been proven in the recent negotiations on the Lansdowne Road agreement. I beg the Minister for Social Protection to engage with Education and Training Boards Ireland, ETBI, and get it involved. I ask him to engage with the small training companies in the country, those with three or four offerings. I understand from some of these trainers, for example people who specialised in health and safety training and nothing else, that they are finding it hard to meet some of the requirements that are being laid down. I am not sure whether that falls at the door of SOLAS, or the Department of Social Protection, but it is an issue that needs to be examined.

Let me say to the Minister and his officials to keep doing what they are doing but please keep one ear open all the time for suggestions. I ask him to engage with the ETBI and see how much of the demand of the Social Protection clients can be met through the further education and training sector. I believe that ETBI can deliver everything that is needed and more besides. I would not be a Member of the Seanad or have made it to president of the TUI but for the start I got in 1990 in the then Limerick senior college, now Limerick College of Further Education and I know my colleague, Senator Maria Byrne is a passionate guardian of that college. I will be forever grateful to the education and training boards and the Irish Vocational Education Association and the Department for Social Protection who went more than a mile to meet me.

The Minister should carry on with what he is doing and I thank him for his time.

I thank Senator Craughwell. Senator Ray Butler, who is the next speaker, has eight minutes.

I welcome the Minister to the House. The Programme for Government 2011-2016 contained a commitment to replace FÁS with a new national employment and entitlement service. In the subsequent service plan, published by the Department of Social Protection, it was stated that the Department would explore the potential to augment internal resources through the Department, outsourcing some of the elements of the service. What emerged was JobPath, a model of contracting the provision of employment services for those individuals who are long-term unemployed. The Pathways to Work, PTW, launched in 2012 signalled the potential of contracting with third party providers to complement and augment the existing capacity of the Department of Social Protection, which was already delivering under contract arrangements with local employment service providers to deliver employment services. The JobPath contract model was designed during a two year period, taking account of advice received from Irish and international experts on contracting of employment services and inputs following a number of public stakeholder consultation briefings.

The Department retained the services of the not-for-profit Centre of Economic and Social Inclusion, London to advise on the JobPath model and the procurement process. The key objectives of JobPath were to help people obtain paid employment to the quality of an outcome payment. The service providers must help jobseekers find jobs for at least 30 hours per week for a period of at least 13 weeks. Outcome payments, known as subsequent fees are paid out for each 13 week period of the employment for up to one year. JobPath is a payment by results model, which means the companies will not be able to fully recover their costs until they place sufficient numbers of jobseekers in sustainable jobs, therefore the overall cost of the JobPath programme will be determined by the number of people who participate in the programme and the number who get sustainable jobs. Payments to the companies who organise JobPath amounted to €1.2 million in 2015, to €29 million in 2016 and it is estimated that in 2017 it will rise to €65 million. This increase in the expenditure profile reflects the phased roll-out of the service and is the culmination of outcome fees over time. It is unlikely the expenditure will exceed €65 million in any given year. The contracts between the Department of Social Protection and the service providers are for a period of four years, with an additional two years run out period. This means that where a person commences engagement with a JobPath provider, at the end of the fourth year, the provider must provide the services for the next 52 weeks and if the person secures employment at the end of that 52 weeks, the provider may claim payments in respect of the provision of an employment support for up to 52 weeks thereafter. The Department at its sole discretion has reserved the right to extend the four year referral period for up to another two years.

The level of complaints about JobPath is very low. All complaints have been resolved or are in the process of being resolved. The response to JobPath has been quite positive relative to the number of clients referred to the service. A few concerns have been raised at this point, such as moving to community employment, CE, schemes and this has been addressed. To date the number of complaints received represents just over a quarter of 1% of the 82,000 jobseekers who have started their engagement period with the service. Most complaints were from people who were reluctant to engage with JobPath. Each participant gets a service statement at their initial engagement and it outlines the level of services they can expect. Each company has its own complaints process. If clients lodge a complaint directly to the Department of Social Protection, such complaints are referred to the company in the first instance for investigation in the line of contractual arrangements. Department inspectors visit provider premises both with and without notice to test compliance and contract terms. The Department recently commissioned customer satisfaction surveys to assess independently whether customers were satisfied with the level and quality of the service delivered. The results from the survey indicate that jobseekers feel they are receiving a good service under JobPath, with a 76% to 81% satisfaction rating versus 5% to 8% dissatisfaction. On a personal note, I know that emotionally and especially mentally, without having a job or a reason to get up in the morning, things were very difficult during the recession. JobPath is a very positive experience, providing an opportunity for people which builds their confidence and provides a sense of self worth. I congratulate the Department of Social Protection and the Minister.

I thank Senator Butler. I understand that Senator Conway-Walsh is sharing time with Senator Devine. How would she like to allocate the time?

Yes, may I have five minutes please?

I will signal when the Senator has one minute remaining.

I thank the Chairman.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House to discuss this very important issue. I will come straight to the point as I know the Minister is a busy man.

I have a number of questions, to which I have been unable to get answers, despite numerous attempts. How much has the JobPath programme cost to date? I want a figure for the cost of the whole tendering process, the use of economic research specialists and the legal costs around it. Will the Minister please give me a figure, as I am sure the Minister has the figure with him today, knowing that we were discussing JobPath.

How much will the programme cost the taxpayer by the end of the four year cycle, and the five year cycle? Are there break or penalty clauses, should the Government decide to pull out of the contract early?

Will the Minister explain how it could be acceptable that the basic requirement, even to be considered eligible to bid for a contract to provide the JobPath programme was that the company would have a minimum turnover of €20 million per year, which excluded many local Irish companies and voluntary organisations from the scheme? Were these companies driven by profit and wanting to ensure the full payment can be drawn down? There is a danger that the long-term harder to reach unemployed are overlooked in favour of those who are more ready to slip back into certain employment sectors.

I am particularly concerned for those who are most distant from the labour market or individuals who have issues with alcohol, substance misuse or mild depression. I ask the Minister to confirm that if a client has a mental health issue or any kind of disability, he or she is referred back to the Department.

I am also concerned that outlying rural areas will be abandoned in the drive for profit maximisation and in the name of efficiency, effectiveness and value for money. Did the Department consider reviewing the local employment service, LES, contracts at the time to deal with the demand generated by the recession?

There is also the issue of those selected for JobPath. They are being forced to travel miles to access services that are provided in the local LES offices. This does not make sense. It also does not make sense to have two British companies opening offices here to duplicate the work that is being done by LES offices. I have worked in this area myself so the duplication of such work does not make sense to me. I heard the figures that were presented by a previous speaker here but they belie the anecdotal evidence that has been conveyed on the ground. We need to take a proper look at the figures and the report. We must determine how many cases were sampled and for what duration.

How can we expect the local employment services to compete with companies that are for-profit and are being widely promoted to third parties by the Government and the Department of Social Protection? It seems that all of the referrals have been sent to JobPath rather than the LES.

There is another issue with the Youth Guarantee. The Government has secured substantial EU funding under the Youth Guarantee to put in place innovative measures and preventive programmes to address issues regarding training, education and employment for the under-25s to prevent long-term unemployment. It now appears, nationally, that the under-25s who are unemployed for more than 12 months are being sent to JobPath. I ask the Minister to clarify the matter. My issue with the initiative is that the under-25 target group was not part of the original JobPath contract. What was the EU funding from the Youth Guarantee scheme used for? What results were achieved? What value for money audits have been carried out?

I want the Minister to know that people want real jobs, particularly in rural areas and in my own area. It has been repeatedly said to me that all that we need in this area is for a sufficient number of people to be provided with a wage packet at the end of the week that would, in turn, stimulate the economy and put money into households.

Is JobPath the activation monster to follow the Irish Water monster? How much does JobPath cost? How much has it cost the Government to set up? Why are two British companies delivering what can very well be delivered by the local employment services in this country?

I thank the Senator and give the remaining time to Senator Devine.

I do not intend to take long. The Minister said at the start that it was not unusual for work to be outsourced and, indeed, some companies had even returned a profit. There is so much wrong with his statement that I do not know where to start. It comes from a platform of the Government enabling and paying, on behalf of the taxpayer, foreign private companies to provide jobs. As my colleague, Senator Conway-Walsh, has said, we are capable of doing the work here yet taxpayers' money has been used to pay the companies so much that they make a profit. That is the difference between the Minister and me. He has a liberalism agenda that is the polar opposite to mine. I would like to see investment in our people, public services and public delivery using our own money - the taxpayers' money - to provide services.

I have so many issues with JobPath. I still liken it to JobBridge. I am not exactly sure how the schemes differ. From my investigations I have learned that we are missing financial information to conduct a full analysis of the scheme, leaving us in a position of only being able to analyse estimates that have been provided by bits and pieces of information drip fed to us by Departments over time, including the Department of Social Protection, and previously in statements and interim reports. One such analysis was the January 2017 report. Between July and September 2015 it seems that the taxpayer paid 1,043 registration fees to private companies in order for 305 people to secure employment. Of course the Department will not release the price of the registration fees.

In December 2015 an estimated €12 million was given as the total spend on JobPath for 2015. If one takes July to September as half of the period, then one can assume that approximately €6 million was spent over three months. It is incredulous to think that it cost €6 million for 305 people to get a job. Are these estimates correct? Does the Minister believe the taxpayer got value for money? What about the €26.8 million that was spent on the scheme in 2016 compared with €20 million that was given to the LES? Why have privately-owned schemes received more funding? Referrals to LES have decreased by 10,000 people. Have the 10,000 people been placed on JobPath instead where we have had to pay extra to fulfil the profit desires and fill the pockets of privately-owned companies? I urge the Minister not to give me the commercially sensitive answer. There are people on JobPath who cannot fulfil the CE schemes that provide vital community services.

I concur with everything that my colleague, Senator Conway-Walsh, said earlier and I hope that the Minister can answer some of the questions.

I wish to acknowledge the presence in the Visitors Gallery of a very long serving former councillor, Mr. Michael Donnelly. I welcome him and his group to the Seanad and I am sure everybody extends a welcome to them.

The next speaker is Senator John Dolan and he has eight minutes.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I am happy to have an opportunity to be involved in this debate.

Earlier the Minister said we are "experiencing a jobs-led and job-rich recovery". His comment does not resonate with the people that I am particularly interested in but I shall come back to this matter in a moment.

The comments and input by Senator Ardagh strongly resonate with much of what I want to say about people with disabilities, different conditions and whatever, and the issues with JobPath vis-à-vis CE schemes. The ESRI published a report by Dorothy Watson in the past few days. Let me give a flavour of the report. It states:

31% of working-age people with a disability were at work compared with 71% of those without a disability. For those without a disability, the rate of job entry picked up in the recovery period and the rate of exit dropped. However, there was little sign of a recovery for people with a disability by 2015. Overall, the odds of employment entry are nearly four times lower for people with a disability. People with a disability remain about half as likely to enter employment. The odds of employment exit are twice as high for people with a disability.

I am referring to the findings of the ESRI; it is not me with a hunch.

The report continues:

Implications

Government policy is to facilitate the employment of people with a disability who want to work - an estimated additional 36,000 people with disabilities.  Our calculations show that if all people with a disability who wanted to work had a job, half of them would be at work (instead of 31%).

I shall note some areas of specific importance that were mentioned in the report as follows: retention of medical cards when people move into employment; support for additional costs of disability itself; flexibility in how jobs are structured, including the hours and jobs tasks; and ensuring that there is equal treatment in access to services such as health, transport and other areas. I call the following the determinants of employment for people - health, social services, cost of disability payment, cost of getting to work, transport, training and education.

My involvement in the areas of disability and, indeed, the training and employment for disabled people dates back to the early 1980s. I remember a scheme called Teamwork, community employment schemes, social employment schemes and the more recent schemes, and vis-à-vis JobPath and CE programmes. Let me say the following from my own gut and experience. The possibility for people to do something, particularly in their local community, with people they know and in organisations that they know, which are often community sports, disability groups or whatever, is the real deal maker for people to gain employment. It means people receive encouragement from the people that they know in that place. I have been a member of the Irish Wheelchair Association and I have seen people go on to jobs in the open labour market because somebody would have told them there is a job going and encouraged them to apply.

Somebody will literally take them by the hand and encourage them to do that. That is how it works.

Senator Ardagh mentioned the issue of JobPath in a sense colonising the possibility of people going into community employment programmes when they want to do otherwise. We know that some people would go the other way if they were offered an opportunity for training or work but there are people who want to do it and we should find every way we can to make that happen.

The comprehensive employment strategy for people with disabilities should have been in place in January or February 2013 but it did not see the light of day until 2 October 2015 in the wake of the general election. Its first annual report is about to be made public, 18 months after it started. Among the issues raised by the chairman and others is that the Government needs to make a significant start in implementing its public service wide commitment to a 6% quota.

An allied issue is that the possibility of activation without real prospects is disingenuous. People with disabilities need that chain of opportunity if they cannot move into the workspace. There have been huge improvements in the area of education in the past decade and a half. That is good but, dare I say it, it is bad in another sense. If those people pass the leaving certificate but do not get on to the education and training board scheme or go to college, they fall back into a HSE day programme or one run by one of the voluntary organisations. That is a killer for people. Ways must be found to keep them on the trajectory into employment and activity.

Last summer, in the run-up to the budget, I pressed the Minister for a package that would particularly support people with disabilities in terms of income supports and costed disability payments, which is part of the issue in terms of getting back into work. The Minister said he did not favour an increase for people with disabilities or particular groups. There was a €5 increase across the board in the budget, which was very welcome for everybody. I draw to the Minister's attention that on 1 February this year, the CSO published statistics that thankfully indicated that the route out of poverty was beginning to work for the general population and that there was some small improvement for people. However, in its next sentence it stated that people with disabilities are falling further and more strongly into poverty. That is a real issue. I refer to employment, transport, other related supports and training in particular. I call on the Minister to look specifically at this area. We saw many disabled people designed, to use that word, out of activation programmes because they had become unemployed during the recession. There must be a major start in terms of tailored programmes for people with disabilities and mental health needs in order that they can get moving in that direction. We have invested so well but more needs to be done in terms of education. That becomes less of an investment if we cannot keep people moving in the right direction. I thank the Minister.

I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for his detailed presentation. There has been much discussion of JobPath, but I will speak from my own experience in terms of the people who come to my office who are long-term unemployed. My experience to date has been with Turas Nua because it operates in the Limerick area. I am aware that many positive changes have been made, certainly in terms of what people experienced in the past. People who were long-term unemployed had a good experience when they went into the social welfare office in the past but they are now allocated a designated officer who works with them for the 12-month period. That is very positive because they are building a relationship with that person whereas in the past they may have met a different person on every occasion.

When the Acting Chairman made his own contribution he referred to the training boards, but my understanding is that once the 12 months are up, people are being encouraged to retrain and upskill. The education and training boards, ETBs, are playing a very important role in terms of that training. There is engagement but there should be more of it. A number of people who are going back to training are now upskilling. They would never have found themselves in that frame of mind previously but they have found it to be a very positive experience.

I read with interest the first quarterly report which has been on the Minister's website since January 2017 and which is so positive. I am getting a positive reaction from people who have been on the JobPath scheme. I also met two people who signed up to the scheme who were subsequently offered full-time jobs in the companies where they worked. They were very positive about the entire training experience and they are also upskilling and training at the same time. In the one-to-one engagement with the person they are dealing with in Turas Nua they are being shown how to present their CVs and deal with issues around confidence and motivation. Many people who were unemployed for a long time were lacking in confidence and motivation, but the fact their mentor, to use that word, is working with them one to one is certainly working.

There has been very little negativity around the scheme. There is a fear that people are not available to take up community employment, CE, schemes, but that is due to the fact our unemployment figure is less than 7%, which is very positive. I am sure that is an issue the Minister is reviewing in the Department in terms of encouraging people to go back into training and take up employment, even if only for the short term. However, not everybody is suited to a CE scheme and some people are not suited to JobPath. I am aware from dealing with people that there are slight differences between the two but people are being assessed for their suitability for the schemes and their skill sets are taken into consideration. There was a fear also around data protection but I understand the data are used only in terms of placing people in their relevant positions.

This has been a positive initiative. There are probably a few areas that need to be addressed in terms of further upskilling and training, but I welcome it in a positive light.

I thank the Minister for the opportunity to discuss JobPath, which I recognise is one part of a comprehensive set of other measures we are discussing in the Committee on Social Protection. I have two or three questions on JobPath. A concern I have in respect of JobPath, and I would appreciate the opportunity to have it addressed, is that it saw a very rapid scaling up, with 60,000 talked about as the number of cases that would be processed. It is a very large-scale project.

The scaling up of some of the other initiatives and schemes rolled out was not at this level.

I am also concerned about a matter which I am sure has been dealt with and discussed at length, that is, the fact that the programme is contracted to private service deliverers, namely, Seetec and Turas Nua. I apologise for my lateness in joining the debate.

I shall refer first to my macroconcern and then to my microconcern. Given that we are talking this very new step on such a wide scale, how reversible or changeable is it? We know that under the public procurement legislation at European level, states have a right to exclude certain health and social services from competition in public procurement. Has there been an analysis made of whether having JobPath tendered for and delivered by private contractors potentially diminishes our right to reserve public delivery and, through it, public accountability for these services?

Much of the rationale initially concerned capacity. These measures were being implemented when we were coming out of a very significant public service recruitment freeze. If, having engaged in this experiment, the State were to decide to move back to a period of recruiting front-line staff and increasing the capacity of front-line case workers within the public system and delivering services through that route, how would it be managed? What is the analysis? How would it fit within European public procurement contracts? When JobPath was first being introduced, concern was expressed by community groups about this issue. They were told that it had to be contracted out because the European Union required it, but it did not, in fact, require it. That there was a little misinformation on this issue at the very beginning is a concern.

Another core concern about JobPath from the beginning is that there seems to be a very small percentage allocated to increase the capacity of and for the training of staff. The training and skill levels of staff did not seem to be weighted as heavily as they might have been in the allocation of the contract.

Let me move to the core issue, the operation of JobPath. I appreciate that, given the scale of JobPath, we will hear all kinds of story, positive and negative. I will outline a couple of key concerns. Owing to the random selection process, is the initiative delivering the appropriate casework? At a meeting of the social protection committee representatives of the Labour Market Council expressed concern that people might not be routed to the job that was most maximising and progressive in terms of their careers. That was a wider concern. Concern has also been expressed about the focus on a jobs-first approach. At the meeting of the committee we heard that we potentially needed to consider giving a stronger weighting to education and training. My concern relates to the opportunities to avail of education and training for those who are participating. If people decide they want to reroute to the back-to-education allowance, for example, or if they find a community employment scheme, what is the position? I accept that we need better progression from community employment schemes. How can someone exit JobPath and re-enter an area to use a more appropriate skill?

There is also concern about the conversations between JobPath providers, as commercial providers, and other companies and corporations. Some concerning issues have arisen, including over the family income supplement, in conversations between employment services and employers. It is important that the service be in place to serve individuals, not preferred companies, for example, particularly if the companies have poor employment practices. With whom is it appropriate for companies to work? In what way should they be working in this regard?

The question of sanction also arises. The Minister has specified that sanction should take place within Intreo offices, not through JobPath. Nonetheless, there is a very strong perception and concern that if one does not take up a role recommended by a JobPath case worker, one may be vulnerable to sanction. That is a concern that needs to be addressed.

By focusing on the live register, are we again missing an opportunity to deal with the many thousands of people who may, on a voluntary basis, wish to access employment services but who do not want to enter a system with the potential for sanction, with these rigid targets and a more rigid set of potential outcomes? The local employment services which did an exemplary job in many parts and were open to all, including those not on the live register, are potentially where we should be refocusing our energy. I refer to an arrangement without sanction but one which encourages voluntary engagement, including for the many women who have fallen out of the live register system.

I thank Senators for a very interesting and broadly constructive debate. I will do my best to answer as many questions as I can to which I have the answers. I might not have jotted all of them down, but I will do my best to cover as many issues as I can.

JobPath does not take precedence over the community employment programme. It is just that we do not allow people to switch from one scheme or programme to another. We do not want somebody to spend one month on a community employment scheme and then suddenly move to Tús, or to spend two months on a Tús scheme and then proceed to Gateway. We do not want to see people chopping and changing between schemes and programmes. If somebody has a starting date for a community employment scheme within four weeks, he or she can participate in the scheme, but we do not want people who over a period of three years could have participated in a community employment scheme suddenly finding they have an interest in a community employment scheme when referred to JobPath. I have come across plenty of such examples. Ideally, we want to move to a jobs-first model, whereby people who are trying to find a job in the first year are supported in this regard. We are moving towards this. When people are not able to find a job, the most appropriate place for them is on a community employment scheme.

It is absolutely the case that those who run many community employment schemes are having real difficulty in filling vacancies. I am very concerned about this. I do not want to see the very important services provided by community employment schemes such as meals on wheels, TidyTowns work, child care services and some social care services no longer being provided. Much of this work should properly be done through Government agencies and Departments, but that is a battle I will have to have with my colleagues in time to come. I would like to see some of the services transition to normal arrangements. I certainly do not want them to fall by the wayside. I am determined to ensure that will not be the case because of the real value of the work in question, be it fixing pitches or other jobs. This is really important, as we all know from our constituencies.

The reason those who run community employment and Tús schemes are having difficulty in recruiting is not solely JobPath; there is a much bigger story to be told. We had a certain number of community employment schemes and increased the number of places by approximately 10,000. We then added Tús, Gateway and JobBridge. Now there is JobPath. We have seen nearly a quadrupling of the number of services and schemes available, but the unemployment rate has reduced by half in the meantime. What does one expect to happen in these circumstances? Of course, it will be harder to fill places if the unemployment rate is down by one half, if not more. That the number of schemes and services has increased dramatically is the reason those run schemes are having difficulty in filling places, but I do want to do something about it. I am working with my colleagues to widen the pool of people eligible to participate in community employment schemes. Younger people, for example, are currently not eligible. There are also people who are timed out because of a rule that one can serve only a certain number of years on a community employment scheme. I refer, in particular, to those who have been involved in JobPath for one year. Tens of thousands of people have spent one year on JobPath and not got a job. They, in particular, should be encouraged to enter the community employment programme. We need to challenge community employment scheme supervisors, in particular, and sponsors not to try to hang on to the person with whom they are comfortable and who is doing a great job and does not need much help. We need to challenge them to find the people who do not have a job through JobPath such as those in receipt of disability or lone parent or other long-term payments and try to encourage them to take up places. What would really help in that regard – it is obviously a matter to be considered in the context of the next budget – is increasing the top-up received by participants in these schemes. It is approximately €22.50, which is not an awful lot. If one participates in a community employment or Tús scheme, for example, and receives the additional payment, one might even be worse off by the time one covers the cost of lunch or transport two or three days a week. I would like to see that issue dealt with in the next budget, if I can get the finances to do so.

JobPath does represent a policy shift. It is a job-first approach. The idea is to try to get people into work in the first instance and also to accept that it is quite normal to work and at the same time receive training and education, be it part time, at night or at weekends.

The idea is to try to get people into work and to accept the fact that it is quite normal for people to be in work and involved in training and education at the same time. We have probably all done it, whether it was part time, at night or at weekends. This is the kind of person an employer wants and they are sceptical about people who spend their entire lives going from training scheme to training scheme, then back to welfare and another training scheme. Some people spend ten years on a carousel of training schemes, welfare, a CE scheme, more welfare and another training scheme and they do not get jobs. What we are implementing is much better, though there will be exceptions and we must accept that one size does not fit all.

It is not accurate to characterise the companies as British or English. Turas Nua is headquartered in Roscrea and I opened the headquarters. Its major partner is Farm Recruitment Services, FRS. People who know rural Ireland will know that company as the people who recruit people for agriculture.

I am a little bit confused by Senator Devine's remarks about being upset at the neoliberal idea that companies should be allowed to bid for contracts. God forbid it be a foreign company or, even worse, a British one.

The Minister is misrepresenting what I am saying.

At the same time she is very upset about Brexit.

She wants to insist that Northern Ireland remains in the European Union. What is the European Union about? A fundamental principle of the European Union is the four freedoms - movement of capital, labour, services and goods. Any EU company can bid for a contract in other parts of the EU. Once again, Sinn Féin has a two-faced approach in which it is determined to keep Northern Ireland in the European Union but they do not want the European Union to apply to anything we do, particularly as regards Government contracts. That makes no sense to me.

Senator Craughwell said education and training boards, ETBs, were very good and should have a role. I agree with that and the Department has a lot of involvement with ETBs, particularly with Springboard and with people on the back to education allowance. The education and training boards are about education and training, however, while JobPath is about activation and recruitment. They are very different services.

Senator Dolan mentioned people with disabilities and he will be aware of some of the programmes we have in this area. For example, the wage subsidy scheme subsidises employers for the cost of employing people with disabilities and there are adaptation grants for employers to adapt their premises so that they can hire more people with disabilities. It is an area where we can do an awful lot more. Professor Frances Ruane has just finished her Make Work Pay report, which will be published in the first two weeks in April and will assess the enormous barriers to employment for people with disabilities, such as the fear of the loss of a medical card or travel pass. People on disability allowance are also concerned that if they take up a job and it does not work out they will have great difficulty getting their previous payment back. All these things are laid out very well in the report, which will be co-published by me, the Minister of State at the Department of Social Protection, Deputy Finian McGrath, and the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, in the coming weeks and I intend to publish it not just with its recommendations but with the policy responses to those recommendations. There are a lot of things that could make a real difference to people with disabilities and encourage them to take up work such as an assurance that, if it does not work out, they will not find themselves adrift.

I will have to come back to Members with more detailed costings on JobPath but I will certainly give any information I can. I gave the figure of €26.8 million for 2016 but it is not just about the costs. It is about the value and what it has achieved. People referred to JobPath are 20% more likely to get a job than the control group of similar people who are not so referred. That is particularly true of those at the greatest distance from the labour market, the very long-term unemployed who are 40% more likely to get a job than the same sort of person who is not referred to JobPath. As is the case with any service the Government provides, one has to consider the value as well as the cost. The results to date suggest it will be a very economically and financially advantageous programme.

If a client has mental health issues or a disability that prevents them from working they can be referred to the Department or can refer themselves to the Department for another payment, such as disability allowance or an illness payment. We are finding that as we work more intensively and engage one-to-one with many more people on jobseeker's allowance, we are finding more people who are on the wrong payment and should be on disability allowance or an illness benefit. People can be on jobseeker's allowance for a very long time and could have continued to receive it but when we made efforts to get them into work it became obvious that it was not the right payment for them. Part of the reason for the increase in disability allowance is the fact that people have migrated from jobseeker's as a result.

We are reducing the caseload of the local employment services, LES. Not too long ago they had caseloads of over 1,000 people per officer and I do not know how anyone could possibly do that. We are trying to get the ratio down to 1:150 and the LES will go back to what they did at the start, namely, work intensively with those who are furthest away from the labour market and need the most support. If I was a caseworker I would rather work with such a ratio and I do not know one could operate a service on the basis of a ratio of 1:1,000. Indecon is carrying out a full review of the LES and will report this year. The statistics show a great variation in performance in the LES. Some produce very good results but some do not and are pretty poor. The JobPath is based on payment by results, which is not the case with the LES, where the taxpayer has to pay even if they are unsuccessful in getting people back to work.

Senator Higgins said that JobPath could be scaled up very rapidly and she is correct. That is one of the advantages of having private contractors and those companies did that at a time of high unemployment, when there was a public sector recruitment barrier and it was needed. It can also be scaled down very quickly if we do not need it so much, or at all. When one takes people on as public servants it is much harder to flex up and flex down and there are pension issues, issues with buildings and so on. In this system, our own officials in our own Intreo buildings provide a core service that will always be needed while we use contractors such as JobPath to scale up or down, depending on how much additionality we need and how much unemployment there is. This is standard in the private sector where companies have their own staff and buildings for core services but can flex up and down as they need to according to demand. This also makes it easier to be adaptable so that if we want JobPath to do different things in the future we can do that.

I am not an expert on EU procurement law but I am told that the question is complicated and has a complicated answer so I will have to come back to Senator Higgins on it. Public or personal service delivery contracts are not excluded from the requirement to abide by EU public procurement rules but there is a higher threshold for the requirement to go to EU-wide tender.

There are a number of ways to exit JobPath. One exits automatically after a year, one can take up a job, one can sign off or one can apply for alternative payments, for example disability payments, back to education allowance or back to work enterprise allowance, for which a lot of people apply.

I have answered as many questions as I can and I have noted a few things on which I will follow up with Members in the form of correspondence.