I have noted with interest the document referred to by the Deputy. Many of the issues and challenges raised in the paper from the Irish National Organisation for the Unemployed are being addressed in the context of the current national employment action plan and through the extension of the preventative strategy on a country wide basis to all those in danger of becoming long-term unemployed.
The long-term unemployment rate currently stands at 1.4% which remains low in historical terms and compares very favourably with our EU partners. At present there are some 26,700 persons who have been unemployed for 12 months or more. We are continuing to engage with all those who remain marginalised and in long-term unemployment through a wide range of labour market measures and activities.
The preventative strategy under the national employment action plan is being rolled out to all persons on the live register, involving a systematic engagement with the unemployed before they cross a threshold of six months unemployment. The high supports process launched last year is a flexible process to assist employment service officers in implementing a range of responses for clients who are experiencing barriers in progressing from unemployment to the workforce. The gateway for women initiative is aimed at proactively encouraging women to return to work.
FÁS also provides assistance and training for low skilled people through a number of programmes such as skills training, community training, bridging foundation and traineeships. In addition, the total funding allocation for employment schemes in 2004 has been fixed at €351 million, which will support up to 25,000 places across the three employment schemes, namely, community employment, job initiative and social economy. FÁS is being given some flexibility in the management of this financial allocation to maximise progression to the labour market while at the same time facilitating the support of community services. This allocation of €351 million is similar to the budgeted amount provided in 2003. Accordingly, there will be no reduction in the total level of provision for the three schemes or in the combined participation levels in 2004.
The commitment to fund a continuing pool of up to 25,000 places across the three schemes brings clarity not only to the levels of activity which will be supported but will enable FÁS to give a clear commitment to the support of local community services.