Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Questions (284)

Micheál Martin


284. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will outline the actions her Department is taking in respect of tackling youth unemployment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6830/13]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

Young people, typically, suffer disproportionately from job losses in recessions as they tend to have entered employment more recently, are more likely to hold temporary contracts and to be employed in cyclically sensitive industries than older workers. There were 68,000 young unemployed, on average, in 2012, made up of 18,500 aged 15-19 and 49,500 aged 20-24. Overall, the under-25 age group had an unemployment rate of 30% (40% for 15-19 year-olds and 28% for 20-24 year-olds). This compares to an unemployment rate of 13.5% for prime age workers (ages 25–54). Of particular concern is the continued increase in the share of youth unemployed who are out of work for more than one year. They now account for 2 out of 5 all youth unemployed. In this context, it is a welcome development that the official labour market figures published by the CSO this week indicated that the number of young unemployed at the end of 2012, at 59,000, showed a reduction of almost 9,000 on the same time a year earlier. It is to be hoped that this is the beginning of a sustained downward movement in youth unemployment as the economy recovers.

The Government’s primary strategy to tackle youth unemployment is to create the environment for a strong economic recovery by promoting competitiveness and productivity. Economic recovery will underpin jobs growth. Past experience suggests that youth unemployment, which tends to rise relatively rapidly in a downturn, can be expected to fall relatively rapidly during the recovery.

In addition to promoting economic recovery, the Government recognises the need for interim measures to support the young unemployed and keep young jobseekers close to the labour market. There are five main approaches being taken to tackle youth unemployment: education, training, job search assistance/guidance, work experience, and encouraging job creation. These actions range across a number of Departments and Agencies.

Looking specifically at my Department, the Back to Education Allowance scheme run by my Department provides income maintenance for unemployed people returning to further or higher education. Over 6,500 young people participated in the BTEA in the last academic year.

In terms of job-search assistance, some 25,500 young people registered with Employment Services in 2012, representing 36% of all registrants. Registering with Employment Services gives job-seekers access to guidance interviews, job search assistance, and training courses, as well as self-service job-seeking options.

Under the National Employment Action Plan (EAP) persons between the ages of 18 and 65 years who are approaching 3 months on the Live Register are identified by the Department of Social Protection and referred to Employment Services for interview with the aim of assisting them to enter/re-enter the labour market. In 2012, there were some 33,000 referrals of under 25s to the EAP, affecting approximately 26,000 individual jobseekers (those who do not attend initially are referred again). Of those referred, 68% of clients had signed off the Live Register by the end of the year.

The Pathways to Work initiative has specific targets for increasing the number of people who are long-term unemployed moving into employment and reducing the average length of time spent on the Live Register. As two out of five young unemployed are long-term unemployed, these targets are pertinent to young people.

There are a number of schemes/programmes available that are focussed on work experience. The most relevant for young people are JobBridge (the National Internship Scheme), and its predecessor the Work Placement Programme. Over 1,500 young people are currently participating on these schemes. The total number of placements of young people on JobBridge during 2012 was 2,700.

Young people will also continue to benefit from the reduced rate of employer’s PRSI, the purpose of which is to support job creation, as well as from the upcoming JobsPlus initiative which will replace Revenue Job Assist and the Employer Job (PRSI) Incentive Scheme.

In the December Budget, funding was secured for an additional 10,000 places this year across a range of programmes -- including JobBridge, TÚS and Community Employment. About a quarter of these places will be earmarked to be taken up by unemployed young people.

Finally the European Commission has proposed a Council Recommendation on a European-wide approach to a “youth guarantee. The Council Recommendation -- which received political agreement from EU employment ministers last week -- recommends that each Member State should ensure that young people receive a quality offer of employment or of continued education, an apprenticeship or traineeship within four months of becoming unemployed. The Recommendation will also need to be adopted formally by the Council at a later stage in Ireland's Presidency -- most likely in May.

While Member States are encouraged to implement the Recommendation as soon as possible, it is recognised that implementation will need to be more gradual in countries with higher levels of youth unemployment and particularly severe budgetary problems. In advance of the anticipated adoption of the Recommendation, the government will review the current range of youth employment and training policies in Ireland to assess what measures will need to be taken to commence the gradual implementation of the guarantee. This will include the identification of what would be the appropriate timescale for implementation in Ireland's current employment and budgetary circumstances.

Funding for measures needed to implement the guarantee – as is the case with existing programmes – will come largely from countries' own budgetary resources, supplemented by EU funding such as the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Youth Employment Initiative which has been included in the Multiannual Financial Framework for the EU agreed recently by the Council, and will provide €6 billion for youth employment measures across the 27 Member States over the seven-year period 2014-2020.