Thursday, 7 March 2013

Questions (15)

Thomas P. Broughan


15. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will report on the operation of the new MOMENTUM programme; his annual targets through the new programme for enabling citizens who have been long-term unemployed to access re-training and employment opportunities through MOMENTUM; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11761/13]

View answer

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Education)

The aim of MOMENTUM is to provide a range of high-quality, relevant education and training interventions for up to 6,500 individuals who are long-term unemployed. Courses under the programme include a significant work-based element. Training will be provided within the context of four themes. Three of the themes support occupational clusters where demand and vacancies exist within certain labour market sectors, while a fourth theme focuses on the specific needs of people under 25. A tendering process was advertised by FÁS last year. Interest in the fund was high, with FÁS receiving more than 200 applications for funding. The agency has entered into contracts with a number of selected providers. Under the eligibility criteria of MOMENTUM, all unemployed participants must be pre-approved by the Department of Social Protection before they can participate in the programme. This recruitment phase is under way and more than 700 people have commenced training.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Will it be possible for long-term unemployed people who are not in receipt of social welfare benefits because of their partners' income to apply for the MOMENTUM programme? Such people have been unfairly blocked from accessing similar programmes in the past. They also need access to retraining to get back into the workforce, even if they are not in receipt of social welfare payments.

Is the Deputy describing a cohort of people who are not in receipt of a jobseeker's payment?

Yes, but they are long-term unemployed.

There was extensive discussion between my Department and the Department of Social Protection about the eligibility criteria for the programme and it was decided that because we have one of the highest rates of youth unemployment in Europe - more than 100,000 people are in this cohort - the resources, scarce and all as they are, will be channelled towards them. A sum of €20 million is being invested in this fund. At this point in time, eligibility for the programme is restricted to those in receipt of jobseeker's allowance.

I ask the Minister of State and his ministerial colleagues to examine this issue. This is an unfortunate category of people who, because they have a partner in full-time employment, are not eligible for social welfare payments. They can be out of work for years but they are not recognised on the live register or by the State for the purposes of rejoining the workforce. These people are forced to live off their partners' resources. We must recognise people who want to return to work and give them options through the programmes the State is offering. That has not been done, and I ask the Minister of State to examine this. Such people are important even though they do not take a payment from the State every week. It is an unfortunate position for anybody to be in.

I fully acknowledge the desire of those people to get back into the workforce and make a contribution to our economic recovery, but at this point in time we must hone in on those who have no household income and who are determined to find a job and secure an income for their household. A number of training opportunities are available to anyone who wishes to avail of them through our VECs. The social welfare supports available under the MOMENTUM programme may not be available but if people can be flexible in their approach to education, by doing courses either in the evening or online, there are opportunities available, although they may not be as attractive as the MOMENTUM offering.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.