Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Questions (9, 20)

Richard Boyd Barrett


9. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if a commitment will be made to restoring the single rate of jobseeker's allowance in order that persons no longer get a reduced rate; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38848/19]

View answer

John Brady


20. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the stage the report into the reduced rates of payment for jobseekers aged between 18 and 25 years of age is at; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38801/19]

View answer

Oral answers (10 contributions) (Question to Employment)

The decision of the then Fine Gael-Labour Party Government to slash the rates of jobseeker's allowance for young people under the age of 26 was one of the most obnoxious and discriminatory austerity cuts of the many obnoxious and discriminatory cuts in that period. There is no justification for continuing to have a discriminatory reduced rate of jobseeker's allowance for young people now. Will the Minister restore that rate and restore equality for young people in terms of social welfare payments in the coming budget?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 20 together.

Reduced rates for young jobseekers in receipt of jobseeker's allowance were introduced on a phased basis from 2009, in line with other EU and OECD jurisdictions, as an attempt to tackle high youth unemployment and prevent long-term welfare dependency. Receiving the maximum weekly rate without a strong incentive to engage in either education or training can lead to welfare dependency from a young age, and nobody wants that. If young persons participate in incentivised training or any of the education opportunities that are available to them, they can receive the maximum weekly rate of €203. The youth employment support scheme, YESS, which I launched last year, is targeted exclusively at young jobseekers and participants receive €229.20 per week. My Department offers young people a number of work placement and training supports closely aligned to the labour market.

The policies in place for the past number of years have been effective in reducing both youth and long-term youth unemployment. In 2009, youth unemployment had reached its highest rate with almost 28% of young people under the age of 25 unemployed. The Central Statistics Office, CSO, seasonally adjusted youth unemployment rate at the end of August 2019 saw that rate almost halved in the past tens and it is currently 14.7%, but that is still far too high.

The Department is finalising a review, arising from an amendment brought forward during the debate on last year's Social Welfare Bill, on the impacts of the reduced rates on young jobseekers and I will review it shortly. My view is well known in this House. The objective of the Department is to ensure any young person under the age of 25 is as encouraged as much as they can be and supported in every way, shape or form into training, work experience or education.

There is a rotten logic to that. The reason many young people were unemployed in 2009 and the years afterwards was due to the calamitous economic collapse precipitated by the Fianna Fáil Party when in government and perpetuated by the austerity cuts Fine Gael and the Labour Party Government continued. The evidence for that is that prior to the economic collapse, we had near full employment. Even though there were no discriminatory social welfare rates, young people worked. The idea that if young people's social welfare payments are not slashed, they will all sit around doing nothing is discriminatory and prejudicial against young people. Does the Minister imagine that if one is under the age of 25 one can survive of less money - the social welfare rates are already poverty rates - on half or a little more than half of the payment rate? In the era of equality, that is just wrong.

The Deputy and I have a different view, and that is fine. He has a different perspective from the one I have. I will cite research that was not commissioned by us but undertaken by the National University of Ireland Maynooth, which is independent of all of us. Its researchers found that those 18 years old in receipt of jobseeker's allowance on the age-related reduced rates prior to 29 April 2009 had an average unemployment spell lasting 111 weeks. However, those whose claims commenced after 29 April 2009 and who were in receipt of the reduced rate - at a time the Deputy is blaming Fianna Fáil which is probably not fair - had a reduced unemployment spell lasting only 50 weeks. Unless the Deputy had a different explanation as to why that happened when we had massive unemployment rates, I am not sure, but a large number of people in the past number of years, through the supports on offer both from the Department of Education and Skills and ourselves, have gone back into training and are educating themselves so that they can get a better job and a career. That is the support that should be available as opposed to the Deputy wanting to give them an extra €100 a week. That is far more valuable for our young people.

This is discrimination, to call it what it simply is. In June this year, more than 21,000 young people were being actively discriminated against by this State. In a recent debate, Deputy O'Dea, said his party introduced it but it has not worked. If the Fianna Fáil Party believes it has not worked and the Minister, in an earlier contribution, said this discrimination towards are younger people is up for consideration at every budget, what will Fine Gael do about to end it? Will it insist it should be a red line issue for budget 2020 or is it happy to discriminate against the 21,000 citizens involved? In the pathways to work strategy introduced in 2016, there was a commitment that there would be a review and a report on the impact of the reduced jobseeker’s payment. That was three years ago and we have not seen such a report. The Minister has cited other reports that might back up this discrimination but the report to which she committed has not been published some three years later. Where is it?

The Deputy's numbers are wrong. The number people in this age category who were on the live register at the end of August this year are thankfully much lower than 21,000. They number 16,223 but they are 16,223 people too many. The reason this is not discriminatory is other options are available to them. The weekly payment is €203 for those on our training schemes; €229 for those on any of our community employment or TÚS employment schemes; and €229.20 and for those on YESS. The purpose of the supports of this State, albeit that income support is a large of it, is to ensure we help support people through education, training and work experience to enable them to get back into a position to participate in the labour market. That is what we have been doing for the past ten years and it is working. I am not sure why we would stop doing something that is working over and above trying to tweak it, make it better and deliver a better service, and that is what we intend to do.

This is blatant discrimination against young people.

By definition, the payment is a poverty income for young people. That is what the Minister is imposing on young people.

If other arguments do not sway her, she should consider the fact that we need to get our young people back to the country. Having a discriminatory reduced rate is not exactly an incentive or encouragement for the many young people who are leaving this country to come back. It, alongside the housing crisis, is also contributing significantly to overcrowding in many family homes because young people simply cannot afford to leave home. There is unacceptable overcrowding in many households.

The Minister should end this blatant discrimination based on age. There is no other way to define it. It was never justified. Even its architects are now acknowledging that, but in the era of so-called economic recovery, it is completely obnoxious and unacceptable.

The Minister's predecessor, the Taoiseach, gave an insight into the thinking behind this payment at a social protection committee meeting. He said that young foreign people come to these shores, get off aeroplanes and are able to find themselves a job, and asked what our young people are doing. There is a train of thought within Government circles that our young people are lazy, are sitting at home on PlayStations and are not willing to get out and work, which is a disgusting view. That is the root of this ideological position. It is not about what is working. Unemployment levels are down across the board.

I have welcomed the YESS initiative, but this discrimination has to end. I asked about the report that was committed to under the pathways to work strategy. It was supposed to have been produced three years ago. The Minister has said this policy is working, but is not backing that up with her commitment to produce and publish that report. Saying the report will be published in the near future is not satisfactory because I have been told that every time I ask the question.

The Deputy cannot abuse the time of others speakers who are waiting.

We have a different view on this. Deputy Brady shares Deputy Boyd Barrett's view, but I do not. I am not sure others in the Chamber share my view, but that is widely known. It is also a view shared by the OECD and the European Union. The EU youth charter has worked. Ours is a policy which is working. I am not sure what part of the numbers do not work for Deputy Brady.

The policy was introduced in 2009 when 450,000 people were on the live register, many of whom were aged under 25 years. We have halved that number due to the policies we have deployed for the past number of years. I wish things were working faster, and that the 10% of people aged under 25 years who are still on the live register would engage and avail of training, work experience, employment or a return to full-time education, but we will continue to provide supports for them. I do not believe there they are lazy. It is cheeky, to put it mildly, to try to interpret somebody else's words or view.

My view is based on reality. If Deputies do not know this, they need to be in their constituencies more often. Our young people are far from lazy. They have difficulties based on the environment and the communities in which we live today and need support services to be wrapped around them to enable them to be able to overcome those difficulties. That is what we do in my Department and will continue to do with the community and voluntary sectors.