Thursday, 3 December 2020

Questions (12, 34, 53)

Emer Higgins


12. Deputy Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Social Protection the steps she is taking to combat youth unemployment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39723/20]

View answer

Neale Richmond


34. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Social Protection the steps her Department is taking to combat youth unemployment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39964/20]

View answer

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill


53. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Minister for Social Protection the measures under way in her Department to tackle youth unemployment and to support young persons affected by the Covid-19 pandemic; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39999/20]

View answer

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Social)

Can the Minister imagine being told this time last year that she would have to wear a face mask when walking down Grafton Street? The changes we have seen, including in our economy, have been unbelievable. This time last year, our unemployment rate was at just 5%, meaning that 95% of people were working. Today, the number on the PUP is three and a half times that unemployment rate, with half of them being young people. What are we doing to support our young people and reactivate the youth labour market?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 12, 34 and 53 together.

We know from past recessions that young people tend to be disproportionately impacted by any labour market shock. This is because many employers operate a last in, first out protocol when reducing their labour forces and young people tend to work in occupations and sectors that are most immediately affected by economic downturns, for example, retail and hospitality.

Research recently published by my Department shows that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been no different. Youth unemployment stood at just over 10% in quarter 1 of 2020 based on the labour force survey data, with approximately 20,000 under-25s on the live register. By quarter 3 of 2020, these figures had increased to 20% and 25,000, respectively. By the end of October, and if we include PUP recipients, more than 45% of young people in the labour force were unemployed. However, it is important to note that the Government extended access to the PUP to students who worked part time. As a consequence, one in four of those in receipt of PUP and under 25 years of age have self-certified as students. Using internationally recognised standards set by the International Labour Organization, these students would not normally be considered or counted as unemployed.

While young people are disproportionately affected, we know from past recessions that youth unemployment levels typically fall quickly once economic activity resumes. However, the evidence also shows that some young people will remain disconnected from employment and that those who cannot find their footing again tend to suffer permanent scarring effects, with unemployment and social isolation becoming entrenched.

We are taking a number of important steps to create opportunities and options to help young people get back to work. My Department and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science are developing a range of support measures to assist young people. Measures announced under the July jobs stimulus package to combat unemployment include expanding the capacity of Intreo centres to provide enhanced employment services and supports with the assignment of 100 job coaches; expanding the benefit of the JobsPlus recruitment subsidy to employers who hire young people from the live register; providing 35,000 new places in further and higher education courses; providing incentives to employers to take on more apprentices through the provision of a grant of €3,000 to employers for each new apprentice recruited; and facilitating access to the back to education allowance and the back to work enterprise allowance to those displaced by the pandemic by waiving the usual qualifying period. My Department is also developing a new work experience placement programme for those out of work for at least six months to encourage employers to provide jobseekers with the necessary workplace skills to compete in the labour market, thereby helping to break the vicious circle of no job without experience, no experience without a job. I expect to launch the programme in early 2021, subject to public health restrictions.

In developing these programmes and services, the Department is working closely with, and being advised by, the Labour Market Advisory Council, which is composed of leading market experts, representatives of industry and workers and representatives of unemployed people. We will keep these programmes under review and report progress on a regular basis.

Those are stark statistics.

Almost half of under-25s are now unemployed, and when students are removed from that, we are still talking about one in three Irish people under the age of 25 being unemployed. That is absolutely startling. The Minister has today outlined a comprehensive response to that in terms of incentivising employment opportunities, apprenticeships and third level and further education places for those young people. We need to make sure they are not adversely affected in the long term, which is why I am pleased to hear the Minister outline her plan to tackle youth unemployment in Ireland.

We are absolutely committed to working closely with young people to get them back to work and help them do that. We will, therefore, have the Pathways to Work strategy and I will be launching that early next year. We will significantly ramp up the number of places available on training and employment support schemes. There will be 35,000 extra training places and 10,000 new apprenticeships. That is being led by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, and as I said earlier, funding was secured as part of the July stimulus.

The public employment service, which covers the spectrum of services, including local employment service, JobPath, job clubs and employability service, which is focused on helping people with disabilities get into the work force, has a current capacity between all those services to deal with a total caseload of approximately 106,000 people. I want to increase that capacity by about 87,000 to bring it up to around 193,000. We will, therefore, be ramping up the capacity of the local employment services next year.

Has the Minister had any engagement with with respect to employment purposes?

I am sorry, engagement with whom?

It is the Open Doors Initiative which works with disadvantaged people to help them with employment purposes. Has she engaged with it on a departmental level?

We have the employability service to work with young people and others with disabilities to get them back to work. I am happy to engage with the Open Door Initiative as well.

We want to increase the number of people being referred to the local employment services by approximately 50% next year. We will also be tendering to extend the service into several geographical areas which do not have those services. I have spoken to the local development companies to advise them this will be up for tender and I will be encouraging them to put in a bid to do that work. It is, however, a competitive process.

We are also assigning 100 new job coaches into the Intreo offices around the country to advise and support people. We want to increase the number of people availing of the back-to-education allowance by approximately 7,700. Approximately 19,000 people are currently on schemes such as CE and Tús. I want to increase that number of places on those schemes up to approximately 25,000 next year. We have secured additional funding to do that.