The Ability Programme was introduced in June 2018 and is a pre-activation programme for young people with disabilities. The funding for this programme will amount to around €16 million over a three-year period and is being provided jointly under the EUs ESF Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning Operational Programme, 2014-2020 (PEIL, 2014–20) and the Irish Exchequer.
The programme will support over 2,600 young people with disabilities aged between 15 – 29 years of age. The objectives of the programme are:
- To bring young people with disabilities who are not work-ready closer to the labour market using a range of person-centred supports.
- To assist young people with disabilities to develop life-skills required to participate in education, training and employment.
- To assist young people with disabilities at key transition points between education, training and employment.
- To support young people with disabilities who are not in education, employment or training to access and participate in education, training and employment.
- To build the capacity of mainstream employment services, education and training providers to support the progression of young people with disabilities.
- To build the capacity of employers to recruit and retain young people with disabilities within their workforce.
The programme is being delivered by 27 community and voluntary groups from around the country and will run up to the end of June 2021. Pobal have been contracted by my Department to manage the programme.
It is a condition of the current 3-year funding arrangement that the programme must end at the end of June 2021, and this was clearly indicated to all of the selected projects at the start of the programme. The provision of Exchequer funding was contingent on certain conditions, including that an evaluation of the projects would be undertaken following the three-year cycle. An on-going programme evaluation, aimed at evaluating the extent to which the programme has met its stated policy objectives, is being undertaken, with a contractor having been appointed by Pobal to undertake this work. The evaluation will also explore the effectiveness of the different approaches and measures applied in bringing young people with disabilities, who are not work-ready, closer to the labour market in addition to examining the range of impacts on the participants of the programme. The evaluation is being conducted over the duration of the programme and it will conclude in June 2021. An interim evaluation report has been submitted to the Department.
I met recently with the Ability Providers Sub-group, which I found to be a very informative exchange. I am currently considering a number of options on how to meet the needs of participants in the Ability Programme and also progress the various pre-employment supports for young people with disabilities, so that they have the opportunities they need to transition into employment.
This consideration includes:
- the outcomes of the current programme, including the effectiveness of the programme in achieving objectives;
- the findings of the ongoing evaluation of the programme and the recommendations arising from this;
- the potential co-funding availability under the new EU programme ESF+ 2021-2027. This successor programme is in active planning phase, coordinated by the ESF authorities in Ireland; and,
- how subsequent programmes would fit within the suite of existing employment supports targeted at people with disabilities provided by the Department of Social Protection and broader national strategies for employment of people with disabilities, including the Comprehensive Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.