I am very aware of the importance of employment in supporting individuals, society and the economy. My Department is committed to assisting all prepare for and secure employment. I also understand that the path to employment is not the same for everyone and that additional help is required for those facing additional challenges including those in minority communities.
This is a key focus of ‘Pathways to Work 2021-2025’, Government’s national employment services strategy, launched last July. The strategy, while dealing with labour market challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, also sets out specific actions to increase the labour market participation of those in society facing additional difficulties in accessing employment. This is the focus of the Strategy’s Fourth Strand ‘Working For All - Leaving No One Behind’, which focusses on extending targeted employment supports to groups facing additional challenges accessing work such as people with disabilities, lone parents, minority groups, including travellers, as well as those who may have taken time out of the workforce and would now like to return.
Some of the key measures under Pathways to Work aimed at increasing labour market participation among these groups most distant from the labour market include, but are not limited to:
- Completing the consultation on the Early Engagement Roadmap for young people with disabilities and implement the approach starting in 2021 - Implementing the Public Appointments Service Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2021-2023, including by supporting engagement with representative organisations and individuals from diverse backgrounds to understand employment barriers and to awareness of public sector employment opportunities among these individuals.
- Reserving places on public employment programmes for people from disadvantaged and minority backgrounds
- Developing a Traveller and Roma Training, Employment and Enterprise Plan
- Engagement with community representative bodies to produce Traveller (and/or Roma)-specific employment service engagement tools.
- Deliver bespoke job promotion and local recruitment events for older workers seeking to re-enter employment and engaging with employers to encourage the recruitment of older workers.
- Developing and implementing a new ‘Returners’ programme to encourage and support people who left the workforce, and have been outside of the workforce for some time, to take up employment.
- Ensuring that the particular circumstances of lone parents are considered in the assessment of a Working Age Payment/Basic Income Guarantee.
- Increasing the number of children in receipt of State supports provided under Early Learning and Care and School-Age Childcare Funding Programmes.
In addition, my Department works closely with the Further Education and Training sector in the provision of activation supports, including opportunities for training, upskilling and reskilling. The Action Plan for Apprenticeship 2021-2025, launched by my colleague, Minister Harris earlier this year, includes a bursary support scheme to be established for participants from disadvantaged groups, including lone parents, people with disabilities, Travellers and Roma.
It is important to note that there are also specific employment supports in place for people with disabilities such as the EmployAbility service, the reasonable accommodation fund for employers which can provide workplace adaptation and employee retention grants, and the wage subsidy scheme among others.
The above initiatives also build on the measures that are already in place in my Department, such as earnings disregards in means assessments for the one-parent family payment and disability allowance schemes.
I trust this clarifies the matter for the deputy.