Other Questions

One-Parent Family Payment Eligibility

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

6. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection if she has completed an impact analysis of her intended changes on those in receipt of one-parent family payments, in particular, the 63% of recipients who are already living in poverty; and if she will report on these financial impacts. [9209/15]

Last weekend, the Tánaiste stated that Labour Party women would not be bullied. I strongly agree with the sentiment that they should not be bullied and they will not be bullied. Are the changes to the one-parent family payment an example of a Labour Party Minister bullying the 70,000 people, almost all of whom are women, who are in receipt of the payment? The implementation rules in respect of the jobseeker's allowance transitional arrangement, JST, clearly include an element of compulsion.

One of the Tánaiste's predecessors who served both as Tánaiste and Minister for Social Welfare, the late, great Brendan Corish, who is revered by the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, me and many others, was responsible for introducing the first supports for lone parents. Is it not tragic that the leader of the Labour Party is dismantling these same supports?

As Deputy Broughan is aware, the Labour Party is the party of work. While we want to have a strong social welfare system, we also want people of working age to be able to go to work, be financially independent and enjoy satisfying employment, careers and lives of financial independence. That is the Labour Party's position.

Before I introduced the reforms, the one-parent family payment was a well-meaning and passive scheme with limited engagement by the State with recipients. Unfortunately for many lone parents, most of whom are women, this has meant long-term social welfare dependency, associated poverty and social exclusion for them and their families.

The scheme was introduced by Frank Cluskey, albeit with Brendan Corish's strong support. As Deputy Broughan will be aware, people could receive the payment for 18 years without once being asked how they were, what they were doing or whether anything could be done to help them. The critical issue is that most people want to get out to work when family life permits.

Social transfers have provided an extremely important buffer in reducing poverty for all welfare recipients, including lone parents. It is estimated that expenditure on the scheme, which has almost 70,000 recipients, will be €607 million in 2015. Lone parents remain at particular risk of poverty, which is not new as they have traditionally experienced higher rates of poverty than other groups.

By contrast, the poverty rates for people in work are much lower. That is why I believe the reforms we have been introducing are needed. I want to support lone parents to develop their skills and, ultimately, secure well-paid employment, whether full time or part time.

I have also made significant changes to the arrangements in place for affected customers as they transition. They include the introduction of the jobseeker’s allowance transitional arrangement which gives lone parents with young children the flexibility they need to work part time or engage in full-time education and provides access to subsidised child care through the afterschool child care scheme, the community employment child care programme and the extension this week of the one-parent family payment to all lone parents providing full-time care until their youngest child reaches 16 years of age. Some 11,000 people have made the transition in the past three years and we have seen people see a significant improvement in their incomes through part-time work, plus family income supplement. Now we are adding the back to work family dividend of €30 per week per child.

As the Minister's colleague, Deputy Brendan Ryan, said recently in a debate on this issue, the rules applying to the jobseeker's transition payment are a disincentive to work because if a person works for more than 20 hours, the disregard is only €60. Is that not a disincentive? As the Minister knows, I have been involved for decades in trying to assist people and the heads of one-parent families to get back into the workforce. Does the Minister agree that the system, as devised, is a disincentive and coercive because the rules state clearly there will be a penalty rate of the jobseeker's transition payment and that it can be lost completely if people are not prepared to go through the Minister's activation programme? She said in 2012 that she would bring forward a high quality child care system in order that there would be equality between two-parent and one-parent families. As the organisation SPARK, Single Parents Acting for the Rights of Kids, which represents single parent families, has stated, the Minister compares her proposed child care system with the Swedish child care system, but the only Swedish child care system we have in place is the crèche in IKEA in Ballymun. That is all we have achieved. I put it to the Minister that she is shoring up fundamental discrimination between two-parent and one-parent families. Is that not the case?

With Deputy Broughan and other Deputies, I have had the privilege of meeting a significant number of community organisations in Dublin North-East at different times during the years and know that the Deputy is heavily involved in community employment and other initiatives to help people to get back to work. I know he is committed to this work.

The changes being made are significant. When the lone parent schemes were first introduced, it was anticipated that people would be in receipt of the lone parent allowance for 18 to 22 years. I have looked at what happens in other countries and in almost all of them efforts are made to help people to get back to work when a child is about five years of age. This happens in the North, elsewhere in the United Kingdom and most of Scandinavia. In some countries it happens when the child is just one year old. In our case I have considered the 18-year period and suggested an intervention when the child reaches seven years of age when he or she would be in first class. This could happen earlier if a parent wanted to become involved. I want to encourage people to get back to education and training in order that they can attain qualifications, whether it be a FETAC qualification, a college degree or something else, that will help them to find part-time or full-time work, depending on their family circumstances and caring commitments. That is what it is all about. People are very anxious to do this.

I ask Deputies and the Minister to watch the clock. We are dealing with ordinary questions and Deputies want their questions to be reached.

The Minister has put the cart before the horse. I presume that in the spring statement or the budget in October she will announce further developments in child care provision. Surely she is dealing with this issue the wrong way around and should not have brought forward the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill yesterday. The back to work dividend is time limited, as it will only last during the so-called recovery period. Does the Minister agree that she is putting these 200,000 struggling one-parent families under unbearable and unnecessary stress and that after the general election the next Government will have to do something fundamental to restore what is being removed?

The 11,000 people who have in the past three years made the transition have been able to avail of dedicated services from the Department of Social Protection - it is now a national employment service - that help people to access education, training, work experience and employment, including community employment. Last year we increased the number of community employment places by 2,000. We opened new schemes such as Tús to give people one year of experience in working in their communities. The Deputy saw the figures yesterday and the number on the live register is down to 10.1%. While this is still too high, it is a huge improvement on the almost 15% figure when we entered government. The back to work family dividend will mean €30 per week per child in continuing welfare payment support for one year and €15 per week in the second as people move into work to help them with the transition. This is in addition to family income supplement which, as the Deputy knows, is an enormous help to those working part time or on low pay.

Jobseeker's Allowance

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

7. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection if she is satisfied that it is appropriate that persons are compelled to take up Gateway positions which could leave them worse off financially; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9334/15]

Under the terms of the Gateway scheme, people who have been on the dole for two years or more are paid an extra €20 per week on top of their jobseeker's allowance for 19.5 hours work with local authorities. However, according to information provided by the Department of Social Protection in 2014, those participating in the scheme who are married or cohabiting with children are liable for PRSI on all income and thus stand to make only €5.50 or less on top of their social welfare payment. Others are even worse off financially as a result of taking up their positions. In the light of the fact that the alternative is that they could lose their welfare payments if they do not take up Gateway positions, does the Tánaiste think this is fair?

Gateway is a Government initiative in local authorities which aims to provide short-term quality and suitable opportunities to improve the employability and maintain the work readiness of those who have been unemployed for 24 months or more. To date, there have been 1,800 participants in the scheme and funding of the order of €22.4 million is being provided by the Department for the initiative.

I want to make it very clear that if a placement is having a negative financial impact on a participant, it is open to the person concerned to inform the Intreo office and seek to be excused from participation on financial grounds. In such cases the Department will work with the person concerned to identify other activation or educational opportunities which may be more appropriate to his or her circumstances.

Employees holding Gateway positions with an income of over €352 per week are liable for class A PRSI contributions at a rate of 4% on total earnings. These employees are also subject to normal income tax and payroll deductions if their level of earnings brings them into the tax net. As the Deputy is aware, this also applies to employees in the private and public sectors and those engaged in other work placement initiatives such as Tús, community employment schemes and the rural social scheme. Participants in employment schemes who pay class A PRSI contributions can establish entitlement to the full range of short-term benefits, including jobseeker’s benefit, illness benefit and maternity benefit, and long-term benefits, including the contributory State pension.

I was contacted recently by a man called Colin Boardman, who is caught in a predicament. He has been working on the Gateway scheme since July 2014. Having worked for nine years prior to becoming unemployed and unable to find work despite his best efforts, he is currently one of eight people working 19.5 hours per week picking up pieces of paper on a beach for Fingal County Council. Before starting the Gateway scheme, his social welfare entitlements amounted to €392 a week, as he is living with his partner and two children. Now that he is working on the Gateway scheme, instead of being €20 better off as promised by the Government, his family situation makes him liable to tax and PRSI which amounts to €30, meaning that he is €12 worse off than he was. He has complained, but he has got nowhere with it. These schemes are supposed to be about training people and preparing them for work and for jobs, making them more employable. Is he going to become more employable picking up papers on a beach and losing money in the process rather than being on his welfare payment?

It is better if the Deputy does not mention people's names.

I have visited Gateway schemes because I wanted to talk to people who were doing practical work on the ground about how they were experiencing it. The response was very positive. Those involved told me how they were transforming a park in River Valley into a true community facility. It also keeps people very close to the workforce. The 19.5 hour working week allows participants to work part-time without losing benefits, which is an option that many people, especially within the Tús programme, have taken advantage of, working part-time when they are on the programme and then being able to move into employment. If there is a problem with that, I am happy to take up the individual case the Deputy mentioned, but I will return to what I said earlier. If placement is having a negative financial impact on the participant, it is open to the person to inform his or her Intreo office and seek to be excused from participation on financial grounds. If Deputy Wallace is experiencing something different, I would be happy to take that up.

I will pass that on to the gentleman concerned. Ireland has the second highest rate of low pay in the OECD. Schemes like this are making life very difficult for people. While it is not possible to find jobs for everybody, surely it would make more sense if there was merit in the jobs that were on offer. It would also put more money into the economy if these people had more to spend because people on low incomes spend all their money. These people are being asked to work for practically nothing. If one has to get to work and buy lunch, one will have nothing left, even if one is not paying PRSI.

We have heard a great deal about the work figures of late but in Wexford the unemployment figures have gone up for the last two months. Over 16,000 people in Wexford are unemployed. It must be one of the highest rates in the country. I was just looking at the figures from Enterprise Ireland and the IDA. There were only 98 IDA-related full-time jobs in Wexford in the last four years and 242 from Enterprise Ireland. How in God's name is Wexford such a blackspot for employment? The number of people unemployed, 16,000, is closer to 20% than 10% of the Wexford population.

I am sure Deputy Wallace welcomes the figures this week that show the percentage on the live register dropping for the first time to 10.1%. Hopefully we will see it dropping to single digits in the coming months, something many commentators said would never be achieved. The Deputy mentioned the issue of low pay. The Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Nash, has established the low pay commission and it will report in early summer. As the recovery started, there was a great deal of part-time employment. If one looks at the revenue returns, one can see that salaries have started to increase, which we all welcome. Less and less of overall employment is part-time work and more is full-time work. The improvements we have seen have been around the main urban bases and the Government must ensure this spreads into counties like Wexford, which, as the Deputy said, has been a blackspot. Every effort must be made to ensure the economic change that has taken place in the country spreads out beyond the urban areas and that counties like Wexford and Waterford can also share in the benefits.

National Internship Scheme Administration

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

8. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection if she will commission a further, and comprehensive, evaluation of the JobBridge scheme, in view of the changing economic context in which it operates. [9312/15]

Will the Minister of State take an honest look at the JobBridge scheme and its wider interaction with the labour market to ensure that further paying jobs are not displaced, given that the original Indecon report dealt with year 1? It is now four years in place. Does the Minister of State consider it appropriate at this stage to have a further evaluation?

Yes. Given that economic circumstances have improved significantly over the past two years, it is now appropriate to review the performance of the various employment programmes operated by the Department. In this regard, as part of the Pathways to Work programme, the Department will during 2015 undertake an evaluation of a number of programmes, including JobBridge. This evaluation will include an econometric analysis of outcomes for participants compared with outcomes for control groups of similar non-participants. The evaluation approach will make use of data from a longitudinal jobseekers’ database developed by the Department over the past three years and is expected to produce insights to inform policy choices, including the potential redesign or cessation of schemes.

By way of an update, over 37,700 jobseekers have voluntarily commenced internships on JobBridge since 2011, there are currently 6,140 interns on the programme and a further 1,129 positions are advertised on the JobBridge website. The last large-scale independent review of JobBridge was completed in 2013 by Indecon. This review was based on a survey of over 2,300 interns and over 1,500 host organisations. It showed a very low level of job displacement, 3%, an overall high level of satisfaction, 66%, and a very positive rate of progression to paid employment, 61%.

The Minister of State quoted 3% as the percentage of employers that admitted using JobBridge to replace existing employment. He did not quote the other figure, that a whopping 29% of employers said that in the absence of JobBridge they would have taken on a person in paid employment instead. We are poles apart on JobBridge. I will not persuade him here. However, even if he looks at today's JobBridge website, he will see the job displacement. Five of the positions on the first page of the website are sales reps. They are straight-in, entry-level positions. Nine months of training are not required for sales reps. Another position is as a general operative on a golf course. This does not require nine months of training, but just a week or two. In the past, young people in particular could walk in off the street and get this type of position. I am urgently asking the Minister of State to set a date for that review and to have it completed as quickly as possible so that the displacement by JobBridge of paid jobs can be exposed properly.

I will not take up too much of the Deputy's time on this matter. Displacement has been at a very low level. In his own report, there were about 450 complaints out of approximately 40,000 people participating in JobBridge. He will not convince me that JobBridge has not done an excellent job in the period we have experienced. It has kept people in touch with the workplace, and has allowed them to keep up their experience, to enhance their CVs and move into jobs. There is a time and place for everything to be reviewed and it is now the time and place to look at JobBridge again. As a result of the change in the economic climate, we are now getting more and more people back into work, which is very welcome and which I am sure the Deputy will also welcome. People are also going back into work on very good salaries. However, I am very anxious that people who have lost touch with the workplace have that opportunity to gain the relevant experience to enhance their CVs and be in a strong position to apply for and get the jobs that are coming back into our economy.

The figures in the Indecon report commissioned by the Department are outdated, but even they showed that many of those who progressed on to work were on lower pay than their colleagues after one year. Any new study would bear out this experience. Does the Minister of State accept that interns making complaints during their periods of internship or afterwards endanger their chances of having good CVs? This is one reason for the majority of interns not making complaints.

We do not just rely on the places. There is a high rate of visits by the Department. According to a recent report conducted by the National Youth Council of Ireland, 80% of participants who joined the scheme gained work experience or new skills, which is a high level. There is time. The economy is changing and the opportunities to return to the workforce are greater than they were a few years ago when the scheme was introduced. We will review it.

One-Parent Family Payment Payments

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

9. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection in view of recent reports indicating a significant rise in child poverty and deprivation, particularly in the instance of lone parents, if she will abandon all plans to make changes to the one-parent family payment scheduled for July 2015. [9388/15]

I listened to some of the Tánaiste's responses in terms of the impact of her budgetary measures on lone parents in recent years, but is it not the case that facts do not lie and that the plight of lone parents and their children has worsened in the past two years as a result of those measures? The number at work has fallen and the number suffering deprivation has increased. The number of children, many of whom I suspect are the children of lone parents, suffering deprivation and poverty has increased. Is this not the straightforward result of what the Tánaiste has done? Should she not reconsider what she is planning to do in July lest she make matters worse for many lone parents?

Almost 70,000 lone parents are supported by the one-parent family payment at an estimated cost of approximately €607 million in 2015. Despite considerable levels of investment, however, lone parents are still significantly more at risk of consistent poverty compared with the population as a whole. The Survey on Income and Living Conditions in 2012 found that children in low work intensity households accounted for 82% of all children in consistent poverty. Figures from EUROSTAT for 2012 found that increasing work intensity in a such a household to even part-time work - 20% to 45% work intensity - would reduce the rate of children at risk of poverty by 65%. For this reason, it is critical that the focus be changed to ensure that lone parents are provided by the State with real prospects for a better future that is not welfare dependent.

Lone parents are now being provided, when their youngest children turn seven years old, with intensive support from my Department. They will be supported to produce personal development plans through one-to-one meetings with departmental case officers. They will have subsequent access to education, training and employment supports, including JobsPlus and the new back-to-work family dividend, under which €30 will be retained per week in addition to social welfare payments in respect of each child during the parent's first year back at work and 50% of that in the second year.

The Tánaiste has already been forced to backtrack on the cut to half-rate carer's allowance affecting the 800 lone parents who are carers because Single Parents Acting for the Rights of Kids, SPARK, exposed what was about to happen. I suggest she do the same in respect of the loss of income that lone parents who work part time will suffer as a result of the abandonment of the one-parent family payment in July.

The Tánaiste talks motherhood and apple pie about people wanting to return to work. Two years ago, 60% of lone parents were in work. That number has decreased as a result of what the Government has done. In light of what is planned for July, lone parents who work 20 hours per week will lose 25% of their incomes. How does this incentivise people to return to work? It will have the opposite effect and drive them out of work and further into poverty. Will the Tánaiste back away from her plans in this area? She has realised that she had already made one mistake. Will she acknowledge that she has made another, abandon the change planned for July and go back to the drawing board?

Deputy Boyd Barrett's proposal is to tell people who are lone parents, be it because their relationships ended or they had children on their own, that they should remain on social welfare for 18 years during some of the best years of their lives or even longer if they have more than one child. What tends to happen in that scenario is that someone stops being a long parent in his or her late 40s or early 50s. We just discussed meeting lone parents in community employment schemes and so on in Coolock. It can be difficult for people to return to education and training in order to get well-paid jobs. As I told the Deputy, all of the statistics across Europe, not just in Ireland, show that if a family relies only on social welfare and there is little work in the household, be it a one-parent or two-parent household, even a 20% to 45% participation rate in work reduces the risk of poverty in the household by more than 60%.

Can we get rid of the red herrings? More than most, lone parents know that it is better to be in work if they can find any because it makes them better off. The proof of the pudding is that before the Tánaiste started her cuts in 2012, most lone parents were working. She is now putting pressure on them to leave work because they will lose up to 20% of their incomes. I am not saying this, SPARK and lone parents are saying it. They have already exposed one mistake made by the Tánaiste in respect of carers, who are also workers. She recognised that what she was doing was unfair. Will she please recognise that what she is proposing to do in this context will lead to a loss of income for working lone parents and is likely to drive them out of work and into poverty? Will the Tánaiste reconsider?

If the Deputy were to examine the situation he would find that if lone parents were in a position to increase their working hours to 19 per week, they would get a significant increase in support via family income supplement, FIS.

And if they work 20 hours or more, they will lose.

This year, we will spend at least €280 million of taxpayers' money on FIS to support families on low incomes in returning to work for at least 19 hours per week. I am unsure if the Deputy was listening, but the back-to-work family dividend-----

If a social welfare recipient has children, he or she is paid just under €30 a week per child. If he or she moves back into part-time or full-time work, he or she will receive a payment of €30 a week per child from the Department. The Deputy can scoff, but that is strong support.

The Department accepted the figures.

We are well over time.

We know from people who have transitioned how well they have done.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.