Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

State Pension (Contributory)

Willie O'Dea


1. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if the total contributions approach to calculating entitlement to the contributory pension will come into effect in 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15534/19]

This relates to the Government's announcement of a new system for calculating people's entitlement to contributory old age pension, namely, the total contributions approach. The Government gave the impression that this system would be in place from 2020. Is that still the position? If that is the Government's intention, when will we see the legislation providing for it?

The introduction of a total contributions approach, TCA, to establishing the level of entitlement for all new State pension (contributory) claims was signalled by the then Government in the national pensions framework in 2010. At that time it set a target date of 2020 for the implementation of TCA. More recently, the Roadmap for Pensions Reform 2018-2023 targeted implementation of TCA from the third quarter of 2020. This is subject to the necessary legislation being enacted and supporting structures being in place.

Consultation is a very important part of the development and design of any new pension system. With this in mind, I launched a public consultation on the design of TCA on 28 May 2018 to which a wide variety of stakeholder groups were invited to make submissions. A number of workshops were also held on the day to elicit views and feedback.

Shortly afterwards all Oireachtas Members were invited to a detailed briefing by my officials in Leinster House. The consultation was open for more than three months and the Department received almost 300 responses from individuals and organisations. Those submissions outlined the views of respondents on the issues of most interest to them.

Having carefully examined the outputs of the consultation process, my Department is now designing the scheme and I intend to bring a proposal to Cabinet shortly setting out that design. Once the Government has agreed the approach to be taken, I will initiate the work required to introduce this reform. At that stage the heads of the Bill will go to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection for pre-legislative scrutiny. As soon as the legislation is drafted it will be brought to the House and I intend to do it later this year.

From the Minister's reply, I take it there is no guarantee that it will come into effect in 2020. As a result of the consultation, the necessity for legislation, Cabinet agreement etc., it may not kick in until later than 2020.

I want to ask the Minister about one or two technical aspects of the proposal. I know it is in the course of preparation and the Minister mentioned a consultation process with 300 submissions, etc. I am sure the Minister got a submission the rest of us received relating to the existing hurdle for someone to qualify. Regardless of their record, they must have at least 520 paid contributions. That is the position under the temporary arrangement the Government has introduced, which we supported, to accommodate people who became pensioners since 2012. The rules for the new system may not necessarily be the same as the rules that apply at the moment.

As the Minister will be aware, the initial hurdle was 260 paid contributions, which equates to five years' full paid stamps. When people have paid contributions for five years they usually have other credits, etc. The required number of paid contributions is a terrible cliff edge. There are very many people in the country who have paid between 260 and 500 contributions. I realise that there would be a big cost factor if the Minister were to reduce it in one go to 260, but surely some recognition can be given to people who have paid at least 260 contributions even if it meant being less generous in the allocation of credits, etc.

I cannot say what the Deputy has asked me to say because it is not true. Although there are no guarantees in life and obviously anything could happen between now and 2020, the Government's ambition is to start up contributions in 2020 and that has not changed. We cannot rule out something happening next month or next year, but that is the ambition and that is the roadmap we are working towards.

Many submissions were made for a variety of options to be included and we are looking at all of them. I hope what we will provide to Cabinet to rubber-stamp, hopefully, will be all encompassing. I do not want to discount anybody's contribution during their lifetime of work. I do not just mean work outside the home; I also mean to give people a lift or a step-up to include all the work they do inside the home. Although I am not in a position to tell the Deputy what the final outcome will look like, my aim is to ensure the system will work for generations to come, will be fair and equitable and will take into account everybody's contribution to society, both inside and outside the home.

I appreciate the Government's ambition for 2020 but I am getting constant queries, as, I am sure, are other Members, from constituents as to when the new system will be put in place. I cannot tell them definitively, on the basis of the Minister's reply, that it will be next year, but that is the Government's ambition. Did the Department receive submissions in the consultation process regarding the baseline figure of 40 years, which is 2,080 contributions? It was originally envisaged that it would be 30 years rather than 40.

I would be very comfortable if the Deputy said to his constituents what I say to mine, namely, that our intention is to introduce it in quarter 3 of 2020. That intention and the roadmap for pensions have not changed since we drew up that roadmap in 2018. There were many submissions on the topic referred to by the Deputy. However, things have changed over the years. The original formation looked at a 30-year span but only ten years' credits. We all recognise that people, particularly women, who stay at home to mind their children do so for a hell of a lot longer than ten years. They should not be discounted. There is no final outcome yet. I have to finalise the position in the next couple of weeks. I want to ensure that everyone's contribution inside and outside the home is recognised equally.

Social Welfare Rates

John Brady


2. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will consider the proposals put forward in the Social Welfare Commission Bill 2018 in order to ensure the adequacy of social welfare payments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15742/19]

Last October, I introduced the Social Welfare Commission Bill 2018. The intention behind it is to ensure adequacy in social welfare payments across the board. Has the Minister had an opportunity to look at the Bill and will she make a statement on it?

The Social Welfare Commission Bill 2018, sponsored by the Deputy, seeks, among other things, to establish a commission to monitor and make recommendations on social welfare rates at least once a year.

The Deputy will be aware that ideas of benchmarking and indexation of social welfare rates are not new. For example, previous studies were conducted by the Commission on Social Welfare in 1986, long before the Deputy and I were Members, and by the social welfare benchmarking and indexation group in 2001.

In our roadmap for pensions reform, which was published on a snowy day last March, the Government committed to examine and develop proposals to set a formal benchmark target of 34% of average earnings for the contributory State pension and to institute a process whereby future changes in rates of pension payment will be linked explicitly to changes in consumer prices and average wages.

My Department is currently considering options to implement this commitment by examining previous studies on benchmarking and indexation, international experience and a range of potential benchmarks and indices. It is worth noting that the current rates of payment mirror closely already the benchmark levels proposed in previous reports, including those proposed by the social welfare benchmarking and indexation group of 2001 which is usually relied on by advocacy and other groups.

In terms of the wider application of indexation of social welfare payments generally, section 19 of the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Act 2018 provides that, as Minister, I will arrange to "consult with stakeholders on examining ways in which social welfare rates are increased with the aim of ensuring adequacy for all recipients and shall do so in quarter 1 of 2019". From recollection, albeit the Deputy can correct me if I am wrong, that provision was proposed in an amendment which he tabled and we all supported.

In this context, my Department met with numerous interested stakeholders during quarter 1 of 2019 to solicit views on how the adoption of benchmarking and a system of indexation might work for social welfare rates more generally. The feedback from this consultation is currently being considered and will help to inform the development of what will hopefully be a collective approach to benchmarking and indexation.

In addition, I propose that the issue will be considered at my Department's pre-budget forum on an official basis in July. The forum includes representatives from the community and voluntary sector, ICTU and IBEC, among others.  I have the Deputy's views, which are welcome, and would welcome also the views of those in other political parties who are interested in this area and who might make submissions.

I thank the Minister for her reply. It was the top priority at last year's pre-budget forum meeting in July that there would be adequacy in the setting of social welfare payments right across the board. There have been reports in the last while that the Minister is looking at linking payments to the consumer price index, CPI, only. If that is true, it would be a retrograde step and would fail to ensure adequacy, which is what is needed. We have to get this right. It is the top priority for all NGOs. The Minister stated that the process of engaging with those organisations - as committed to in the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Act 2018 on foot of an amendment which, as she correctly indicated, I proposed - has started. I welcome the fact that the process has begun. If the groups involved are completely opposed to linking payments to the CPI only, will the Minister listen and set the idea aside? I also wish to ask her about the proposed national action plan for social inclusion, which is also critical. That plan is long overdue and was supposed to be in place by January. It is now April but there is still no sign of it. The action plan is critical from a cross-departmental perspective. Where is it?

It never ceases to amaze me when I read things in the newspapers which I am supposed to have said or done but which are nowhere close to anything I have said or done at all. They either fail to accord with what I said or did or they are completely made up. I do not know where the idea that the Department is considering indexing against the CPI came from but it certainly did not come from us. Someone is being mischievous. The only reason this is on my agenda is that it was advocated for so strongly at our forum last July. This is what NGOs and advocacy groups want, namely, to ensure that we have an adequate payment which meets people's needs. It is why I did the tender on the total cost of disability this year. I need to know what different levels of need apply for different cohorts of people who are solely reliant on a fixed income from the Department every week. When we started the consultation, or thought process, last year, it was on the back of what NGOs and advocacy groups had asked for. I cannot do it without their co-operation and I certainly cannot do it without the co-operation of the House. The only way to achieve what we want, namely, adequacy in payments for people on jobseeker's allowance, widow's pensions, pensions and payments for persons with disabilities, including people who are blind, is through consultation. To answer the Deputy's question, a wide variety of views have been put forward and they will all be assessed before we make a proposal.

I thank the Minister for that. In the context of the Bill I introduced last October, I carried out an extensive engagement with all of the groups involved, including Social Justice Ireland, the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the European Anti-Poverty Network. I consulted across the board and I note that there is a broad consensus in support for my Bill. That is because it is critical to protect our most vulnerable citizens through social protection. It is also essential to remove the setting of rates from use as a political football, regardless of whether it is €5 here or there or €5 for everyone. That fails to deal with the need for targeted increases to deal with abject poverty. That is what is needed here. There is broad support for my Bill and I am eager to sit down with the Minister to discuss it. The way forward is to establish this commission to set rates. I asked the Minister also about the national action plan for social inclusion. Can she provide a definitive timeframe as to when the action plan will be implemented?

I apologise for that. I was talking too much and ran out of time. The launch of the national action plan for social inclusion is pencilled in for 22 May 2019. The Taoiseach is going to launch it. The reason it has been delayed is that, as the Deputy suggested, it involves a multidisciplinary and, more importantly, cross-departmental approach. If it only involved the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, I could have launched it myself last year. However, it would not then have been a robust document. That is because to be effective, the plan must also include the Departments with responsibility for children, education, healthcare and housing. I am adamant that it will not just be a document we all read and say "That is grand". It will be a living document. While the Deputy might slag me, there will be an action plan to go with it and people will be assigned specific targets and the dates by which to achieve them. As long as I am here, I will ensure that we look at those targets on a quarterly basis to ensure they are achieved.

I call Deputy Brady for a final intervention.

Is it a strategy to launch it a few days before the European elections?

If it were, I would be leaving it very late at 22 May. People will have already made up their minds by then.

Can I answer the Deputy's other question?

As I said to Deputy Brady last week, I am very happy to sit down with him to discuss the Bill. I know I was supposed to call him this week. I am actually more concerned about getting consensus in both Houses. The only way I can do that is to bring our proposals to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection to get everyone's views. The Deputy and I might share the same view on this particular issue but I do not believe everyone does.

Community Employment Schemes Supervisors

Willie O'Dea


3. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans for community employment schemes; her further plans to address pension entitlements for supervisors and assistant supervisors; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15535/19]

This question relates to the Government's recent announcement that it intends to change the focus of community employment schemes from activation to the social aspect. The Minister has informed us that she has set up an interdepartmental committee to consider how that should be done. I am trying to ascertain if this committee has met yet. How long will it be before we can expect proposals from the committee? For how long will the recommendations be considered? When the recommendations are ready will they be discussed with stakeholders and with the relevant Oireachtas committee, which is the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection?

Community employment, CE, is the largest employment programme administered by my Department.  It was initially established in 1994 to enhance the employability of unemployed persons by providing work experience and training opportunities for them within their communities close to their homes.  Its objective was, and remains, to help long-term unemployed people to re-enter the active workforce. It was always intended, and it has been the practice, that the numbers of people on community employment or similar schemes, such as Tús and the rural social scheme, RSS, at any point in time would reflect the number of long-term unemployed people on the live register. It is because of this that the governing rules were established, are in situ and still established today.

Thankfully, the number of people on the long-term live register has fallen very significantly in recent years from more than 200,000 people a short five years ago to about 76,000 people today.  Given the reduction in the live register, we have to recognise that there are challenges in ensuring that we can refer sufficient numbers of people with appropriate skills to resource all of the existing schemes at the level the schemes require.

I refute what Deputy O'Dea has said. I am not changing the focus with regard to the interdepartmental group I have established. I am trying to acknowledge the reality of the current system and the fact that one set of governing rules does not actually fit the reality of what our community employment schemes do today. I am fully committed, have always been and will always be, to the future of our community employment schemes. They make an enormous and valuable contribution to our communities. I want to see them sustained, which is not the current position given the difficulties of accessibility and the rules required of people to either apply for CE or to stay on CE. Thankfully, the Government agreed to my establishing the interdepartmental group to explore the most appropriate organisational arrangements with regard to all our schemes. The primary focus is on social inclusion, or sheltered employment, and the delivery of the services they provide for all of our towns and villages.

The first meeting of the interdepartmental group was held last week and it is expected that the group will have a set of recommendations for me to bring to bring to Cabinet by end of the second quarter.

In his parliamentary question, Deputy O'Dea specifically asked about the claim by CE supervisors-----

-----and assistant supervisors. I sound like a broken record when I say this-----

The Minister's time is up.

We are all well aware, as are the CE supervisors and assistant supervisors I have met over the past months, that they are employees of their host companies, and as such-----

The first supplementary question-----

-----I have no role in determining their pension.

All Members will keep an eye on the clock. There are other Deputies waiting.

I will get on to the CE supervisors in a moment but first I will address the Minister's reply. My reading of the Department's statement was that the situation had changed with regard to community employment schemes. Originally their primary purpose was labour activation. Now that we are down to nearly 5% unemployment, it is recognised that there is a tremendous social aspect to these schemes also. If the Minister wants to put it differently from me and say that the reality has changed, then that is fine and I am willing to go with that. Will the Minister agree that the new reality, for which she is now providing, indicates that more flexibility will be required? We are constantly presented with cases, for example, where a person works as a caretaker in the local community centre or GAA club and there is nobody to replace him or her when the year comes to an end. Under the rules of the CE scheme, the club or centre has to let that person go. More flexibility will be needed. Will the Minister say whether she agrees with me on that? Would the Minister agree that because of its long experience in this area the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is the proper Department to continue to be the governing Department for the community employment schemes?

When it was established, it was not to look after people who may have difficulties from a social inclusion perspective. That just evolved. It has evolved in that way and is effective because of the type of services the CE host companies offer to all of our communities. It is normally a volunteering type of effort, for example, with regard to tidy towns, helping our sports clubs and meals on wheels. It is very much a giving and voluntary-type of service offered by these organisations. Over the years, more people who have faced those social barriers or difficulties in entering the mainstream workforce and who, for whatever reason, have difficulties working on the main streets of our towns, have found a very natural home in our CE schemes because of the extra supports, the extra mentoring and the lovely warm environment our CE companies all display. They provide huge services. People get up every day and go to work. They do not get up every day to help somebody do a service, rather, they provide a valuable service. I want to see that acknowledged because I do not think it currently is. I want to stop the business of me getting letters week in, week out, and I am sure this happened to all the previous social welfare Ministers also-----

I call Deputy O'Dea.

-----asking for people to stay on a scheme for another year. We need to recognise the valuable contribution they give.

On the CE supervisors, the Minister will be aware of the Labour Court recommendation, which is now 11 or 12 years old, that indicates that community employment supervisors should be paid pensions. There is also a Dáil motion that was passed by a majority of two to one in this House. The initial explanation from the Government for the delay in implementing the will of the Dáil was that if pensions were granted to community employment supervisors, there was a danger it would have to be done right throughout the community and voluntary sector. I believe that we have sufficiently debunked that. I hope the Minister is not going to fall back on the idea that the companies themselves are responsible and, therefore, say she cannot honour the Dáil motion. These are paper companies with no cash or assets and they do not have the resources.

I will answer this in the politest way I possibly can. When the Labour Court passed down the judgment in 2008, Deputy O'Dea was sitting at the Cabinet table, and he continued to sit at it for a further three years. If there was a simple solution to this problem, I am quite sure the Deputy would have found it.

So the answer from the Minister is "No".

That is not the answer.

It is a separate issue. Why does the Minister not respond to the question?

I call Deputy Bríd Smith.

I have responded. I responded on a number of occasions, telling the Deputy that-----

I have asked the Department four or five times and have had no response-----

I am committed to finding a solution to-----

It is an absolute disgrace.

The Minister said that she is committed to finding a solution.

It is an absolute disgrace.

The Minister is committed to finding a solution. I call Deputy Bríd Smith.

Discussions might find joint solutions.

Lads, break it up will you.

The Deputy has 30 seconds to introduce her question.

Go raibh maith agat. I hope the Leas-Cheann Comhairle feels better soon. He sounds like he is dying on his feet there.

This is what you do for your country.

Exactly. We will write on your gravestone, "I told them I was sick".

Social Welfare Benefits Waiting Times

Bríd Smith


4. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the reason for the backlog and delays in issuing social welfare payments; and the further reason for the delay of six months in relation to appeals. [15690/19]

I want to ask the Minister the reasons for delays in issuing social welfare payments. In her answer I hope the Minister will address the current situation. About one year ago her Department gave a briefing in the AV room, attended by our staff. At that time the Department acknowledged there was a waiting time for appeals of at least five months, and an overall waiting time for applications. In our experience with case work, the average wait for appeals is six to eight months. It is really unacceptable.

The Department is committed to providing a quality service to all the people who apply for the different schemes, ensuring that applications are processed as quickly as possible and that decisions on entitlements are made in the most efficient way.

In general, social welfare schemes such as these with a number of complex qualifying conditions can and do take longer to process.  Before a decision can be made for example, on entitlement to domiciliary care allowance, evidence must be provided and examined in respect of the additional care needs of the child.  Similarly, before a decision can be made on entitlement to a carer’s allowance or carer's benefit evidence must be provided in respect of the care recipient’s care requirements, the level of care the carer provides, and caree's means in some allowances.

It is also the case that in order to register their claim and establish an early entitlement or claim date, many people submit a claim without giving all the necessary supporting documentation on the first day.  I am not saying this, but it has been acknowledged to me by some of the NGOs. While this ensures people will be paid with arrears from an early effective date as early as they are entitled to it, it means that claims take longer to process if we have to go back to the customer and look for that missing information.

The Department is currently processing domiciliary care allowance claims within ten weeks and invalidity claims within seven weeks. Disability allowance claims are taking 14 weeks on average while carer's allowance applications are finally coming down and are now at 15 weeks. That is still three weeks more than our objective for every year.

I wish to reassure the Deputy that claims processing is kept under active review with all possible steps being taken to improve processing times. This includes significant additional resources, where available, and the review of business processes to ensure the efficient processing of applications. For example, additional staff have been temporarily reassigned to the carer's allowance area to work on claims processing. This has led to a reduction of three weeks in the processing times. We are still three weeks away from our target for every year so we still have a good way to go. We are committed to this and looking at it on a monthly basis.

I need not say this to the many people who suffer the anxiety of waiting for a decision on a payment, but the reason they are in the system applying for payment is because their level of income is so low that they rely on the State for help.

I had a young woman before me recently who was literally falling to pieces with grief. She was with her child. She is waiting for a decision on her application for disability payment. She has been waiting for 18 weeks already. She has a partner who earns money. She will be entitled to something – she has been told that much – but the decision has not been made yet. Anyway, it is not necessarily the case that because a partner lives in the same house, that partner will look after the financial needs of the applicant. While the needs of the applicant are not being looked after she is told she has to wait without any interim payment because she is not single.

Other problems arise, including problems to do with the waiting time on appeals for carer's allowance. I have a chart that shows the waiting times are not coming down in any significant way. In January 2018 the waiting time was 26.3 weeks. In January 2019 the waiting time was 28.4 weeks on appeal. Applications for illness benefits in January 2018 took 27.9 weeks on average and in January 2019 the figure was 41.1 weeks. The waiting times are actually going up and that is causing considerable stress.

The first thing I need to say to Deputy Smith is with regard to the lady she referred to. If Deputy Smith gives me her details I will intervene personally.

I need to put on record that anyone or everyone who is waiting for a decision for a payment for any of our schemes is entitled to apply for community welfare through our supplementary welfare allowance. Applicants will get it if they have a means need long before the decision is ever made.

That is only if a person is single.

If Deputy Smith wishes to give me the details of the lady later on, I will intervene.

I am not disputing the numbers cited by Deputy Smith. What I am saying is that we have taken several steps to try to remedy the difficulty we have with regard to a number of issues relating to the length of time for appeals.

The first point is that we need to put more staff in the area. We have a cap on our staff. It is only when staff resources become free in one section because they are no longer required that they can be moved to another section. That is what we did with the carer's allowance and our appeals recently. We are also in a recruitment process for deciding officers within our appeals section. When they come on board that will speed things up. We have also engaged extensively with the Carers Association and carer organisations in the past year to simplify our application form to try to make it easier, as we did with the domiciliary care allowance some years ago, a move that resulted in great improvements.

I refute what the Minister has said. Supplementary payments are not available to those who are not single. If a person is living with an applicant in the same household the applicant is not entitled to it.

Let us consider the statistics. It seems there may be a problem with the number of medical officers available to make decisions. It is in the areas of carers, disability and illness where the greatest waiting times exist on initial application and on appeal. Is there a shortage of medical officers?

I wish to bring another matter to the attention of the Minister while I have the opportunity. Does the Minister intend to employ more staff coming up to the summer months? A plethora of people are laid off for the summer, including staff who work in schools, and do not get paid for the summer months. These include everything from secretaries to special needs assistants and so on. They have to apply to go back on unemployment benefit on a temporary basis. Last year we had a queue of them coming in and out the door. They got their payments in September when the schools reopened but they needed their payment in June, July and August. It appears the Department is not ready for these scenarios, which repeat themselves year after year.

I am keen for the Minister to address my specific questions on medical officers, on being ready for people who will be laid off on a temporary basis and on the pattern such that anything requiring a medical decision causes more problems.

We have a full complement of medical officers. We are not in a recruitment phase. It is not the case that if we had more medical officers it would make it easier or quicker. It is a question of the complexity of the medical evidence that needs to be provided for us. That needs to be adjudicated upon and it is a difficult process. It needs to go back and forth. That is what causes the delay. The most effective way of producing a better outcome is to simplify that process. That is what we did with the Carers Association in the past year in a similar process to the process involving the domiciliary care allowance warriors some years ago. That has given us positive effects. The processing of application times for domiciliary care allowance is now down to seven weeks. The forum works for that and I am positive that the forum will work for this.

I did not say that anyone is entitled to social welfare assistance. I said anyone who has means and who is in need of social welfare assistance can get supplementary welfare allowance on a weekly basis regardless of whether the applicant has a partner. If the partner earns over the threshold, then the person will not get it because they would be sufficiently able to look after themselves. If the partner does not exceed the threshold, the Department is there to step in.

Local Employment Service

Thomas Pringle


5. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to outline the timeframe for the upcoming tendering process for the future provision of employment services nationally; the reason active consideration will not be given to a public procurement process despite the success of local employment services in successfully achieving full-time employment for over 28% of referrals each year and the progression of the remaining caseload to part-time jobs and other pathways to work; the reason successful not-for-profit community holistic models are not being given an equal opportunity to tender for the services despite the problems experienced in countries adopting a privatised model; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15621/19]

This question relates to how the Department is proposing to terminate the community-based employment services under the local employment schemes and job clubs in the country by the end of this year. The Department is initiating a competitive procurement process for future services. It is clear from my previous interactions with the Minister that a payment-by-results arrangement as used in JobPath will be the preferred model. I have severe problems with that.

With respect, before I start reading out my prepared reply I have a question. When did we have the interaction during which I told Deputy Pringle that a payment was my preferred model?

We have ongoing interactions.

You have only two minutes, Minister.

I call on Deputy Pringle to take it back, because it is not the case. That is one of a suite of measures that we offer as part of the State. It does not make it better, but it certainly does not make it worse. It is one of the offerings we have.

We use a number of contracted models to procure public employment services to supplement the service provided directly by case officers as part of Intreo. Local employment services, job clubs and JobPath providers all provide such services under different types of contracts. LES and job clubs are on annual contracts that need to be formally renewed every year. They provide for a paid flat fee not related to outcomes achieved. The JobPath providers are engaged under a payment-by-results model with a four year referral commitment due to conclude at the end of 2019.

My Department and I are currently considering how the services provided for the next generation of people who require activation will be maintained after 2019. In addition, in line with the recommendations of the recently published Indecon report on LES and job clubs, we are examining the possibility of a transition to multi-annual contracts under open procurement competition for these services, incorporating some evidence of performance-based fees. I will be before the Oireachtas Joint Committee this afternoon to discuss the matter. In finalising our views and developing proposals for my consideration, the officials in my Department will continue to engage with the relevant stakeholders, as they have done in recent months, to the extent that is appropriate under public procurement guidelines.

I wish to assure the Deputy that we are going to do everything we can within EU procurement rules to ensure the continuity of the highly valuable services, including local employment services and job clubs, without which we would have been unable to work in recent years.

While the precise format of any future contracts has not yet been decided, what has been decided is that we would not have been able to reduce our unemployment when it was at its height and was handed to us in 2011. A total of 457,000 people were out of work on that day. We had in excess of 200,000 people on the long-term unemployment register. Now the figure is down to what we have today, which is 5.3%. The reduction would have been impossible without the absolute expertise, experience and commitment of the people who work in our local employment services and job clubs.

I take it from what the Minister has said that the tendering process is going to be found that will allow community based programmes to tender. I take it the process will not be totally on a privatised basis. Is that what I can take from the response of the Minister? If that is the case, then it is most welcome but that does not seem to be the way the Department has been going. I call on the Minister to confirm that will be the case and that local employment services will be entitled to tender and apply under the process. I trust they will be given favourable consideration or will be able to compete with privatised firms. I do not think that is the way it will happen but maybe I am wrong or will be proved to be wrong. I would be delighted if the Minister were to prove me wrong.

If she has a contrary view, I would be delighted to hear it.

I hope I have been here long enough to prove the Deputy wrong. Last Thursday, I met representatives from the Irish Local Development Network, ILDN, jobs clubs and CV clubs, which are in all counties and provide invaluable services that Intreo offices and JobPath cannot provide. No two jobseekers have the same barriers to employment so the services the State offers need to recognise that and complement each other. The services that might be suitable for Deputy Pringle might not be suitable for the Deputy sitting beside him, or for me. We need to ensure the complexity of issues facing people who still cannot find work is addressed in the next generation of activation and that employment opportunities, supports and training are available.

The Deputy asked if I would ensure certain people apply for the tender. Nobody is stopping them from applying for the tender but I will make sure they get the support they need to ensure they have the capacity to apply for the tender. No tender has been decided yet and there may not just be one tender, on account of the fact that, as I said, one size does not fit all. We see these services, which we have relied upon since their establishment 35 years ago, very much continuing into the future.

I am glad to hear the tendering process will be fair and that the people to whom I referred can compete for them. I am interested in the Minister's comments to the effect that no two jobseekers are the same. It is a pity she does not tell JobPath that, because JobPath behaves in a way that suits its own needs. The local employment schemes are very successful and very important, especially as regards the local model they use. The Indecon report showed them to be financially viable and more viable than JobPath, with a cost of €2,544 per placement and a referral rate of 28.8%, compared with a cost per placement at JobPath of €3,718 and a referral rate of 18%. The local schemes provided more employment for €1,200 less and that is vitally important.

I do not know what the obsession is with trying to make everybody be the same.

The Minister should tell JobPath that.

I am talking about the Deputy's comparison of local employment schemes with jobs clubs, Intreo and JobPath. We have a range of services because we have a range of people with different barriers to getting employment. It is for this reason that we have back to education allowances, job incentive schemes, training opportunities, employment opportunities, youth employment support schemes, over-55s clubs, etc. There are different barriers for different age groups and different geographical areas. We cannot compare apples and oranges and expect to get the same results. The people we send to JobPath are the long-term unemployed who have different barriers to employment from those we send to local employment schemes or CV clubs.

In the near future, I want to see a rationalisation and the finalisation of our offerings in the form of activation services for the next generation and there will be a place for all our services in that.