Tuesday, 10 February 2004

Ceisteanna (35, 36)

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

110 Mr. Morgan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment her views on the publication by the National Disability Authority of the report entitled Towards Best Practice in the Provision of Further Education, Employment and Training Services, which found that 60% of disabled adults in the 16 to 64 age group do not work; if it is her intention to implement the recommendations contained in that report in relation to employment and training; if adequate resources will be available to implement those recommendations; the other steps the Government will take to increase the participation of disabled workers in the labour force; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4105/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

182 Mr. Morgan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment her views on the publication by the National Disability Authority of the report, entitled Towards Best Practice in the Provision of Further Education, Employment and Training Services, which found that 60% of disabled adults in the 16 to 64 age group do not work; if it is her intention to implement the recommendations contained in that report in relation to employment and training; if adequate resources will be available to implement those recommendations; the steps the Government will take to increase the participation of disabled workers in the labour force; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3931/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (5 contributions) (Ceist ar Minister for Enterprise)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 110 and 182 together.

I am aware of the recent report by the National Disability Authority, entitled Towards Best Practice in the Provision of Further Education, Employment and Training Services for People with Disabilities. The report, which was received in my Department on 14 January, contains a number of conclusions and recommendations which have policy implications for a number of Departments, including the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment in the area of employment and training services for people with disabilities.

Policy and programme provision in this regard are subject to ongoing monitoring and review by my Department with a view to providing the most efficient services possible for people with disabilities. The conclusions and recommendations contained in the report will assist and inform my Department's future policy development, planning and monitoring of employment and training service provision to people with disabilities. FÁS remains committed to prioritising, within available resources, the training and employment supports for people with disabilities with a view to providing the maximum potential for employment in the open labour market.

Will the Minister of State explain to the House the reason for the failure to meet these targets? There is an exceptionally low level of employment among people with disabilities. In 1977, a 3% employment target was set in regard to people with disabilities in the Civil and public service workforce. The target was never met yet I hear that ongoing monitoring and review processes have been set up. What are those processes telling us? What are the reasons for this failure to enable people with disabilities to find employment? Such reasons are not clear from any data I have seen published by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment or other Departments, and the various representative organisations are not in a position to identify the reasons for this total failure to meet the targets.

In 2002, over 4,000 people with disabilities were employed on community employment schemes, which is a particularly high take-up. However, less than 10% of those progressed into the workforce. That figure indicates a willingness on the part of such unemployed people to enter the workforce yet less than 10% were able to achieve that. Does the monitoring and reporting to which the Minister of State referred give us any indication of how such a ludicrous situation came about? Can the Minister of State tell the House that the situation has improved as there has been no obvious sign of improvement in regard to this major issue? The monitoring of the progression of people with disabilities through various supportive pathways to the open market is needed yet I have not heard of this coming about. The Minister of State might outline the steps he proposes to correct that.

The situation is improving. A determined effort is being made at present and considerable resources are being expended to improve the possibilities of people with disabilities going into employment.

There are a variety of reasons we have not reached the targets set. These relate to historical and cultural issues in the past regarding people with disabilities. The greatest problem in finding opportunities for people with disabilities is the attitude among employers who are not informed sufficiently on the advantages of employing people with disabilities, particularly in considering the abilities of people rather than their disabilities. It is quite clear from experience that people with disabilities make a significant contribution to the workplace, not just in the actual work they do themselves, but in the positive impact they have on other employees, customers and the general public.

The Deputy is correct that we have reached the targets set out. We must focus on a number of issues. My Department will respond in a focused way to the proposals in the report. We must promote initiatives for greater access to employment and improve our ability to integrate people with disabilities into the labour market. We must develop policies and supports to enable people in the area of self-employment and small business opportunities. We intend to focus on this area in the coming 12 months. We must link more closely with other Departments, particularly the Department of Education and Science, to prepare people with disabilities for the workplace at a younger age than is happening at the moment. Some very useful pilot projects are in operation and greater co-operation within the two Departments will serve to make the projects more effective.

The level of programmes and resources has been increased substantially in recent years. There is the sheltered employment scheme, Workway, and the equal programme, all of which are being co-ordinated in a much more synchronised way than in the past. There have been a series of seminars throughout the country, beginning in Dublin, to bring all these organisations together and focus on a more co-ordinated role, with a strong message being sent to employers throughout the country that they should look positively on employing people with disabilities. If we can crack that one, we will reach the target we have set ourselves.

I agree with the Minister of State regarding the positive influence people with disabilities have on the workforce. How then does he explain the lack of take-up by employers of people with disabilities? How significant a role does the benefits trap play? Will he accept that the removal of medical cards and secondary benefits on taking up employment is a disincentive to people taking up employment?

We are currently discussing the issue of benefits. We must ensure there is no difficulty for people who need to retain their disability benefits if they go into the workplace. We have addressed that matter.