The Community Employment (CE) Scheme is an active labour market programme designed to provide eligible long-term unemployed people and other disadvantaged persons with an opportunity to engage in useful work within their communities on a temporary, fixed term basis to improve their prospect of returning to employment.
As the Deputy may be aware, earlier this year, Minister Humphreys and I established the Operational Forum comprising of Departmental officials and employment support scheme sponsors and their representatives. The Operational Forum meets on a periodic basis to consider and discuss operational matters and provide information on future developments relating to the employment support schemes. It met on two occasions so far in 2021 and has provided a very useful forum to discuss and resolve some of the challenges faced by CE schemes during COVID and resultant public health restrictions.
I am therefore very aware of impact of the COVID-19 emergency on CE schemes. My Department has continued to support CE schemes throughout the period and introduced a number of contingency support measures, including the extension of CE participants’ contracts on a number of occasions. Over 18,000 CE participants are benefiting from the latest decision to extend CE contracts for a further period until February 2022.
After that date, participants will leave schemes on a coordinated, phased basis over a prolonged period continuing up until January 2023. This will ensure that the CE schemes can continue to provide important local community services as they get back to normal operations during this period.
My Department officials are continuing to work with local CE sponsoring authorities to identify suitable CE candidates. Time spent on PUP will count towards eligibility for CE. CE sponsoring authorities are encouraged by the Department to continue to promote the benefits of CE to long term unemployed persons in their local communities.
My priority and the priority of the Department is to have all CE schemes back providing normal services and supports to their long-term unemployed participants while delivering valuable services to local communities over the coming months.