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Employment Support Services

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 25 November 2021

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Ceisteanna (38)

Michael Moynihan

Ceist:

38. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Social Protection the measures announced in budget 2022 to improve employment opportunities for persons with disabilities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [58015/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The development of services and policies to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities operates through a cross government framework which includes all relevant departments, agencies and, importantly, representatives of the disability sector, under a number of key national strategies and action plans. The two main national strategies in this area are the National Disability Inclusion Strategy (NDIS) and the Comprehensive Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities (CES). The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (D/CEDIY) is the lead department with regards to both the NDIS and the CES.

Delivery under the CES is underpinned by three-year Action Plans, as agreed by the Comprehensive Employment Strategy Implementation Group (CES-IG). Currently D/CEDIY are working with the members of the CES-IG to develop and agree the third (and final) action plan under the CES, for the period 2022-2024.

In addition, there are a number of other strategies that provide a framework for cross-departmental working and the development of services for people with disabilities. Notably, these include the Roadmap for Social Inclusion (RSI) and Pathways to Work (PtW) strategies.

The Department of Social Protection (DSP) provides a wide range of both income and employment supports to assist jobseekers/existing employees with disabilities, and employers seeking to hire a jobseeker (or support an existing employee) with a disability. Improvements have been made to both the income and employment supports available resulting from measures introduced in Budget 2022, as follows:

Disability Allowance (DA) and Blind Pension (BP)

Both DA and BP are structured to support recipients to avail of opportunities to pursue their own employment ambitions, be that self-employment or insurable employment.

When an individual commences employment, they can avail of an income disregard of €140 per week. In addition, a 50% taper on earnings between €140 and €350 is also applied, i.e., 50% of earnings in this band are disregarded for the purpose of the means test. Earnings above €350 are assessed at 100%, i.e. for every euro earned above €350 a euro reduction is applied.

Budget 2022 measure:

The following improvements have been announced as part of Budget 2022:

1. An increase of €25 in the earnings threshold above which means is fully assessed, from €350 to €375 per week, for both the Disability Allowance and Blind Pension.

2. An increase in the general weekly means disregard entry point for Disability Allowance from €2.50 to €7.60. Currently the first €2.50 of weekly means is disregarded for Disability Allowance. The effect of this measure will be to increase the weekly rate of payment by up to €5.10 per week for DA recipients who have means. This increase also has the effect of bringing the general weekly disregard for DA in line with that of BP.

These measures take effect from June 2022.

Extension of Grants Supporting the Employment of Persons with Disabilities

The Department provides a wide range of employment-related supports, for jobseekers/employees with disabilities and employers. These include delivery of the State’s public employment service (PES) - which is delivered through the Departments nationwide network of Intreo centres and by contractors, such as Local Employment (LES) and Employability providers, delivering services on its behalf.

The Department recognises the additional challenges some jobseekers with disabilities may experience in securing and maintaining employment, and so contracts for the provision of ‘EmployAbility’ services to help address this. In 2021, the Department contracted with 24 companies for the delivery of EmployAbility services in 31 locations.

Access to these service providers is through referral; a jobseeker, with a disability, who is working with their Intreo Case Officer or LES Mediator may be referred to an EmployAbility service provider if it is agreed that the jobseeker would benefit from the type of services and support provided. Employability providers deliver a supported employment model of services for jobseekers with disabilities. Jobseekers work with a job coach who provides both pre-employment and in-employment support and assistance. Providers also deliver a recruitment and job matching service for employers.

Budget 2022 measure:

Three grants, currently available through Intreo, are to be made available also through Employability providers in the contracts to be entered into, with additional monies having been provided, for 2022. The three grants are:

1. Workplace Equipment/Adaptation Grant

Where a person with a disability has been offered employment, is in employment or is self-employed (in the private sector) and requires a more accessible workplace or adapted equipment to do the job, s/he or the employer can apply for a grant towards the costs of adapting premises or equipment. A maximum grant of €6,350 is available towards the cost of adaptations to premises or equipment. Applications in excess of this sum may be considered on an individual basis up to a maximum of €9,523 if specialist training for assistive technology is required.

2. Job Interview Interpreter Grant

A jobseeker who is deaf, hard of hearing or has speech impairment and is attending job interviews in the private sector, may apply for funding to have a sign language interpreter or other interpreter to attend interviews. A three-hour period for each interview can be funded, the amount of the grant payable is based on an hourly fee which may vary. A person may have several interviews arranged and can apply for funding for each (there is no limit to the number of interviews a person can attend with an interpreter). Funding is also available to cover the cost of an interpreter to assist a person during the induction process, when he/she starts work with a private sector employer. A maximum of three hours interpreter support is available, to be utilised by the person as he/she feels is needed. Both the interview interpreter funding and in-employment interpreter support funding, for induction, can be provided. In addition, the grant can also be used to cover travel costs for the interpreter – the cost of public transport or, if not available, a set rate per kilometre is applied.

3. Personal Reader Grant

A person employed in the private sector who is (or is becoming) blind or visually impaired, and who needs assistance with job-related reading, can apply for a grant to support them to employ a personal reader. The amount of the grant payable is based on an hourly fee paid to the reader, in line with the current minimum wage, for an agreed period - for a maximum of 640 hours per year.

Wage Subsidy Scheme

The Wage Subsidy Scheme is targeted at private sector employers and is aimed at encouraging the employment of people with disabilities through the provision of financial incentives (a wage subsidy). The subsidy is delivered in three strands:

Strand I subsidy is a general subsidy for any productivity shortfall in excess of 20% for a person with a disability, in comparison to a colleague without a disability. The rate of subsidy is €5.30 per hour and the amount of the subsidy is based on the number of hours worked.

Strand II subsidy is payable when an employer employs three or more people with a disability who are supported by a WSS Strand I payment. Strand II is intended to cover the additional supervisory, management and other work-based costs relating to these employees. This top-up payment is a percentage of the Strand I subsidy and is based on the overall number of employees with a disability employed under Strand I. It ranges from an additional 10% of wage subsidy for 3 to 6 employees with a disability to a maximum of 50% of wage subsidy for 23+ employees with a disability.

Strand III subsidy enables employers who employ 25 or more workers with a disability on the Wage Subsidy Scheme to be eligible for a grant of up to €30,000 per year towards the expense of employing an Employment Assistance Officer to support these employees.

Budget 2022 measure:

The WSS base subsidy paid to employers, who employ people with a disability, will increase from €5.30 to €6.30 per hour from January 2022. The new rate is a substantial contribution to the employer’s wage costs. In situations where an employer employs between 3 and 6 employees, a 10% top-up is applied to the hourly rate increasing the payment rate to €6.93 for each employee. In the case of an employer who has more than 23 employees the payment rate will be €9.45 per hour for each employee.

The Department continues to keep the range of income and employment supports under review. While any proposed changes to the supports provided must also be considered in an overall budgetary context.

I trust that this clarifies the matter.

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