Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar
Gnáthamharc

Thursday, 25 Nov 2021

Written Answers Nos. 32-51

Employment Schemes

Ceisteanna (32)

James O'Connor

Ceist:

32. Deputy James O'Connor asked the Minister for Social Protection the details of the planned allocation of the additional €185 million funding announced in budget 2022 for the implementation of the Pathways to Work 2021-2025 national employment services strategy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [58012/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

‘Pathways to Work 2021 – 2025’, which was launched in July, outlines the Government’s new employment services strategy to support those who have lost jobs, or are otherwise unemployed, in transitioning into employment.

Budget 2022 reflects Government's commitment to deliver on this Strategy. An additional €185m has been allocated to fund a variety of targeted active labour market measures designed to support those whose jobs were lost due to the pandemic and those who were unemployed pre-pandemic.

Under the Pathways to Work initiative, Budget 2022 is providing an additional allocation of almost €13m to Community Employment schemes, which by offering part-time and temporary placements in local communities, assist long-term unemployed and otherwise disadvantaged people to get back to work.

The Tús Initiative will receive an additional allocation of €18m. This scheme provides short term working opportunities for long term unemployed people, which are provided by community and voluntary organisations.

The Back to Work Enterprise Allowance (BTWEA) and the Back to Work Education Allowance (BTEA) will receive funding of €17m and €46m respectively. The BTWEA encourages social welfare recipients to become self-employed by enabling those in receipt of payments to keep a percentage of their payments for up to 2 years. The BTEA supports persons who are unemployed, lone parents, have a disability, or other groups, in taking part in second and third level education courses.

An additional almost €62m will be allocated to the Work Placement Experience Programme which supports jobseekers in re-training and gaining experience in new areas of work. Also addressing the area of training and experience, the Training Support Grant will receive additional support of €9m, to provide individual jobseekers with short term training supports and related interventions to fill skills gaps.

JobsPlus, a scheme which provides monetary incentives and supports to employers that employ jobseekers, will receive an additional €18m, and Job Clubs will receive support of a further €3m under Pathways to Work, to provide jobseekers with individualised assistance across a range of services, such as supporting CV preparation.

I trust this sets out the position for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Payments

Question No. 34 answered with Question No. 29.

Question No. 35 answered with Question No. 31.

Ceisteanna (33)

John Lahart

Ceist:

33. Deputy John Lahart asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of persons availing of the fuel allowance, by main social welfare payment, in tabular form; her plans to extend eligibility for the scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [58005/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The table below provides the number of Fuel Allowance recipients by scheme name, as at the end of October 2021, as requested by the Deputy.

Primary Payment

Recipients

State Pension (Contributory)

77,499

Disability Allowance

76,987

State Pension (Non-Contributory)

54,532

Long-term Jobseeker’s Allowance, PRETA + Farm Assist

44,172

Widow/er's or Surviving Civil Partner’s (Contributory) Pension

41,101

One-Parent Family Payment

39,315

Invalidity Pension

16,456

Community Employment Scheme

7,995

Deserted Wife's Benefit

2,722

TUS

2,344

Rural Social Scheme

1,238

National Fuel Scheme (EU / Bilateral Payments)

1,029

Supplementary Welfare Allowance

940

Widow/er's or Surviving Civil Partner’s (Non-Contributory) Pension

859

Back To Work Allowance

612

Occupational Injuries / Death Benefit + Incapacity Supplement

507

Blind Person's Pension

431

Deserted Wife's Allowance

46

Guardian's Payment (Non-Contributory)

8

Guardian's Payment (Contributory)

6

Qualifying payments for Fuel Allowance are those payments that are considered long-term payments and the applicant must also satisfy a means test.

In Budget 2022, I announced a number of measures in relation to the Fuel Allowance scheme which includes a €5 increase in the weekly rate of payment to bring the weekly rate up to €33, an increase in the allowable means by €20 to €120 above the appropriate maximum State Pension (contributory) rate, and an enhancement in the eligibility conditions for Jobseekers and Supplementary Welfare Allowance recipients by reducing the qualifying period from 15 to 12 months. The first two measures apply from Budget Day, and the final measure takes effect from September 2022.

With regard to the revised means test increasing the weekly threshold by €20 to €120, representing a 20% increase enabling more people to qualify for this support, the original intention was to introduce this measure from January 2022. Cognisant of rising fuel costs, I asked my officials to prioritise the work required so that this change could be implemented at the same time as the increase in the Fuel Allowance rate in October 2021. I am happy to tell the Deputy that this work will be completed at the end of this week (Friday 26 November), with the effective date for the implementation of the revised means test now backdated to the Budget.

The criteria for Fuel Allowance are framed in order to direct the resources available to my Department in as targeted a manner as possible. While my Department's schemes are kept under constant review, any further extension of the Fuel Allowance qualifying criteria can only be considered while taking account of the overall budgetary context and the availability of financial resources.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Question No. 34 answered with Question No. 29.
Question No. 35 answered with Question No. 31.

Social Welfare Benefits

Question No. 37 answered with Question No. 29.

Ceisteanna (36, 50)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

36. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will ensure the immediate application of all fuel allowance changes announced in budget 2022 that have not been implemented to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57930/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Violet-Anne Wynne

Ceist:

50. Deputy Violet-Anne Wynne asked the Minister for Social Protection her views on the efficacy of the increase in €20 in the fuel allowance considering recent research in relation to energy poverty that will not be introduced until January 2022 in terms of keeping persons warm this winter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57933/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 36 and 50 together.

The Fuel Allowance is a payment of €33.00 per week for 28 weeks (a total of €924 each year) from October to April, to 369,000 low income households, at an estimated cost of €300 million in 2021. The purpose of this payment is to assist these households with their energy costs. The allowance represents a contribution towards the energy costs of a household. It is not intended to meet those costs in full. Only one allowance is paid per household. In Budget 2022, the Government announced a number of measures in relation to the fuel allowance scheme, including:

- An increase in the weekly rate of fuel allowance by €5 with immediate effect bringing it to €33. This is expected to benefit 398,000 households in 2022 at a cost of just under €55.8 million.

- The qualifying period for Jobseeker’s and Supplementary Welfare Allowance recipients reducing from 15 to 12 months with effect from September 2022.

- The means test weekly threshold increasing by €20 to €120. While it was originally intended to introduce this from the 1st January 2022, I asked my officials to prioritise this work. I am happy to tell the Deputies that this work will now be completed at the end of this week with the effective date for the implementation of the revised means test now backdated to the Budget.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputies.

Question No. 37 answered with Question No. 29.

Employment Support Services

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.

Social Welfare Benefits

Ceisteanna (39)

Jackie Cahill

Ceist:

39. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of persons applying for jobseeker’s benefit, jobseeker’s benefit for the self-employed or jobseeker’s allowance from 8 July 2021 to date who had previously been in receipt of a pandemic unemployment payment, by county, in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [58014/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

Data on the number of persons who received at least one Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) in 2021, and who have applied for a Jobseeker's Allowance or Jobseeker's Benefit claim on or after July 8th 2021 is set out in the following table.

Note that Jobseeker's Benefit figures are inclusive of applications for Jobseeker's Benefit for the Self Employed.

Jobseeker's Allowance and Jobseeker's Benefit Applicants Previously in receipt of the PUP

-

Jobseeker's Allowance

Jobseeker's Benefit

Carlow

39

81

Cavan

64

99

Clare

119

278

Cork

428

790

Donegal

188

273

Dublin

1,135

2,126

Galway

212

419

Kerry

201

452

Kildare

172

356

Kilkenny

75

151

Laois

77

133

Leitrim

28

54

Limerick

167

329

Longford

40

48

Louth

150

237

Mayo

130

216

Meath

173

365

Monaghan

58

103

Offaly

62

115

Roscommon

42

95

Sligo

56

111

Tipperary

102

217

Waterford

127

242

Westmeath

106

152

Wexford

173

234

Wicklow

117

270

Unknown

19

35

Total

4,260

7,981

Employment Schemes

Ceisteanna (40)

Marian Harkin

Ceist:

40. Deputy Marian Harkin asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will examine the criteria for entry to the Tús and rural social schemes in terms of restrictions on time limits, for example, a person who has completed a Tús scheme for one year cannot apply for another three years. [50099/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Department provides a range of income supports and employment activation programmes for unemployed or underemployed persons including the Rural Social Scheme (RSS) and Tús. RSS and Tús both provide employment opportunities for participants with community and voluntary organisations in their area.

The RSS is a demand-led income support scheme, providing part-time employment opportunities for farmers and fishermen or women who are underemployed in their primary occupation.

To be eligible to participate on RSS, a person must be in receipt of a qualifying means-tested social welfare payment and be actively farming or fishing in the State. There is no requirement for people who wish to participate on RSS to have been in receipt of a qualifying payment for any specified minimum duration.

Tús is a targeted activation measure for jobseekers who have been unemployed a year or more, that provides short-term work opportunities to participants for a duration of one year.

As a first-step activation measure for people who have become long-term unemployed, the objective of Tús is to move participants closer to the labour market, through the provision of structured work opportunities within their community, lasting one year. The aim is to support participants find employment on completion of the programme.

If participants are still unemployed on completion of their Tús placement, they can access further Department employment supports including back to education allowance and back to work enterprise allowance. These schemes can be accessed as long as entitlement to a qualifying payment is established. Tús participants can also access the Community Employment scheme immediately after exiting Tús. However other than the COVID related extensions to Tús participant contracts there are no plans to further extend the one-year time limit on Tús.

I trust this clarifies matters.

Employment Support Services

Ceisteanna (41)

Steven Matthews

Ceist:

41. Deputy Steven Matthews asked the Minister for Social Protection the status of the commitment to develop a Traveller and Roma training, employment and enterprise strategy as committed to in July 2021 under Pathways to Work; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57932/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

As the Deputy is aware, the Government adopted its new employment services strategy, ‘Pathways to Work 2021 – 2025’, in July. This strategy, which represents Government’s overall framework for activation and employment support policy, aims to assist those whose jobs have been lost due to COVID-19 to return to the workforce, along with those who were unemployed prior to the pandemic and those facing higher barriers to employment. Members of the Traveller and Roma communities are two such groups that face particular barriers to work and other additional challenges. Unfortunately, this is reflected in the employment and unemployment levels of these communities.

The commitment to which the Deputy refers, ‘to develop a Traveller and Roma Training, Employment and Enterprise Plan’, is of paramount importance. Work on delivering this commitment will commence shortly and is due to be completed by the end of Q2 2022. This work will be undertaken by my Department working closely with Minister of State Joe O’Brien T.D., as well as colleagues from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY), the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment (DETE), the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (DFHERIS), SOLAS and other appropriate stakeholders.

This is only one of a range of commitments the Government has made to address challenges facing these communities. Other commitments in the Pathways to Work strategy include to:

- Explore the feasibility of introducing Traveller (and/or Roma)-specific Group Information Sessions over the lifetime of the strategy;

- Engage with community representative bodies to produce Traveller (and/or Roma)-specific employment service engagement tools;

- Consult with stakeholders from the Traveller (and/or Roma) community to advise the Public Employment Service;

- Consider making the higher level of the JobsPlus subsidy available to all employers who recruit an unemployed person of Traveller or Roma ethnicity;

- Further develop specific Community Employment schemes for Travellers and Roma;

- Deliver a bursary programme, as set out in the Action Plan for Apprenticeship 2021-2025, to fund up to 100 apprentices per annum who are experiencing socio-economic disadvantage and who are from target groups, including lone parents, people with disabilities, Travellers and Roma.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Employment Support Services

Ceisteanna (42)

Brendan Griffin

Ceist:

42. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will take on board concerns expressed by stakeholders in relation to the proposed reform of local employment services and review her plans in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57971/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

My Department is now at an advanced stage in its first phase of procuring new employment services. This phase involves the procurement of regional employment services for seven counties in the Midlands and North-West across four lots. These counties do not have an existing local employment service and represent the first phase of an expansion of similar employment services across. The Phase Two procurement, which will see the Regional Employment Service model rolled out across the State will take on board the learnings of the first phase.

This procurement process follows extensive consultations by my Department with the existing service partners and employee representatives over the last number of years. Officials in my Department visited every Local Employment Service and Job Club in 2019 to hear their views on the design of a new employment service model. Many of the suggestions made then were incorporated into the Regional Employment Service model. In addition, the external consultants engaged by the Department in late 2019 engaged with a cross-section of relevant stakeholders, including academics, before drafting their report. My officials have maintained an ongoing dialogue with the stakeholders and employee representatives. On the 9th November, my officials hosted a webinar for potential tenderers for Phase Two. Approximately 150 participants had an extensive opportunity to engage with the process. Further feedback was requested which will be considered by my Department.

The Regional Employment Service model seeks to procure across the entire State a high-quality employment services targeted at supporting those individuals who are furthest from the labour market. It requires successful tenders to submit bids that focus on the quality of their service offering, the social value of their bid and their ability to access a wide range of supports and services to address the barriers to progression their clients may face.

Departmental Funding

Ceisteanna (43)

Mark Ward

Ceist:

43. Deputy Mark Ward asked the Minister for Social Protection if her Department has been allocated funds seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau to reinvest in communities to build community development and resilience to criminal activity; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57551/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

There have not been any funds allocated to the Department of Social Protection arising from seizure of assets by the Criminal Assets Bureau.

Employment Support Services

Ceisteanna (44)

Pádraig O'Sullivan

Ceist:

44. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Social Protection the criteria used to develop a new model for employment services; the engagement that has taken place with existing providers of local employment services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57693/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

My Department is now at an advanced stage in its first phase of procuring new employment services. This phase involves the procurement of regional employment services for seven counties in the Midlands and North-West across four lots. These counties do not have an existing local employment service and represent the first phase of an expansion of similar employment services across the State. The Phase Two procurement, which will see the Regional Employment Service model rolled out across the State will take on board the learnings of the first phase.

My Department’s primary criteria for new models of employment service were that any future employment services would comply fully with all procurement regulations, that they be consistent with best international practices and provide value for money for taxpayers while retaining the key features of a service that could best engage with the long-term unemployed and others distant from the labour market. Good governance requires that my Department delivers a new model of employment services which entails enhanced key performance indicators and better visibility of the work of employment service providers.

This procurement process follows extensive consultations by my Department with the existing service providers and employee representatives over the last number of years.Officials in my Department also visited every Local Employment Service and Job Club in 2019 to get their views on the design of a new employment service model. Many of the suggestions made then, including multi-annual contracts and greater financial autonomy, were incorporated into the Regional Employment Service model. My officials have continued an ongoing dialogue with stakeholders and employee representatives in the context of both Phases One and Two of the procurement process. However, my Department must adhere to its public procurement obligations and procure these new high-quality employment services in an open and competitive manner that is fair to all interested parties.

Employment Schemes

Ceisteanna (45)

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

45. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will increase payments on the rural social scheme, community employment and Tús schemes and programmes in line with increases in the minimum wage. [50124/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Department provides a range of income supports and activation programmes for long-term unemployed jobseekers and those most distant from the labour market. These supports include the Rural Social Scheme (RSS), Tús, and Community Employment (CE) scheme.

While there are differences in the objectives and delivery of these schemes and supports, they each share a common payment structure and working week of 19 and a half hours.

The rate of payment for participants on RSS, Tús and CE is based on the rate of payment of a participant's underlying social welfare payment, including any increases in respect of a qualified adult spouse or partner, and dependent children; plus an additional increase of €22.50 per week. Although not linked to the National Minimum Wage (NMW), the rate of payment on RSS, Tús or CE equates to at least €11.56 per hour, which is higher than the NMW.

The increases which were announced in Budget 2022, on a range of social welfare payments including jobseekers payments increases of €5 per week, will be added to weekly payments to participants in the new year. Participants in receipt of fuel allowance, have already had the Budget 2022 increase to this allowance applied to their weekly payments.

There are no plans to introduce further changes to the existing payment structures on the employment support schemes at present.

I trust this clarifies matters for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Eligibility

Ceisteanna (46)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

46. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Social Protection the review her Department has carried out into extending the qualifying criteria for the payment of the fuel allowance to include all persons in receipt of the carer’s allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57987/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Fuel Allowance is a payment of €33.00 per week for 28 weeks (a total of €924 over a full fuel season) from October to April, to 369,000 low income households, at an estimated cost of €300 million in 2021. The purpose of this payment is to assist these households with their energy costs. The allowance represents a contribution towards the energy costs of a household. It is not intended to meet those costs in full. Only one allowance is paid per household.

Any decision to allow all those in receipt of Carer's Allowance to receive the fuel allowance payment would represent a fundamental change to the nature of the scheme and would have to be considered in the overall policy and budgetary context. The fuel allowance payment would no longer be a household or means tested payment that is targeted at those who are most likely to require additional help over the winter period.

While Carer's Allowance is not a qualifying payment for Fuel Allowance, a person in receipt of Carer's Allowance may avail of the fuel allowance payment in certain circumstances. Fuel Allowance is a household-based payment, and a carer will very often live with and care for a person in receipt of a qualifying payment for Fuel Allowance. Income from full rate Carer's Allowance is disregarded from the fuel means test, if the carer is providing full time care and attention to the Fuel Allowance applicant, his/her qualified spouse/civil partner or cohabitant or qualified child(ren).

If a person is getting certain qualifying social welfare payments and also providing full time care and attention to another person, s/he can keep his/her main social protection payment in addition to receiving the half-rate Carer's Allowance. S/he can also receive an extra half-rate Carer’s Allowance if s/he cares for more than one person. The payment of half-rate Carer’s Allowance does not preclude a person from qualifying for Fuel Allowance. If a person is in receipt of a non-contributory social welfare payment and a half-rate Carer’s Allowance, then s/he is deemed to have satisfied the means test and Fuel Allowance is payable, subject to all remaining criteria being satisfied. If a person is in receipt of a contributory social welfare payment and a half-rate Carer’s Allowance then s/he will have to satisfy a means test in order to qualify for Fuel Allowance.

Under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme, Exceptional Needs Payments may be made to help meet an essential, once-off cost which customers are unable to meet out of their own resources, and this may include exceptional heating costs. Decisions on such payments are made on a case-by-case basis.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Rural Schemes

Ceisteanna (47)

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

47. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will increase the number of places on the rural social scheme by 500 and reverse the 2016 changes to the length of time a person can remain on the scheme. [50126/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Rural Social Scheme (RSS) is a demand-led income support scheme, providing part-time employment opportunities for farmers and fishermen and women who are in receipt of specified social welfare payments, and who are underemployed in their primary occupation. The scheme offers participants the opportunity to gain valuable work experience in their communities.

Following a Government decision, the number of places on RSS was increased by 750 during 2017 and 2018, bringing the total number of places available on the RSS to 3,350.

As at end-October, 2021 there were 363 places still available to new entrants on RSS, indicating that the existing number of approved places for RSS is more than sufficient and exceeds the existing level of demand. There are no plans to increase the number of RSS places available at this time.

The 2017 Government decision also included the introduction of a six-year time limit for new RSS entrants, with effect from 1st February 2017. RSS participants who commenced on the scheme prior to 1st February 2017 can remain on RSS for as long as they continue to remain eligible for a qualifying social welfare payment.

The six-year time limit was introduced to ensure that there continues to be places available to new entrants and aligns RSS with other employment support programmes.

The first group of participants that will leave RSS on the basis of the six-year rule will not arise until February, 2023 and those who leave may continue to be eligible for one of a number of existing employment supports such as Farm Assist, Fish Assist or Jobseekers Assistance, subject to certain qualification criteria.

The Department continues to monitor all of the employment support programmes and intends to undertake a review of RSS in 2022.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Ceisteanna (48)

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

48. Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Social Protection if she has enhanced the developmental capacity of the services provided by her Department so that workers displaced by Covid-19 will not experience permanent distancing from the workforce. [57717/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

As the Deputy will be aware, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted the employment situations of thousands since its onset in March 2020. While the vast majority of those displaced have already returned to work since the easing of public health restrictions earlier this year, I am acutely conscious that many individuals still in receipt of State income supports will require assistance to return to employment, to reskill and to find new jobs. It is vital we provide these services so as to ensure that the labour market scarring effects on those workers displaced by COVID-19 is minimised.

It was with this core objective in mind that Government published its new employment services strategy, ‘Pathways to Work 2021 – 2025’, in July. This strategy, which represents Government’s overall framework for activation and employment support policy, aims to assist those whose jobs have been lost due to COVID-19 to return to the workforce, along with those who were unemployed prior to the pandemic and those facing higher barriers to employment.

As part of the Pathways to Work strategy, my Department has enhanced the developmental capacity of the services it provides to jobseekers.

For example, the strategy commits to assign 150 Job Coaches to expand the capacity of the Public Employment Service and Intreo Centres. These Job Coaches, 98 of whom are currently in place, will undertake 1-to-1 interviews with jobseekers and advise them on the range of employment options and supports available, taking their specific needs and circumstances into account. Coaches may also refer jobseekers for other interventions such as education / training where appropriate.

In addition to the tailored advice and referrals provided by Coaches, ‘Pathways to Work’ takes a number of steps to offer jobseekers opportunities for upskilling and reskilling in order to facilitate their transition into employment in new sectors (or occupations). This is particularly the case where there is restricted demand for labour in those sectors in which individuals had previously worked.

The developmental supports offered by my Department under Pathways to Work include, but are not limited to:

- A new paid Work Placement Experience Programme (WPEP), which is a 6 month, 30 hour per week voluntary work experience programme, to provide 10,000 unemployed people with the opportunity to build valuable on-the-job experience by the end of 2022. The programme, which encompasses an accredited training and mentoring element, is designed to further enhance the potential of participants for progression and to help them re-engage with the job market.

- Increased funding for the Back to Education scheme which leads to second and third level qualifications, with a target of increasing participation in education programmes to 7,700.

- Funding 50,000 additional places in further and higher education, including via Skills to Compete, Skillnet Ireland, Springboard+ and the Human Capital Initiative.

- Support for 50,000 long-term unemployed people to commence in Further Education and Training provision by 2025.

- An increase in the total number of new apprentice registrations to at least 10,000 per annum by 2025, in line with a commitment in the Action Plan for Apprenticeship 2021-2025.

- An increase in the maximum value of the Training Support Grant available via Intreo from €500 to €1,000 to help over 12,500 jobseekers per annum access relevant and accredited training programmes.

- The provision of an extra 3,000 places on State Employment Schemes, including Community Employment, to support long term unemployed people, and those facing the greatest barriers in the labour market, get back to work.

While the Strategy is still in its early stages of implementation, by delivering on the commitments set out in Pathways to Work, and by further enhancing the developmental capacity of the services provided by my Department and Intreo, it is our ambition to ensure that workers displaced by COVID-19 will have the supports they need to re-enter the workforce.

Social Welfare Eligibility

Question No. 50 answered with Question No. 36.

Ceisteanna (49)

Violet-Anne Wynne

Ceist:

49. Deputy Violet-Anne Wynne asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will consider reviewing the fact that those in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment and illness benefit are ineligible for fuel allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57934/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Fuel Allowance is a payment of €33.00 per week for 28 weeks (a total of €924 each year) from October to April, to 369,000 low income households, at an estimated cost of €300 million in 2021. The purpose of this payment is to assist these households with their energy costs. The allowance represents a contribution towards the energy costs of a household. It is not intended to meet those costs in full. Only one allowance is paid per household.

Qualifying payments for fuel allowance are those payments that are considered long term payments and an applicant must also satisfy a means test. People on long term payments are unlikely to have additional resources of their own and are more vulnerable to poverty, including energy poverty. It is for this reason that the Department allocates additional payments, supports and resources to help this cohort of claimants. The reason Illness Benefit is not a qualifying payment for Fuel Allowance is that, in the majority of cases, Illness Benefit is a short-term payment for those who are certified by their GP as needing to take time out from their employment due to illness.

While the pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) is not a qualifying payment for the fuel allowance, it does not prevent an otherwise qualified household from receiving the payment. If a PUP recipient subsequently moves to Jobseeker's Allowance, qualifying periods spent in receipt of PUP immediately before a Jobseekers claim can be considered towards the days necessary to qualify for Fuel Allowance.

Any decision to extend the eligibility criteria for Fuel Allowance to include people in receipt of Illness Benefit or the PUP would have to be considered in the context of overall budgetary negotiations. Under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, exceptional needs payments may be made to help meet an essential, once-off cost which customers are unable to meet out of their own resources, and this may include exceptional heating costs. Decisions on such payments are made on a case-by-case basis. I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Question No. 50 answered with Question No. 36.

School Meals Programme

Ceisteanna (51)

Joe McHugh

Ceist:

51. Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Minister for Social Protection the plans that are in place to extend the hot school meals scheme in County Donegal; the number of students currently availing of the scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57913/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The school meals programme provides funding towards the provision of food to some 1,506 schools and organisations benefitting 230,000 children. The objective of the programme is to provide regular, nutritious food to children who are unable, due to lack of good quality food, to take full advantage of the education provided to them. The programme is an important component of policies to encourage school attendance and extra educational achievement.

A budget of €65.1 million has been provided for the scheme in 2021.

As part of Budget 2019, funding was provided for a pilot scheme from September 2019, providing hot school meals in primary schools at a cost of €1m for 2019 and €2.5m in 2020. The pilot involved 37 schools benefitting 6,744 students for the 2019/2020 academic year and was aimed primarily at schools with no onsite cooking facilities.

Budget 2021 provided an additional €5.5m to extend the provision of hot school meals to an additional 35,000 primary school children, currently receiving the cold lunch option. Invitations for expressions of interest were issued to 705 primary schools (612 DEIS and 93 non-DEIS) in November 2020. A total of 281 (256 DEIS and 25 non-DEIS) expressions of interest were received in respect of 52,148 children.

The 35,000 places were allocated to each local authority area based on the number of children applied by local authority as a percentage of the total number. A minimum of one School for each Local Authority area was selected. Thereafter, a process of random selection was used for each area.

Budget 2022 is providing for the hot school meals to be extended from January 2022 to the 81 DEIS schools that submitted an expression of interest but were not selected in the extension to 35,000.

A list of the schools from Donegal County who have received funding for Hot School Meals in the 2021/2022 academic year is contained in the attached tabular statement 1. A list of the County Donegal schools invited to join the Hot Meals Scheme from January 2022 is contained in the attached Tabular Statement 2.

I am committed to continuing to grow the hot school meals element of the school meals programme and building further on the significant extension announced as part of Budget 2022.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Tabular Statement 1: The schools In Donegal county who have received Hot School Meals Funding 2021/2022

Organisation Identifier

Organisation Name

County

10062E

Creeslough National School

Donegal

14194S

Scoil Cholmcille

Donegal

14704P

Murroe National School

Donegal

15208I

S N Na Sraithe Moire

Donegal

15729N

Rathmullen National School

Donegal

16138S

Raphoe Central National School

Donegal

16349I

S N An Droim Mor

Donegal

16763S

S N Glasain

Donegal

17241Q

S N Domhnach Mor

Donegal

17328F

Scoil Roisin

Donegal

17469A

Scoil Cuilm Cille

Donegal

17598l

Sn An Leinbh Iosa

Donegal

17945G

Scoil Naomh Chaitriona

Donegal

18151U

S N Mhuire

Donegal

18172F

Gleneely N S

Donegal

18517N

Scoil Mhuire

Donegal

18703K

S N Baile An Bhailsig

Donegal

18710H

Sn Na Croise Naofa

Donegal

18766L

Scoil Cholmcille

Donegal

19343L

S N Dhubhthaigh

Donegal

19491D

Scoil Mhuire

Donegal

19518U

S N Naomh Baoithin

Donegal

19685Q

Scoil Chartha Naofa

Donegal

19724A

Little Angels Special School

Donegal

Tabular Statement 2: County Donegal Schools invited to join the Hot Meals Scheme for January 2022

School Roll Number

School Name

Enrolment Number

16880W

Scoil Naomh Colmchille

167

18086M

Dunfanaghy National School

28

04809A

Scoil An Aingil Choimheadai

29

15627F

St Muras National School

214

16054M

St Patrick's National School

172

16108J

Scoil Naomh Treasa C

57

16836T

Naomh Bridhid

104

18371L

Scoil Mhuire

128

18605K

Scoil Naomh Padraig Boys

143

18737E

Scoil Bhride

198

Barr
Roinn