Thursday, 5 May 1988
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Sherlock: asked the Minister for Labour if his attention has been drawn  to the fact that 9,500 women and 3,100 men, over 25 years of age, are signing on for unemployment assistance but receiving no money, because they are living at home; that, because they are receiving no money they are excluded from participating in social employment schemes; the steps, if any, he intends to take to end this discrimination; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Mr. B. Ahern: The social employment scheme is specifically designed to assist the long term unemployed in receipt of unemployment assistance or benefit and the scheme is funded to a significant extent through savings on social welfare payments. To admit person not in receipt of unemployment compensation would increase the net Exchequer cost of the scheme. This would mean that with a given budget fewer participants could be assisted. In these circumstances, I regret that some people who are unemployed but not receiving unemployment compensation are excluded.
Mr. Sherlock: The previous question the Minister answered was quite distinct but the reply to my question was not so distinct. Is the Minister saying that people who are registered as unemployed and who are not being paid are being excluded and will continue to be excluded?
Mr. B. Ahern: I apologise if I read the reply too fast but I have answered this question so many times that I have the reply almost off by heart. It was decided to use the social welfare criteria when setting up the social employment scheme and that is still the policy. The criteria are registration on the live register and classification of recipient on unemployment assistance so as to identify those in need of income support and employment opportunity. It is accepted as a requirement of eligibility that persons be in receipt of unemployment assistance as this represents the most appropriate test of need in both senses and it was also decided to confine the scheme to persons in receipt of social  welfare payments to achieve compensatory savings vis-á-vis social welfare.
Mr. Sherlock: These people in the first instance are being deprived of receiving benefit of assistance and, secondly, they are not being allowed to participate in the social employment scheme because of the benefit and privilege part of the social welfare code. Would the Minister agree that this code is now archaic and would he give an assurance to the House that he will seek discussions with the Minister for Social Welfare to rid the scheme of this anomaly? Would the Minister also agree that applicants for unemployment assistance have no income and cannot be maintained at home by their parents and that this in turn is forcing some people to emigrate?
Mr. B. Ahern: I have answered that question on a number of occasions. The position is that part of the cost of the social employment scheme is funded from savings in the social welfare budget and because of this people who are on the live register but not in receipt of any benefit are excluded. That will continue to be the case at least for this year. The reason why they are being excluded is that, as a result of a means test, they are not in receipt of any benefits. Therefore, I do not think they come within the category the Deputy spoke about, but I am aware that there are some border line cases. At present there are about 10,000 places in the social employment scheme and, as long as there are far more people who are in receipt of assistance and benefit than places, the position is unlikely to change. At present there are far more people seeking to go on the social employment scheme than the number of places available.
Miss Colley: Is the Minister aware that for some social employment schemes there are no suitable qualified people available — that is, being on the live register and in receipt of payments — and would he consider those who are registered as long-term unemployed but  not in receipt of payments for social employment schemes?
Mr. B. Ahern: At present they are ruled out, but I am sympathetic to the point the Deputy has made. There would still be the question of the additional cost to the State which would be outside the present regulations and it is not for me to make an adjustment. I made some exceptions in the case of islanders so that they could be retained on schemes. My difficulty lies with the extra costs that would be imposed on the Exchequer. It is the savings in social welfare that make it possible to have so many people in this scheme.
Proinsias De Rossa: The Minister has stated that he has answered this question so often that he knows the reply off by heart, but I am afraid he is going to have to continue answering it until this discrimination is eliminated. It has been pointed out that those who are most discriminated against are women. There are 9,500 women ——
Proinsias De Rossa: Can the Minister tell us at what point does he consider it would be socially beneficial for a person who is unemployed to take part in a social employment scheme? What we are doing here is effectively applying a means test before allowing a person to go on a social employment scheme. There are young people——
Mr. B. Ahern: The point which should not be missed is that this scheme is most attractive for the long term unemployed of which we have far too many. A single person who is long term unemployed  receives £42 per week, but on the social employment scheme such a person would receive £60 a week. I wish that there were not so many long term unemployed on the live register but I think they are entitled to first call on the social unemployment scheme and that is how the scheme is operating at present.
Mr. Birmingham: The Minister has shown some flexibility in response to a question from Deputy Colley that a particular approach should be taken where it is shown that there are no qualified people on the live register. Would the Minister consider adopting the same approach where it is established there are no ordinary applicants on the live register where a sponsoring organisation want to retain on a scheme a person who has already completed their year or want to restore them on the scheme after a lapse of time?
Mr. B. Ahern: As I said in reply to Deputy Colley, there still would be the financial implications of such a change. During the past few months I have held discussions with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions on the social employment scheme and they are very reluctant to agree to a position where people would be allowed to continue into a second year, although some flexibility has been shown in particular cases, particularly in respect of the handicapped. Agreeing to allow people continue into a second year would create great difficulties for many reasons.
Proinsias De Rossa: In March the Minister indicated that there were two cases  before the equality officer on the basis that married women are being discriminated against under the scheme. Could the Minister indicate what progress has been made in those cases?
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