Thursday, 17 October 1991
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Finucane: As the Minister is aware, the social employment scheme has turned out to be very successful. It is availed of in many communities. An issue which concerns the people involved in these schemes each year around Christmas time is the payment of an annual bonus, in other words an extra week's pay. The reason I am alerting the Minister at this early stage is that I know  it is a matter that many people will be confronted with in the near future. Many of those on social employment schemes suffer a certain degree of financial hardship around Christmas. A certain degree of injustice would be removed by paying the bonus to those people. I do not think the cost to the Exchequer would be very substantial. The move would generate a lot of goodwill and extra enthusiasm on the part of the workers who participate in these schemes.
Minister for Labour (Mr. B. Ahern): Recently my colleague, the Minister for Social Welfare, announced that the social welfare Christmas bonus will be paid again this year. The bonus is payable to persons in receipt of long term social welfare payments, including persons who are long term unemployed and in receipt of unemployment compensation payments, and also to persons who are in receipt of payments which are directly linked to the rates of unemployment payments. Participants on the social employment scheme are in receipt of payments which are not directly linked to the unemployment payments they were receiving while they were on the live register.
The level of payment to participants on the scheme is pitched above that which such persons would be entitled to had they remained on social welfare. Accordingly, participants on the scheme are compensated for the loss of extra benefits such as the Christmas bonus which they might be entitled to had they remained on the live register.
Earlier this year, I announced increases in the rates payable to participants under the scheme. The rate payable to participants without dependants increased from £69 per week to £72 per week, the rate for an adult dependant increased from £29.50 per week to £31.50 per week and the full rate for a child dependant increased from £11 per week per child to £12 per week per child. These increases were secured in order to maintain the attractiveness of the scheme for  the long term unemployed. I wish to acknowledge the remarks of the Deputy about the success and value of the scheme.
I introduced the child dependant allowance at the beginning of last year to encourage greater numbers of long term unemployed people with child dependants to participate in the scheme. At the end of 1989 only 30 per cent of participants had dependants. However, at the end of September this year the percentage of participants with adult and child dependants had increased to 54 per cent.
I have said in the past that I would like to be in a position to increase the payments to persons depending on social welfare or manpower programme payments for a living. At the same time I must also act in a responsible way by having regard to the capacity of the Exchequer to make such payments. As such, I am using the funds made available to me for the social employment scheme to provide opportunities for the long term unemployed on the basis of normal weekly payments.
I am on record as saying that the social employment scheme provides the opportunity for persons who had been long term unemployed to become involved in a work related situation, albeit on a part time basis, for one year. The projects undertaken are of significant benefit to local communities and it is generally accepted that participation on the scheme is worth while and helps the long term unemployed to improve their prospects of obtaining employment when opportunities become available.
While I understand the points being made by Deputy Finucane, I made certain commitments this year to improve the scheme as outlined in relation to increases for both child dependants and the allowances. To use any of the allocation for 1991 would decrease the number of people on the scheme for the last quarter of the year. The points made can be looked at in the overall budgetary position for 1992 and I will certainly bear the Deputy's remarks in mind during those discussions. I am afraid the allocation for 1991 is fixed.
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