Thursday, 25 March 2010
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator John Paul Phelan: My Adjournment Matter is self-explanatory. I am asking the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to outline the reasons those on the live register not in receipt of a welfare payment are not considered by FÁS for participation in community employment schemes. The case in question — the details have been supplied to the Minister — involves an individual not in receipt of a welfare payment because of the level of income of his spouse. He cannot obtain a community employment scheme place because he works a little more than one day a week. It seems FÁS has decided, for whatever reason, that people who find themselves in this position will be left at the bottom of the list when it comes to being looked after. There are many in a similar position who are working a reduced number of hours. Some of them, like this individual, would be interested in upskilling, a word we hear used a great deal in the Seanad and other places, with the need for people to constantly upgrade their personal skills. The individual concerned wants to do this and because of the system in place is not in a position to do so. The Minister of State might have some positive news.
Community employment is an active labour market programme designed to provide eligible long-term unemployed and other disadvantaged persons with an opportunity to engage in useful work within their communities on a fixed-term basis. The purpose of the programme is to help unemployed people re-enter the open labour market by breaking their experience of unemployment through a return to a work routine and to assist them to enhance and develop both their technical and personal skills.
The current eligibility criteria set by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment for entry into the CE scheme allow for the combination of periods on different social welfare payments provided they add up to at least 12 consecutive months and the person concerned is in receipt of the payment at the time of application. Persons in receipt of jobseeker’s benefit can normally apply for jobseeker’s allowance when their contribution-based payment is exhausted. This would maintain the continuity to meet the 12 month eligibility requirement. The programme is not designed to cater for short-term unemployed persons as they are not as far removed from the open labour market as the main client group for the programme.
In April 2000 the Department introduced capped limits for the amount of time a person could participate in the programme. Capping was introduced to facilitate the movement of participants through the programme, allowing new participants who would not otherwise have such an opportunity to avail of the programme.
To cater for older workers, in particular, in November 2004 the standard three year cap was revised to allow those aged 55 years and over to avail of a six year period on the programme. Subsequently, the participation limit for persons eligible for the programme based on a social welfare disability linked payment, including those under 55 years of age, was increased by one year. These measures were introduced in recognition of the fact that older participants and participants with a disability may find it more difficult to progress into the open labour market.
In July 2006 the Department published its sectoral plan under the Disability Act 2005. One of the key highlights of the plan is to increase participation rates of people with disabilities in the programme over the period of the plan and to raise participation limits for people with disabilities to provide additional training to assist progression to employment. For people with disabilities under 55 years of age, the participation limit has been raised by one year from three to four years and for people with disabilities over 55 years of age, the participation limit has also been raised by one year from six to seven years.
Funding for the programme in 2010 has been provided with a view to maintaining overall numbers on FÁS schemes. At the end of 2009 there were 22,800 participating in community employment schemes nationally. In budget 2010 provision was made for an increase of 500 community employment scheme places, bringing the total number of places available to 23,300 during 2010.
FÁS is considering the feasibility of setting up a number of additional schemes as well as expanding existing schemes to absorb the 500 places. In delivering these places, it operates flexibility in the management of this allocation to maximise progression to the labour market while at the same time facilitating the support of community services. This provision of places is managed through a standardised application process between regional FÁS offices and local sponsor and community organisations, and any issues regarding the allocation of places are dealt with in this context.
It should be remembered that in so far as participants remain on community employment they are precluding someone else from benefiting from the programme. FÁS makes every effort to ensure that differing levels of demand between neighbouring schemes are equalised. It also operates the programme flexibly as far as possible to ensure the continuation of community projects. Persons who are considered job ready are progressed through FÁS employment services on to other options, thus freeing up CE places for others in greater need.
The Government will continue to support into the future the positive role of FÁS employment schemes in meeting the needs of long-term unemployed persons while at the same time providing essential services to communities. I understand the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation is keeping the operation of the schemes under constant review in the context of the current difficult unemployment situation.
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