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Adjournment Debate. - Jobstart Programme.

Tuesday, 8 October 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 469 No. 5

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Mr. O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea Deputies Ahern and McDaid raised topics of great importance in their constituencies, but this is a topic of national importance because it concerns one of the central planks in the Government's stated employment creation policy. While I have every respect for the Minister of State, Deputy Gilmore, I am extremely disappointed the Minister for Enterprise and Employment is not here to answer on behalf of the Government.

Nothing illustrates the cynical contempt of the Government for the plight of the long-term unemployed more than the failure of the so-called Jobstart scheme which was announced last January. The Minister for Enterprise and [1681] Employment has known for some time — he must have known from the beginning — that this scheme was doomed to failure. It involved the introduction of a subsidy of £80 per week for employers to employ people who had been on the live register for more than three years. In his budget speech, column 737, volume 460 of the Official Report of 23 January 1996, the Minister for Finance stated: “Up to 5,000 places will be provided under this arrangement”. It does not require mathematical expertise to work out that a subsidy of £80 per week for 5,000 people would cost £20 million in a full year or £10 million in half a year. Despite that, the amount provided to finance the scheme was the princely sum of £1 million, sufficient to subsidise only 250 employees for one year or 500 for the six month period from the time the scheme started.

Even though the scheme has been in operation since last June it has resulted in the creation of a grand total of 140 jobs, one-tenth of 1 per cent of the 138,000 people who have been out of work for more than one year or one-fifth of 1 per cent of the 68,000 people who have been out of work for more than three years. In the entire mid-western region, which covers a number of counties and urban areas such as Limerick and Ennis, the so-called Jobstart scheme has created a grand total of 13 new jobs.

Determined efforts by FÁS to sell the scheme to employers has proved an abject failure. It has been my experience that when employers are informed by FÁS that the person to be taken on has been unemployed for three years they do not want to know. Employers have effectively colluded in the failure of the scheme. I am informed that most people who applied for a Jobstart scheme had already participated in community employment schemes, FÁS training schemes and so on. These are people who are genuinely seeking employment [1682] and desperately want to be afforded the dignity of being allowed to work but they have been let down by employers and the Government.

The Jobstart scheme is a textbook example of the Government's sticking plaster approach to a problem about which the parties of the left have often come in here and shed copious crocodile tears. Tackling long-term unemployment requires a genuine radical approach but all we have had to date are short-term transparent gimmicks. Is it the Government's intention to amend or scrap this scheme in view of the extent to which it has failed? Has the Government realistic measures to even begin to ameliorate the problem of long-term unemployment and, if so what are they and when will they be announced?

Minister of State at the Department of the Marine (Mr. Gilmore): Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore I regret the Minister for Enterprise and Employment is unavoidably absent and unable to reply directly to Deputy O'Dea.

Mr. O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea What about the other two Ministers in the Department?

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore Jobstart is a serious attempt by this Government to increase the number of jobs in the economy filled by persons who are unemployed for three years or more and was introduced against a background where such persons are often by-passed by employers when filling vacancies.

Under the Jobstart programme, employers are enticed to fill existing or new vacancies with persons who are unemployed for more than three years by means of an £80 per week recruitment subsidy payable for one year. In addition, workers employed under Jobstart may retain eligibility for secondary social welfare benefits subject to an income limit of £250 per week.

[1683] Jobstart is a new programme which was launched during the summer and, as such, is still in its infancy. Given the short period that has elapsed since the programme has been in existence, it is premature to make any informed judgment on the success or otherwise of the programme. Previous experience demonstrates that recruitment incentives require a lead-in time before becoming established. In this regard I would like to assure the House that FÁS and the Local Employment Service are actively publicising and promoting Jobstart among employers.

Mr. O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea The Minister should talk to them.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore What is important is that Jobstart is a real attempt by this Government to remedy the plight of the most disadvantaged of the long-term unemployed, that is, those three years or more unemployed. It is the first attempt by any Government to directly target this group and its objective is to prevent such persons from becoming marginalised by providing an incentive to employers, which hopefully will result in their reintegration into the labour market.

While 1995 represented the second successive year of growth in the number at work, approximately 50,000 net new jobs were created in 1995 and this job growth is having a real impact on unemployment, it is nevertheless having an insufficient impact on long-term unemployment. For example, recent statistics indicate that only one in four persons who are unemployed for three years or more actually finds employment.

The introduction of Jobstart is a real recognition of this Government that the long-term unemployed face real difficulties in breaking back into the labour market and is an effort to overcome the perceptions and attitudes of some employers in taking on the long-term unemployed.

[1684] There are real benefits for employers as well as the long-term unemployed in availing of this programme and I would like to take this opportunity to call on all employers with job vacancies to take into account the subsidy available under Jobstart when deciding on recruitment policy.

Mr. O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea That will be a lot of good.

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