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Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Wednesday, 18 December 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 559 No. 6

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 259. Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin Information on Breeda Moynihan-Cronin Zoom on Breeda Moynihan-Cronin  asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs Information on Mary Coughlan Zoom on Mary Coughlan  if her Department has seen the draft report prepared by a consultancy firm (details supplied) on the overall appraisal of active labour market programmes provided for in framework IV, section 4.2, of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness; the extent to which this report influenced her decision to curtail the entry to the back to work allowance scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27021/02]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): Information on Mary Coughlan Zoom on Mary Coughlan Due to the continued decline in demand for the back to work allowance, BTWA, scheme, the qualification conditions for the scheme are being refocused on the most disadvantaged groups. This means that from January 2003, the scheme will be open to those who are on the live register for five years or more.

Those in receipt of disability benefit for three years or more may also be eligible, as will [1614]those in receipt of one of the following for one year or more: disability allowance, invalidity pension, one parent family payment, carer's allowance, blind person's pension, ex-prisoners, pre-retirement allowance and unemployability supplement. Those who are on the back to work allowance scheme will not be affected by these changes.

The need to re-focus the BTWA was determined by the substantial fall in long-term unemployment since the scheme was established and the need to target resources on more disadvantaged groups. In this context, framework IV of the PPF includes a commitment to carry out an overall appraisal of active labour market programmes, ALMPs, to ensure their continued relevance in the context of labour market requirements and effectiveness, particularly in terms of training where appropriate, and to monitor the rate of progression from ALMPs to open employment.

This work is currently under way under the aegis of the standing committee on the labour market, SCLM, which is chaired by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and which includes a representative from my Department. To aid the committee in its deliberations, consultants were commissioned to assess and report on the overall effectiveness of existing ALMPs, including the back to work allowance scheme. I understand that this report has been presented to the committee for consideration.

In December 2000 and prior to the PPF related review, the same consultants also completed a report specifically on BTWA for my Department which recommended, inter alia: the numbers of participants in both the employee and self-employment strands to be significantly reduced; a new set of selection criteria for scheme participation to be introduced with flexibility to be allowed in the duration of support offered; the selection criteria for self-employed participants to exclude particular occupations where the skill content is low and where the probability of dead-weight is high; the selection criteria to afford priority to the very long-term unemployed.

The need to re-focus the back to work scheme was also identified as part of the Independent Estimates Review Committee, which highlighted the need to re-examine the scheme in the light of the fall in long-term unemployment. While that committee recommended allowing no new entrants to the scheme in 2003, I am maintaining the scheme for those with particular difficulty in the labour market.

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