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Community Employment Schemes: Motion

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 754 No. 3

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Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

calls on the Government to immediately reverse the cut of 66% to the community employment, CE, schemes’ training and materials budget and to immediately reinstate the training and materials budget to 2011 levels;

notes that:

the proposed Department of Social Protection review is creating confusion and frustration; and

these budget cuts will affect some of the most vulnerable in our society and will force CE schemes to close;

recognises the:

essential services provided by CE schemes to the public and their participants;

important role CE schemes play in providing training to the long-term unemployed; and

key role special CE schemes play in providing community-based drug rehabilitation;

acknowledges the important role CE schemes have played in providing child care facilities and assisting people back into education;

condemns the abolition of concurrent payments and the CE qualified child increase paid to lone parents on CE;

further notes that these cuts make participation in CE unaffordable for most lone parents, thereby threatening the community child care infrastructure, and calls on the Government to reverse these cuts;

further recognises the important role CE schemes have played in providing training and education to lone parents; and

calls on the Government to engage fully with CE schemes and their representatives, with the view to extending the CE schemes by increasing the number of CE places available, including special CE schemes, and enhancing the training available to participants.

I wish to share time with Deputies Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Seán Crowe, Mary Lou McDonald and Martin Ferris, in that order.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh Tá rún rí-thábhachtach curtha os ár gcomhair inniu ag Sinn Féin. Déanann sé déileáil le ceist atá tábhachtach do a lán daoine, agus ní hamháin iad siúd atá gafa leis na scéimeanna fostaíochta pobail. Tá a lán den phobal atá ag brath ar na seirbhísí[329]a chuireann na scéimanna ar fáil don phobal áitiúil. Muna ndéanann an Rialtas athrú cuí ar an chinneadh a ghlac sé i Mí na Nollag beimíd níos boichte as mar shochaí.

Táim ag impí ar an Aire agus ar a cúlbhinseoirí tacú leis an rún seo. Níl mé ag iarraidh uirthi coimre a dhéanamh ar an chinneadh a rinneadh i Mí na Nollag ach athrú iomlán a dhéanamh air, infheistíocht cheart a dhéanamh ins an gcóras, an t-airgead a sciobadh ós na scéimeanna a chur ar ais iontu agus iad a dhéanamh níos éifeachtaí ná mar atá siad faoi láthair.

They say a society should be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable members. A Government can be judged by what it chooses to cut or support, and this Government’s priorities are becoming clearer by the day. We are focusing in this debate on the cuts to community employment schemes but the Government has already chosen to cut funding to disadvantaged schools, to make a host of cuts to social welfare payments and to send front-line services into disarray with its ill-conceived and ill-managed early retirement scheme.

Two weeks ago, when I debated this issue with the Minister, I charged that after she had decided on the cuts in the budget, the review of those cuts was announced solely for the purpose of allowing her backbenchers to give the impression that they were active in highlighting the dangers of this attack on communities. She failed to reject that charge, which is confirmation that all this reviewing of the community employment cuts is intended simply as respite for her backbenchers and is not a genuine row-back from her mistake, and I believe it is a mistake.

If further evidence were needed to demonstrate that the outcome of the ongoing review was predetermined, it came in the form of a letter issued by the Minister on 3 February. The note enclosed with that letter stated “It is essential that the review be completed promptly ... so that the Department has the time remaining in 2012 to achieve the level of savings agreed in the Budget.” That sounds like a review for review’s sake but with a predetermined outcome of tearing the heart out of CE schemes. It is bureaucracy for bureaucracy’s sake, because the note goes on to outline that the human and financial cost of the administration of funding to CE schemes is about to multiply no end. Under the Minister’s plans, in future, rather than having per capita grants, every penny will be argued for with the Department case by case. I suspect the Department is hoping that individual schemes will not have the time or capacity to do this and will simply close up shop.

How much money is the Government cutting from the CE budget in total? The Minister has been keen to emphasise a figure of €27.5 million, but this is a mere fraction of the actual cuts being imposed on CE schemes and their participants. The 66% reduction in the training and materials allowance is just one of the cuts being pursued. Add to this the abolition of concurrent payments, which after three years represent an annual cut of €128 million, and the cuts to allowances for child dependents, and the total is greater again. What is the real figure? Is it €27.5 million, €128 million or closer to €200 million?

Many community employment schemes have developed in recent years to plug the gaping holes in public service provision left by successive Governments, about which there is no argument. The schemes were welcomed because they provided services for local communities. These services included child care, after-school clubs and meals on wheels, as well as providing the community facility staff required to maintain our basic community facilities. One of the key programmes often forgotten when the discussing community employment scheme is the special community employment programme aimed at addressing the peculiar and challenging problems faced by those in recovery from addiction. The Government is even undermining this service safety net, while at the same time failing to introduce public services to address the gap if and when community employment schemes fail because of the recent cut.

Nobody denies the value of the community employment scheme to communities. I take it as a given that all Members agree on this; I have not heard anybody say the scheme has not played an important role in their community. If that is a given, why cut it in such a drastic [330]fashion? Later in this debate Government Deputies will laud the programme, yet it is likely they will vote against the motion tomorrow night.

The Minister appears to want to measure community employment schemes and make funding conditional on financial factors alone. In announcing the review she promised not to close schemes that could prove they were financially viable. A cost-benefit analysis cannot easily be conducted for some projects. For some schemes their financial viability or otherwise should not even be an issue. Some are intrinsically valuable and one cannot put a cost on them, for example, projects offering recreational opportunities to people with disabilities. One such project was under major threat of closure only a few weeks ago because of the cut in its training and materials allowance. We should fund such projects because it is the right thing to do, not close them on the basis of a short-sighted economic rationale. Yes, they should be evaluated but not solely on a financial basis.

If the Government parties are determined to deal only in economics, I ask them to consider the consequential cost of cutting community employment schemes. If community employment and other community programmes are cut, there is the consequential cost of increased imprisonment and crime, the effect some closures will have on mental health services, the cost of a lifetime on social welfare that faces many people who previously found a safety net, a way out and social inclusion based on their participation in community employment schemes, and the cost of lengthier dole queues because people cannot afford child care. The community child care centres will be in danger of collapse, a point to which I will return. There is also the issue of isolation both for people living in rural areas and for people with disabilities who will suffer social isolation if they cannot participate in community employment schemes. These schemes were successful in the past, but they could have been better organised, financed and resourced to provide greater outcomes for the community, the participants and society in general.

By voting for the budget cuts targeted at community employment schemes the Labour Party and Fine Gael are undermining the fabric of Irish society in more ways than one. They are undermining the overstretched, underfunded, yet efficient community infrastructure. They are undermining their own activation agenda, as well as recovery and rehabilitation. They are condemning lone parents and their children to long-term social welfare dependency. The Government claims to be all about activation but it is actively undermining one of the main activation planks. The community employment scheme must be treated and fully funded as an integral part of a successful activation agenda. It is not just about the progression of the community employment scheme participants themselves; the scheme also enables the activation of others. The Minister says she wants people on dole queues to actively engage and avail of options to keep them close to the labour market and get back to work as soon as possible. For many on the dole their sole meaningful advice is actually supplied by community employment scheme participants trained by the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed and operating out of community resource centres and so forth.

Accessing training, education and work is also contingent on the availability of affordable child care and the community employment scheme is the bedrock of community child care. Community child care services are in serious jeopardy as a consequence of the Government’s cuts; by extension, the entire activation agenda is in jeopardy. It costs more than €500 a year to bring someone to the FETAC level 5 required. Does the Minister want children to be minded by unqualified persons? Obviously, she does not. However, this requires investment.

Community child care services also rely heavily on lone parents who staff centres. However, by abolishing concurrent payments and the community employment qualified child increase the Minister is making participation in the programme unaffordable for lone parents. I have been speaking with community employment scheme supervisors and other organisations and I [331]am aware that already they cannot fill posts in child care services as a consequence of recent cuts. As one person put it to me in an email last week:

the eligibility criteria are rigid in such a way that [CE] has become “Sheltered Employment Scheme” as the majority of the participants joining schemes do so because they are unable to access the Labour Market; this is because they may have health issues (mental and physical), education difficulties (learning difficulties or early school leavers), social issues, addiction issues, lone parents, carers etc... The review of course is going to prove that CE does not progress participants as the vast majority of participants who want to come onto CE to progress are excluded.

There should be two forms of community employment scheme — one focused on progression into the labour market and the other focused on community-based service provision. The Government must start creating jobs, not shirking its responsibilities by saying it is its role to create an environment in which jobs can be created by others. It must create jobs, not leave it to others. Certainly, the environment is important, but given that there are already 440,000 on the live register, the Government must create some jobs. Expanding the community employment scheme should be part of the job creation programme, given that, as we heard last week, there are 26 people unemployed for every vacancy in the State.

I had intended to say a great deal more about other aspects of the community employment scheme, but I wish to focus on lone parents. The Government’s first budget placed the burden of recovery squarely and unfairly on the shoulders of social welfare recipients. Within this it targeted lone parents and people with disabilities in a particularly vicious manner. Following a public outcry and pressure, it paused some of the cuts to disability allowance. However, lone parents have been hit very badly. The community employment scheme was one of the few activation measures open to lone parents, but the associated social welfare cuts now make it unaffordable and are closing it off to them. Likewise, special rules designed to make work pay for lone parents have been targeted by the Government; for example, the earnings disregard has been drastically reduced, while the transition payment has been abolished. So much for its activation measures. A total of 60% of lone parents are in employment of some form, but the cuts will force them back into full welfare dependency. The Minister is reinstating old unemployment traps, and she knows it well. She is condemning lone parents and their children to poverty and isolation.

I urge the Members of the House to support this motion and reverse, not review, the cut announced in December.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin The cuts to community employment, CE, schemes in the 2012 budget were dressed up by the Minister for Social Protection and her colleagues as some form of enhancement of training opportunities and employment prospects for the jobless. Of course, they are nothing of the kind. They are spending cuts, plain and simple.

Why did the Minister announce a review of the schemes in the wake of the budget decision to cut? It was because the Labour Party came under enormous pressure, and rightly so, from communities across the State. Most reasonable people would have expected a review and then a decision about reorganisation and funding if such were necessary. Instead, we had the slashing of funding in the budget and a face-saving announcement of a review once people had realised what was about to be done to these schemes. The Minister admitted last week on the floor of this House that “There is no shortage of reviews of community employment, of which there have been a great many right up to the time when community employment schemes joined my Department.” The latest review is only a temporary reprieve, as the Minister herself admitted in the Dáil last week when she said that no CE scheme will be forced to close as a result of [332]the reductions in training and material grants, “pending the completion of this review at the end of March”. That is some certainty and assurance for people in community employment.

As the Sinn Féin motion states, the sequence of events since the budget has created confusion and frustration. Deputies of all opinion, if they are in touch with their communities, know that is the case. Initially, the focus was on the 66% cuts to the FÁS materials and training budget for CE schemes. It is this element that the Minister had to place under review because of the absolutely justified response to such a massive cut in the budgets of CE schemes.

Less attention was paid initially to the other, and very insidious, element of the cut. At the end of January, CE schemes were informed that new participants in CE schemes will not be able to claim another social welfare payment simultaneously. This includes one-parent family payment, deserted wife’s benefit, widow’s or widower’s pension, illness benefit, disability allowance, invalidity pension and blind pension. From 20 February, the CE rate of payment for those who are also on one-parent family payment, deserted wife’s benefit or widow’s or widower’s pension will be reduced to €108 and there will be no increases for qualified children.

The materials and training budget cuts are bad enough, but the related social protection payment cuts will be especially damaging. The participants in one project, who made representations to us, put it very well when they said:

The budget cuts from FÁS, if implemented, will damage our programme, but the changes notified on 26 January 2012 have the potential, over a two year period, of possibly closing the programme down. This prediction is based on our current position, where we have 18 adult recovering drug misusers on our CE programme, 14 on disability or illness benefit, two on one-parent family payment and two others, and on the fact that our programme attracts a high proportion of people on disability or illness benefit.

This is a prime example of the type of special CE programme that would be worst affected by these cuts. In this case, the programme plays an important role in recovery and rehabilitation for former misusers of drugs. Not only does it have a role in serving the community and providing training and employment, it also has an important public health function. This is but one example of many others across the State.

Has the Minister even considered the effect of these cuts on community child care?This is one of the range of services affected which provide vital supports for people requiring care, such as meals on wheels for incapacitated older people and after-school projects for children.

These cuts are hitting the most vulnerable in our society. Are we to have a situation where, at the end of March, the Fine Gael-Labour Government approves the hand-over of €3.1 billion to Anglo Irish Bank bondholders and, at the same time, confirms these CE cuts? That is a prospect, most certainly. Is that what people voted for when they voted the Government into office, most especially when they voted Fine Gael into office?

I acknowledge that the only Government representatives in the Chamber for this debate are Labour Party Deputies. I know that each of them cares about this issue. I urge the Minister to allow the situation to maintain, to put these cuts aside entirely, despite the review, and accept the Sinn Féin motion. It represents the views of the overwhelming number of her elected colleagues in this Chamber.

Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Sean Crowe Zoom on Sean Crowe The Minister may pontificate about not touching community employment schemes but she is fooling no one. The significant reductions in CE payments will jeopardise the future viability of community employment workers, their schemes and the communities in which they operate. This has nothing to do with building or constructing a fairer or more [333]just society. These cuts to CE schemes will impact on the employment prospects of thousands of people who want to move from welfare to work.

There can be no justification for the Government slashing funding for materials and training grants for schemes that provide a range of essential services to children, the elderly, the disabled and disadvantaged. What was announced in December will amount to a €1,500 cut per participant to just €500 for next year, leaving many schemes struggling to survive. As Elaine Harvey, co-ordinator of the local employment service for Galway City Partnership recently stated:

This is the money that provides the heat and the light, the telephone, all of the stuff that lets the CE scheme run and provide services for our communities. Schemes already have to raise their own money for rent of premises. These cuts are a step too far. They are a direct attack on communities and their supports.

CE schemes play an important role in driving communities forward yet they are in danger of being ground to a halt.

I also note that attempts by sponsors and supervisors to get Department officials to put into writing the names of participants that will be affected by these cuts, their dates of birth, the PPS numbers of the participants, their current rate of payment and the deduction to be made in their wages has been ignored. Can the Minister explain why the request for this information has met with a flat refusal by the former management of FÁS? Is this because the Minister is protecting herself from these cuts? These cuts will reduce people’s salaries at the end of this month.

In a cruel change of policy, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, has singled out lone parents and the disabled who are making every effort to return to the workforce using community employment work and training schemes. From January, new participants on community employment schemes will not be able to retain their lone parents or disability allowance, a loss of €210 per week. Until now, both of these groups could keep their existing allowance and be paid for 19.5 hours work carried out as part of their CE scheme.

In another crippling blow to families that are struggling, the amount single parents can earn without reducing their social welfare entitlements will be slashed from €146.50 to €130. The Minister also confirmed that this figure would be shrunk to €60 per week by 2016.

I know of one lone-parent with three children who is facing an €89 reduction in their weekly allowance.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton No, €51.

Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Sean Crowe Zoom on Sean Crowe How is this lone parent expected to cope with such a massive reduction in her income? This is money she needs to provide her and her children with a basic standard of living. The Minister lives in her ivory tower, on her big wages and with her middle class background. She has all the answers to how this woman will deal with the crisis she is in. More and more families will be forced into poverty. That is the reality of the changes the Minister has brought about.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald It is worth repeating the deep irony of discussing cuts in the area of community employment at a time when there are almost 500,000 people on the live register. It is an obvious point and I have repeated it in the House, but it strikes me that this fact sails over the heads of those on the Government benches. It also strikes me that the Government has made a decision that people such as those who avail of community employment are soft targets. After all, that is the view that its members took of the DEIS schools and [334]the so-called legacy posts. It is certainly the view they take of people who parent alone, the vast majority of whom are women.

  8 o’clock

It seems to me that the value of community employment has been completely missed, not just as a labour activation method and a crucial gateway back into employment for so many citizens, but also as a service provider. Perhaps it has been deliberately missed by this Government. What does the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs make of the cuts to CE by the Minister for Social Protection? The child care sector in this State is heavily reliant on community employment. Has she conferred with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and has that Minister taken a position on this matter? What is the view of the Minister for Health? My colleagues have already mentioned the very valuable work done by special CE schemes in the area of drug rehabilitation. Does the Minister for Health have a view on this matter? Did the Minister for Social Protection seek it? Do either of them care about the collateral damage that will be done to real people in the real world if the cutbacks that she proposes go ahead?

The services provided by CE schemes are many and varied. The Minister wants to cut the scheme to Pavee Point Travellers’ Centre by €15,000. She wants to take €15,500 from Aware, which is an organisation that deals with vulnerable people who suffer from depression. In my constituency, the Dublin Adult Learning Centre faces a loss of income of €23,000 and could lose as much as 50% of its participants. This organisation provides a service to the most disadvantaged in our community. It offers a very valuable level of opportunity and access to citizens who otherwise would be denied those chances. Like so many CE schemes, it stepped in where the State failed.

If the Minister is so gung-ho not only to cut but to undermine community employment to the extent that she will force the closure of many projects, then what does she and her colleagues propose to do to replace those services? What compensatory measures will she take, if any? Does she imagine that she can slash and burn and introduce cutbacks such as this, which damage service provision, families and communities, and walk away and wash her hands of the consequences? We do not want a review of these matters. The manner in which her review is being carried out is deeply unsatisfactory. I have yet to speak to anybody from any CE project across the State who believes that her review has engaged with the projects in any kind of meaningful way beyond crude bean counting.

A review is not sufficient. We want a reversal of these cuts. We know the Government is hell bent on handing over billions of euros to bondholders and bankers. That is its decision, but how deeply unethical and dishonest of the Government to do that on the one hand, and then literally to cut the ground from under disadvantaged people who wish to return to employment and who want a decent chance and a decent future for their children. What kind of a message does that send? Perhaps the message from the Government is that it will continue to look after the interests of the rich, but those who are struggling and those who are in need will get the deaf ear.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn I would like to paint the picture from the perspective of Donegal. Along with the Minister’s colleague, Senator Jimmy Harte, I attended a meeting not so long ago where the array of community employment projects in the county came together. It was a very well run meeting organised by SIPTU. Everybody outlined what their project does in their community, and why their services are so vital to their community. Some of the participants then talked about what community employment meant to them.

I would like to get the Minister’s attention when her colleague is finished speaking to her.

Deputy Colm Keaveney: Information on Colm Keaveney Zoom on Colm Keaveney I am listening to the Deputy.

[335]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Deputy, please.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn I would like to get the Minister’s attention because I want to hear her clearly what I am about to say.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I can hear him clearly. He should not get too excited.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn I thank the Minister for giving me her attention. A couple of years ago, about 8,000 people were on the live register in Donegal. Today there are almost 23,000 people on the register. Again, Leas-Cheann Comhairle, can I ask for the Minister’s attention?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I want the noise level down. I hope everybody is listening to everybody. That is my fervent wish.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn That is fine. These are precious opportunities to address the Minister.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton What was the date of the meeting in Donegal? That is what I was talking about.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn I will e-mail the Minister the dates.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The Deputy can give it to me. He was at the meeting so he must remember. When was it?

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn The Minister should not be so pedantic.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I just would like to know the date. It is a reasonable request.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn Who can recite their entire diary over the past 30 days? Can the Minister tell me every meeting she has attended in the past 30 days?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The Deputy should tell us the dates.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn She should not be so silly.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt The Deputy only has three minutes. Let us have order please.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn I would like an extra minute due to interruptions. Now that I have the Minister’s attention, I tell her that there were 8,000 people on the live register in Donegal but today there are around 23,000 people on the register. Emigration is a big issue in our county. Thousands of our young people across the county have emigrated. When unemployment has trebled in a county that has historically suffered from disadvantage, then how in the name of God can the Minister possibly justify cutting community employment schemes? She should double or treble the contribution towards these projects. These projects are on the front line and they deal with the devastation that has been caused.

The reason I wanted the Minister’s attention is that she was such a passionate opponent of what the last Government did. I remember her being so prominent on the television. I used to watch her at home on news reports as one of the leading voices against the impact of what has happened. How can she possibly stand over cutting the funds to community employment in a county like Donegal, not to mind the other disadvantaged areas of the State? How can she possibly stand over cutting projects that provide support to young people, the elderly, crèches, community resource centres and tidy towns committees? This is the thread that holds our communities together. At a time when we face such economic hardship, some of the few good [336]news stories come from such people in those centres. They are the “can do” people who are rolling up their sleeves and meeting the demands the Government makes of them in respect of local leadership and positivity. The very people who are providing that leadership in local communities are seeing these cuts.

I am happy to provide the Minister with the details of the meeting after my contribution. I will send her an e-mail about it. I ask the Minister to become again the woman, the leader she was before she assumed her position last February. I ask her to look into her heart, to remember what she has stood for all her life. I reiterate what I have said before that I do not presume to be a better person than the Minister nor do I consider myself to be a more decent person than her. I do not believe that I care more about these issues than the Minister does. However, she needs to prove me right. She needs to put it into action. She knows the impact of this crisis on communities which have been historically disadvantaged and which suffer from unemployment and all the resultant challenges. I ask her not to take from those at the front line; please do not undermine the morale and spirit of those local leaders whom we need to help get this country back on top again. That is my appeal to the Minister and I thank her for giving me her attention.

Deputy Martin Ferris: Information on Martin Ferris Zoom on Martin Ferris I wish to share time with Deputy Michael Healy-Rae.

The Minister and her colleagues stated there would be no threat to community employment schemes and that the review being conducted will somehow make up for the taking of two thirds of their funding. It will be interesting to know how the schemes will be able to continue to operate within the constraints of a 66% cut in the overall budget.

I will give the Minister some idea of the impact of the cuts. One of the Listowel centres has provided the following information. I have the figures from every area in Kerry and west Limerick. The funding for materials and training has been cut from €35,420 to €11,960. The fact that rent, insurance and telephone costs will remain the same, means that the cuts impact directly on the participants and on the services provided to an even greater extent than the 66% cut. They will now have only €3,860 with which to run the centre for a year. I ask the Minister or her colleagues how the centre will be able to function on this amount of money. In effect it means the centre will be unable to provide any engagement with the community in Listowel as was possible in the past. The knock-on effect will also impact on local businesses and service-providers as well as the local tidy towns committee, the family resource centres, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and even the flagship event which is the annual Listowel Writers’ Week.

The scheme in Listowel has had a significant impact on the participants. Unemployed people who have lost personal and social confidence have rebuilt this sense of their own value along with acquiring practical skills and qualifications. By undermining community employment schemes, the Government is in effect telling those people that they might as well not bother. This fits with the overall depressing anti-initiative and anti-employment spirit of a Government which seems to believe that the only people who need State intervention to put money in their pockets are low wage employers. Everyone else and society at large is apparently expected to thrive on cutbacks.

While the Minister continues unabated this policy of austerity that targets the most vulnerable and weak in our communities, the unemployed, those on CE schemes, DEIS schools and small rural schools, there are other people who have a responsibility, particularly the trade union leadership. They have a responsibility to defend people in need and to defend the most marginalised and those most discriminated against in our society and communities. At one time the trade union movement boasted that it had the Labour Party in its back pocket but now it is the other way around; the Labour Party has the trade union leadership in its back pocket. I [337]appeal to the trade union leadership listening to show leadership and to fight the policies of austerity being perpetrated by this Government.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae I thank Deputy Martin Ferris and Sinn Féin for allowing me speak. I thank Sinn Féin in particular for bringing this Private Members’ motion before the House. I truly believe that in her heart and soul the Minister knows the valuable contribution made by community employment schemes to their communities. I truly believe that both she and the members of the Labour Party realise that the CE schemes are more than just about jobs; they also do very important work which cannot be taken up by anybody else. They are helping voluntary community organisations who have no other funding from any other sources. I have heard the Minister say that we will not lose the CE schemes but the truth is if the funding is cut, the schemes will be in danger. If we lose them, what will take their place, who will do the work? Who will work in conjunction with the family resource centres? Who will work with the local tidy towns committees to keep public areas in order? Who will help our elderly people? There has been massive work and organisation put into setting up CE schemes and helping them to perform excellent work. They deliver a great service and it is a shame if we are to allow that to be destroyed because there is no alternative and nothing can take up the slack.

I plead with those who are thinking of coming in here tomorrow night and voting against this motion. I ask them to reconsider and to vote, as I stated last week, with the people and not with the party. The Government has a massive majority and the problem is that the majority is too big. That is why people think they can inflict this hardship on people.

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

“acknowledges that the plans set out by Government in budget 2012 form an important step in returning Ireland’s economy to a sound footing and regaining our economic sovereignty;

commends the commitment, dedication and work of all those involved in the management and administration of community employment, CE, schemes;

regrets that the ongoing reviews had not taken place previously;

notes that in 2012, in excess of €315 million will be provided by the Government to support community employment and, that as a result, over 22,000 participants will secure valuable experience whilst supporting local community endeavours;

confirms the continuing support of the Government for the cost-effective maintenance of crucial local services provided by community employment;

notes that there has been no reduction in the number of CE places available for 2012;

recognises the key role CE special schemes play under the national drugs strategy, where places are ring-fenced for CE drug rehabilitation with the specific objective to “help recovering drug users develop their personal and employment skills and find a pathway back to work”;

notes that the Government has commenced two reviews of community employment, both of which are to be completed by the end of March 2012, to ensure that:

[338] adequate funding is provided taking account of all funding and revenue sources available to sponsors; and

the schemes meet their labour market activation and progression targets whilst taking cognisance of the rationale and relevance of all scheme objectives;

acknowledges that no CE scheme has been closed as a result of the reductions in training and materials grants since the announcement of the reduction, and further notes that the Government has committed that all schemes will be supported during the period of the ongoing financial review;

recognises that there is a considerable variation across CE schemes in relation to the amount of training provided, materials required, overhead costs and the potential for sponsoring organisations to meet certain costs;

notes that schemes will no longer receive a standard grant per participant but rather, will be provided with a specific level of support aimed at meeting their specific costs;

further notes that the baseline amount of the grant remains at €500 per participant announced in the budget, but that there will be discretion to make up to €1,000 per participant available to schemes in respect of the training and materials grant this year, based on a clear demonstration of need by the CE schemes; and

welcomes:

the engagement by the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, with Department of Social Protection staff to ensure that schemes are supported during the period of the reviews;

the commitment by the Minister for Social Protection to ensure that the role played by stakeholders in community employment is acknowledged in the ongoing reviews of community employment;

the assurances given to community and voluntary organisations that no CE scheme will be forced to close as a result of the reductions in training and material grants, pending the completion of the financial review of each CE scheme by the end of March 2012; and

the commitment of the Minister for Social Protection to ensuring that, following the completion of the financial and activation review, community employment will support both the labour market activation and progression of individual participants, in addition to the maintenance of local community services.”

I thank Deputies for their contributions and for their concern about the future of community employment schemes. I am equally as concerned. This debate is an opportunity to discuss how we move forward in a positive fashion to give the people who are currently unemployed an opportunity to have a brighter and better future.

This Government’s priority is jobs. We want to ensure that those on the live register are ready and able to return to work as soon as possible. This is why in 2012 we are spending over €960 million on employment supports, including €315 million on CE schemes. I think Deputies will agree that these are not small sums and they have been provided for in the budget. While the overall spending on employment supports will increase this year from the €882 million [339]expended in 2011, the spend on CE schemes will be reduced somewhat. At a time when the public finances are more constrained than ever before, this employment spending represents a very significant increase on 2011. Currently, there are 1,143 community employment schemes in operation nationally with 23,300 places, approximately 22,000 participants and 1,300 full-time equivalent supervisor posts whose wages account for an expenditure of approximately €57 million.

I remind the concerned Deputies that there will be no reduction in the number of places on CE schemes and no reduction in the number of supervisors. Some speakers may have sought to make misleading statements in that respect. There are no reductions in the number of supervisors or in the number of places. I know this matter is of great concern to communities all around the country.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae What about the materials grant?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Even after the changes in one-parent family payments announced in the budget, a lone parent with two children who is an existing participant in a community employment scheme will receive a payment of €423 a week for 19.5 hours work where previously, such parents were in receipt of €460 a week. Deputy Ó Snodaigh referred to a lone parent with three children who was previously in receipt of €504.80 during the six months of summer time. This person’s 2012 payment will fall to €452.90 for 19.5 hours work.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh How much will new participants receive? The Minister misquoted me because I did not mention anything about any parent. She is misrepresenting what I said. It is €297 instead of €504. That is some drop.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Please, Deputy, no interruptions.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Due to the current economic circumstances and the need for the Department to find savings of €475 million in the budget, it is necessary to examine all aspects of expenditure of my Department. I can inform the Deputy that no cut is easy or pleasant to implement but the country is in a very difficult place. The payments in the Republic are way in excess of——

Deputy Colm Keaveney: Information on Colm Keaveney Zoom on Colm Keaveney What about the hundreds of teachers Sinn Féin is firing in the North?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Deputy Keaveney, please.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton ——the supports Sinn Féin’s government offers in the North.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh Here the decisions are determined by a Government in this State. In the North, they are determined by a government in Westminster.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Deputy Ó Snodaigh.

Deputy Colm Keaveney: Information on Colm Keaveney Zoom on Colm Keaveney It is Mr. David Cameron’s austerity. It is the fault of the Brits.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh We are not blaming anyone.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Order, please. The Minister, Deputy Burton, is in possession. Deputies Keaveney and Ó Snodaigh should please allow the Minister to continue.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh The Minister is encouraging me.

[340]Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I have much personal experience of community employment schemes. I know the valuable contribution they can make. However, if we are honest we must say that not every community employment scheme has the same positive outcomes for the people who participate. As Minister, I take seriously what researchers say. For example, the 2011 report of NESC — with which all the social partners, NGOs and voluntary bodies participate — Supports and Services for Unemployed Jobseekers: Challenges and Opportunities in a Time of Recession, was critical of community employment in terms of labour market progression. The 2011 ESRI report, What Can Active Labour Market Policies Do? noted that “participation in community employment was not associated with increased post-programme employment chances”. If we are to have a serious discussion we must recognise that some of the people who are the greatest champions of the disadvantaged have had serious, constructive criticism to make.

I received the community employment schemes into the Department of Social Protection on 1 January. I would be derelict in my duty as Minister if I did not look at how the money is spent. That is reality. The study of the 2006 to 2008 period found that “previous participation in a CE scheme was associated with an increased risk of long-term unemployment, even when a range of personal characteristics and labour market experience was taken into account.” The authors stated that it is essential that investment in employment supports “achieves the best value for money”. I do not apologise for that. It is a sensible use of taxpayers’ money that we try to ensure that we get value for money, and that we allocate spending to schemes that “do most to enhance the employment prospects of those who participate in them.”

The earlier 2009 OECD report on activation policies in Ireland had also raised a number of serious concerns in respect of the community employment programme. The authors noted that “CE now functions for some participants as low-paid public-sector employment.” We must all think about that, because it is honest. Some of the contributions acknowledge that. Community employment plays a role at local level. I acknowledge that. I share that concern with the Deputies opposite. What we are trying to do is eliminate the flaws in community employment. That is the purpose of the exercise we are carrying out.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh The Minister should not cut it then.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton That said, the OECD stated that “even allowing for the diversity of CE, Ireland should have scaled it back further during the long period of low unemployment, when its participants could more easily find regular jobs.” I accept that relates to the past but it is pity it was not done. The OECD concluded that “The existing Community Employment (CE) programme should not be expanded greatly, even if unemployment increases as a result of the weaker economic conditions, partly because it was not downsized enough during the years” when there was a great deal of money. That suggests we that should examine the schemes, identify those that represent important services to the community, give good experience to participants and provide value for money. I hope even the Deputies in Sinn Féin might share that as an objective as it is a reasonable one to have.

A greater emphasis on reforming activation policies and associated measures is also a major condition of continued financial support from the troika and was included in the original agreement with it. It is my job to see that this country exits successfully and safely from the troika programme to economic recovery, including mass regains in employment. That is our objective. However, the troika fails to recognise the intrinsic social value of some community employment schemes which play such an important role in communities, in particular by helping the disabled to live independently or delivering meals on wheels to older citizens. That is a point that tends to get lost in the economic analysis of community employment schemes, which almost exclusively focuses on labour market progression. There is work to be done in that regard, which is [341]the purpose of the reviews being carried out. I have just received the schemes into my Department, along with 700 former FÁS employees. I ask Deputies why they would have difficulty with the review of spending of approximately €1 billion on labour market supports, including €315 million on important community employment schemes, and not seek to ensure the money is spent as well as possible in the community.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn The Minister made the cuts before the review took place.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh The Minister should reverse the cuts.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Order, please.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton It is my goal to find a solution that takes account of the objectives of getting people ready for real jobs, getting value for money for the taxpayer and supporting schemes that deliver much-needed social services. I want to develop policies that help people keep close to the labour market, taking into account advice on new employment growth areas and developing skills needs.

I am pleased that many community employment schemes provide valuable qualifications to people who never had the opportunity to achieve that in their earlier lives. Some 15,000 participants received FETAC awards in 2011. In addition, 10,000 other awards in occupational skills and health and safety by other awarding bodies were achieved. It must be remembered that a large number of community employment scheme participants have low formal educational qualifications and achievement and, for such people, community employment provides a second chance to catch up and gain qualifications that can help to make them more employable. However, not all schemes are sufficiently focused on the employability of participants; the provision of the service by the scheme can sometimes take precedence over the needs of the individual. Likewise, for some schemes there is insufficient focus on progressing the individual into employment.

As Minister for Social Protection, I am determined to ensure that the positive contribution of schemes is recognised in any future decisions on the operation, funding and role of community employment. I have asked for an initial review of the financial resources of all schemes to be completed by the end of March 2012. This was also promised to the troika some time ago, which is the reason for the time line. The commitment was previously entered into in other commitments given to the troika. The review is being carried out with the full involvement of scheme sponsors. Standard templates have been developed and issued to the Department’s staff responsible for the schemes to ensure consistency in approach. There is a considerable amount of variation across community employment schemes in terms of the amount of training provided, materials required, overhead costs and the potential for sponsoring organisations to meet certain costs in some situations. Some sponsors have significant streams of income while others do not. There is much variation across the range of the 1,100 schemes. The review is being carried out in the knowledge that there are community and voluntary organisations that receive funding from a multiplicity of State agencies and it may be possible to achieve savings by examining that. There are also sponsoring organisations where income is generated as a result of the contribution of community employment participants and there may be potential to utilise some of these funds to cover project costs.

While a reduced level of grant for training and materials is unavoidable in 2012, given the budgetary position, we are making all efforts to minimise the impact of the reductions. The financial review is identifying that certain schemes are better resourced than others and, therefore, less reliant on the training and material grant for their successful operation. Let me be clear: we will be ceasing the current practice of giving the same level of training and materials grants to all schemes, irrespective of the length of time participants are on schemes. Approxi[342]mately 2,000 have been on schemes for five years or longer. Their need for training is considerably less than that of new entrants. Neither does the current approach take into account the varying requirements of schemes. In this regard, it is anticipated that all community employment schemes will see a reduction in the level of training and materials grants compared with those payable in 2011, but the reduction will vary according to the needs of participants and project circumstances. No scheme will be forced to close as a result of the reduction in the materials and training grants during the period of the financial review.

I will state something every Deputy knows. Every year some schemes close for a variety of reasons, for example, a scheme’s changing nature, amalgamations, etc.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald If the Minister is making cuts, what is the purpose of the review?

Deputy Colm Keaveney: Information on Colm Keaveney Zoom on Colm Keaveney To save money.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Order, please.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Despite the statements——

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald What is the purpose of the review if the Minister is going to make the cuts?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton To get value for money.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh They are to be determined.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald The sector is under the impression that the cuts have been made.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Not all schemes are the same. Since the budget, I have repeatedly stated there has always been significant flexibility and discretion for departmental officials to vary the amount of the grant paid, depending on the needs of individual schemes. As the schemes did not come to the Department of Finance until 1 January, we could not conduct a review prior to that date.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh The Minister did not need to make cuts first before the review.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald The Minister’s script states she has made the cuts.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton In practice, the internal guidance to officials is that up to €1,000 may be available to a scheme through the training and materials grant for this year, subject to demonstration of need. I can also advise that I have instructed my officials that all discussions with sponsors on these matters are to be conducted in a constructive manner.

The schemes are dealing with the Department of Social Protection, the staff of which have a long record of dealing fairly and well with communities and individuals. I do not know whether Sinn Féin wishes to contest this statement but it is the reality across the country. Former FÁS staff are not employed in my Department. My staff will deal with schemes in a constructive and honourable manner.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald The review is a farce.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The Deputy may laugh, but this is not a laughing matter for communities.

[343]Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I am well aware of that.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton For many years there have been supports available for lone parents. I am unsure whether lone parents have done as well on community employment schemes as they might have done had greater emphasis been placed on educational progression and opportunities to take up generalised employment.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh Or child care.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Anyone who is honest and has worked with organisations representing lone parents knows that many lone parents would like to have a job, financial security and independence.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh Many already have jobs.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Most lone parents are dedicated to working, not just for their children, but for themselves. The Deputy should be open to considering whether the provision of various State supports for 30 years under the current system has achieved the outcome we would like to achieve for lone parents and their children.

Deputy Martin Ferris: Information on Martin Ferris Zoom on Martin Ferris Why not ask the participants?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I can also advise——

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh The Minister should ask lone parents, some 60% of whom are in work.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt The Minister must conclude.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton It is about progression.

Deputy Martin Ferris: Information on Martin Ferris Zoom on Martin Ferris The Minister is insulting people.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton What everyone wants is to provide opportunities for people to work and become financially independent. That is my ambition.

Deputy Martin Ferris: Information on Martin Ferris Zoom on Martin Ferris The cuts deny them opportunities.

Deputy Shane McEntee: Information on Shane McEntee Zoom on Shane McEntee They are backing the Minister.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh They are not.

Deputy Shane McEntee: Information on Shane McEntee Zoom on Shane McEntee They are in my county.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Order, please.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh They are not backing the Minister in any shape or form.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Please allow the Minister to conclude.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton My Department is undertaking a review of the effectiveness of a range of employment support, activation and work schemes, including the community employment scheme. This was committed to some time ago as part of the troika review process. The review will help to determine future policy——

Deputy Martin Ferris: Information on Martin Ferris Zoom on Martin Ferris The Minister has choices.

[344]Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The Deputy supported it. He voted for the bank guarantee.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Please, Minister.

Deputy Colm Keaveney: Information on Colm Keaveney Zoom on Colm Keaveney Sinn Féin invited the troika to Ireland.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh We did not support it.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt One voice, please.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The outcome of the review will inform the overall approach my Department will take to securing the best outcome for schemes and their participants, taking account of the large amount of money we spend on them. We spend the guts of €1 billion on employment schemes, some €315 million of which is spend on community employment schemes and the approximately 22,000 places provided. The 1,300 scheme supervisors are paid approximately €57 million. It is important that we be aware of these figures. There will be no reduction in the number of community employment scheme places.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh It is all the supervisors’ fault. Look at all the money they get.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton At a time when the social protection budget must be reduced, we must adhere to the principle of making a single primary payment per person.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh The easiest way to reduce the budget would be to give them jobs.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt The Minister should conclude.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The time to make two payments is——

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh Jobs — the elephant in the room.

Deputy Shane McEntee: Information on Shane McEntee Zoom on Shane McEntee There are plenty of jobs available.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Unfortunately, we cannot afford to make two payments.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh The Government could invest in job creation, but it will not. It is quite simple.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I am sorry——

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh I know the Minister is sorry.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I would like there to be no reductions under any heading, but we must try to meet our budget in the way that best secures recovery for the country and employment for people.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh If the Minister is referring to reductions, she should ask lone parents about the reductions under that heading.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton We must use community employment schemes, given the valuable contribution they make to local communities.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh Is the Minister not listening to the OECD?

[345]Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton We must give community employment scheme participants a positive experience that will help them to achieve their goals in life and to find a job. That is the absolute requirement.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh Create jobs.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton We also require a value for money element, given the times in which we live and the way the economy has crashed. I am confident that we will emerge from the review and that, by the time we discuss the matter this time next year, actual opportunities for community employment scheme participants and communities will have improved.

Deputy Patrick O’Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the motion. I concur with much of what has been stated about the importance of community employment schemes at local level. I draw the Minister’s attention to an important aspect of the schemes, namely, the role of supervisors. As she is aware, supervisors have been left in limbo, particularly those who have retired. In 2008 the Labour Court recommended that supervisors receive a pension, but the matter has not progressed. While the review is under way during the coming months and years, I encourage the Minister and her office to consider the role of supervisors. They hold permanent positions in the public service, yet that are in limbo because the change recommended by the Labour Court has not been made.

I welcome the Minister’s commitment in respect of the review, but, as many Deputies have stated, to put it mildly, communication between the Department and community employment schemes has not been good. Departmental officials should view the review as an opportunity to open the channels of communication. While efficiencies of scale are necessary, much could be done by the Minister to encourage better communication. For example, while all schemes are currently required to produce audited accounts, they cannot adopt a collective bargaining position whereby a number of them might seek a marked down price in return for giving an auditor their collective business. Likewise, they are unable to engage in collective bargaining for the purpose of purchasing materials. If their hands were not shackled in this manner, they could find a range of ways in which to secure savings. If schemes in rural areas in particular are allowed to pool resources to purchase services and materials, the savings the Minister requires could easily be achieved.

Deputy Robert Dowds: Information on Robert Dowds Zoom on Robert Dowds I agree with Deputy Patrick O’Donovan’s comments on the very difficult situation in which community employment supervisors find themselves in regard to pension rights and so on. I hope the Government will consider that matter in due course. I commend the Minister for Social Protection on her achievement in reducing the cuts that were initially proposed to be imposed in her Department by more than €300 million. Nobody knows where those cuts might have fallen, but she certainly deserves credit for holding that line. In addition, it is to her great credit, at a time of substantial cuts in services across the board, that the budget for employment supports has increased from €822 million to €950 million. That is an important and welcome achievement.

I am a strong supporter of the work carried out by community employment schemes. Not only have they helped many people through training towards employment and greater self-development, they have also brought great benefits to communities throughout the State. That can be seen in a range of areas, whether through the provision of child care, supports for drug task forces, the provision of meals on wheels, assistance to sporting organisations and so on. The ESRI has not sufficiently acknowledged this important social aspect of community employment schemes. I support the review of the schemes, but it is important that there is greater clarity in terms of the training that will be available for people as they seek to better themselves and find a way back to work.

[346]Deputy Gerald Nash: Information on Gerald Nash Zoom on Gerald Nash As a director of several sponsor companies and an active proponent of the community employment system, I join colleagues in welcoming the opportunity to debate the Minister’s review into the operation and efficacy of the schemes. In doing so, we must be honest with ourselves, as the Minister urged. We also must be honest with the communities we represent and the schemes which depend on the community employment framework. Communities need community employment and community employment-type supports to enable them to function properly. In any debate about these schemes, we must be straight with those whose future prospects and life chances depend on robust and relevant labour market activation measures.

The first question we must ask ourselves is whether the community employment system has the full capacity to set the jobless free from the clutches of social welfare. That is arguable. Is it fit for purpose as a passport to a new job? Are the training and education opportunities and the way in which money is spent appropriate to the needs of those who must be equipped to do themselves justice in a very competitive labour market? We would all acknowledge that these schemes have played an important role as a community intervention. They have built capacity in our communities and occupy a vital space from which the State generally removed itself decades ago.

Whether one agrees with the findings of the ESRI report to which the Minister referred, we must take seriously the institute’s position, as well as that expressed recently by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and give them the credence they deserve. If the community employment framework is not the route to a job, as many reports have contended, and if we can spend the money in a way that better delivers real opportunities in sustainable sectors of the economy and in our communities, then we must give consideration to changing our approach to some degree.

However, a straight accounting exercise on the value of community employment schemes would miss the point entirely. Instead, we must measure the social value of community employment, in so far as that is ever entirely possible, and look at it from the perspective of what our communities would look like if these schemes were removed from the landscape. We should move towards a situation where there is acknowledgment of the intrinsic social value of community employment schemes and a commitment to resource a community employment-type model of service provision for the communities that need it most, while at the same time devising a new, responsive system which properly caters for the needs of the labour market gaps that exist today and the economic opportunities that will arise in the future.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I propose to share time with Deputy Timmy Dooley.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt That is agreed.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue My party supports the motion put forward this evening and calls on the Government to reverse its plan to cut the materials budget for community employment schemes throughout the State. The Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, said it is not the Government’s intention to close down any community employment schemes. That is certainly not the view of the people participating in community employment schemes across the country or of those organisations for which such schemes are a key part of the activities they carry out. We have heard the same claims from the Government in regard to various other cuts. We are told, for example, that there is no intention to close hospital beds and hospitals. Yet when it comes to the crunch, the opposite is the case.

We are now hearing from the Minister, Deputy Burton, that it is not her intention to close down any community employment schemes. However, she must realise that the materials grants, which heretofore amounted to €1,500 per participant, are an essential component in the [347]day-to-day operation of these schemes. To make a cut of this magnitude unilaterally, without any consultation, discussion or review — to use a favoured word of the Government — is unacceptable. The 66% reduction in the materials grant, from €1,500 to €500, is effectively putting many of these schemes in jeopardy.

That is the message the Minister will get if she talks to scheme supervisors, participants and sponsoring organisations. They have no doubt that this cut is putting the very future of their schemes in danger. That is why so many of them throughout the State have come together, held meetings and met public representatives, both Opposition and Government Members, to get this message across. It is also why the Minister, Deputy Burton, has launched her famous review, a review announced only after she decided to make the cut and in response to the pressure she came under——

Deputy Michael McCarthy: Information on Michael McCarthy Zoom on Michael McCarthy In response to the political and economic crisis the Deputy’s party left behind.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue It would suit Deputy Michael McCarthy better to talk to the Minister rather than to throw smart comments across the floor.

Deputy Michael McCarthy: Information on Michael McCarthy Zoom on Michael McCarthy That is a fact.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue We must ensure this important issue remains at the centre of the Minister’s attention. For her to talk about this cut as being part of a review, a component of her master plan for employment services, is unconvincing. I agree that we must ensure back to employment services are structured so that they are as efficient as possible in equipping people to return to work. There is nothing wrong with that objective, but it is not what the Minister is doing here. Rather, she is attempting to justify the reduction in the materials grant by “bigging” it up into some type of review. It is simply not acceptable. These CE schemes are the lifeblood of many of our communities. They assist GAA clubs, parishes, tidy towns groups, community resource centres and crèches. Deputy Nash stated that CE schemes might not be maximising their potential to assist people in returning to work. There is no such thing as a community employment scheme that does not contribute effectively and in an important way to its local community. While we need to improve and enhance our back-to-employment schemes and the options available to those who find themselves unemployed, we need also to ensure continuation of CE schemes and the work they do. Where CE schemes are not assisting in directly leading people back to work but are contributing to the benefit of local communities, as is the case in many instances, we should to be improving them rather than cutting their funding. We need to increase the opportunities of the many talented people on the live register who are sitting at home but would like to be contributing to society.

The demand for participation in CE schemes has increased dramatically during the past couple of years. There are people at home unemployed who want to contribute, to be doing something useful, to better their chances of getting back into employment and to use their skills to benefit their local areas. The Minister’s plan will, by default if not intent, result in the closure of many CE schemes or in making it impossible for many of them to work.

CE schemes are important. As of December there were just under 22,000 people on the live register in Cross, County Donegal. While in 2010 more than 500 young men in the area came off the live register, more than 400 women went onto it. The dynamic at work here is emigration. There is no room on CE schemes for talented people previously involved in construction who wish to bring their skills to bear in a way that contributes to their local area, thus providing them with a hook to keep them at home while awaiting an upturn in employment opportunities.

[348]I urge the Minister, Deputy Burton, to reverse these cuts. CE schemes are essential to many areas, groups and local communities. I urge her to reverse these cuts.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Tim Dooley Zoom on Tim Dooley I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I am delighted this issue is being discussed. I have been trying for a number of weeks to have this matter put on the agenda such is the concern relayed to me by many people likely to be impacted by the proposed cuts to CE schemes.

I remind some of the Members opposite of some of the promises made by the Labour Party and Fine Gael in their collective manifestos. The Labour Party promised to create a new national employment service that would integrate community employment participants, but it has simply cut the resources available to these schemes in what appears to me to be a ham-fisted manner of balancing the books. The Fine Gael election manifesto specifically stated that community employment schemes would be maintained and expanded but would be managed by local authorities, which is an interesting idea but there has been no movement on it. CE schemes will certainly not be expanded on the basis of the type of cuts announced. Fine Gael’s manifesto also stated that CE schemes would be earmarked for an overhaul and expansion by 5,000 places. It stated:

This will offer community employment places to people currently on the live register. We will reform CE to make it more market-orientated with many more placements in private sector businesses. With this aim in mind, we will cut in the length of the standard Community Employment Scheme to six months, except for specific progression purposes, and strengthen the programme with regard to job search support.

Sadly, this has not happened. What we are now seeing is the Minister dealing in a blunt way with the problem of trimming back her budget. It is hoped that during the course of this debate we will get answers to the specific questions raised by Members on all sides of the House. I acknowledge that Members on the other side of the House are also concerned about CE schemes. I do not want this to be a game of ping-pong. We all represent our communities and know how effective CE schemes are in the communities they serve and how important they are to the people fortunate enough to participate on them.

As I understand it, based on the announcement on budget day — we have yet to get sight of the Finance Bill which may contain some changes in this regard — funding for CE schemes is to be cut from €360 million to €315 million, which is a €45 million cut which will impact severely on the capacity of CE schemes to operate. The Minister stated that she would close no scheme. However, inherent in that is the requirement to ask the question, if the Minister is not going to close the schemes, will she replenish the money she has already cut? How does the Minister expect schemes to operate without the €1,000 per head materials grant? While the Minister has stated that she will not close any schemes, these proposed cuts will force them to close.

I have visited many of the CE schemes in my county, urban and rural, all of which represent a mix of different people and mix of different types of work. They have made clear to me that they will not be able to sustain a cut to the tune of €1,000. A cut in the materials grant to the extent proposed will have a dramatic impact on their ability to carry out their work. I went through budgets with all of them. I am sure all Members have had budgets laid before them. I am not a forensic accountant. One does not need to be to work out that these schemes will not be able to function based on the cost of running their schemes last year, despite their operating prudently. They must have the capacity to put in place activation and training measures for participants on their schemes. If the Minister is suggesting that a valid scheme is 15 participants and a supervisor who sit around a room drinking tea all day, then schemes probably will survive. [349] However, that is not what CE is about. CE is about providing a useful opportunity within the community for individuals wishing to participate on a scheme. It is about delivering a service.

There is a clear correlation between the reduction in the number of local authority outdoor workers in rural areas and the emergence of people on CE schemes. These people do exceptional work and provide excellent value for money. There has been a huge decrease in the number of outdoor workers employed by local authorities and an increase in CE participation. CE schemes are doing the work once done by local authorities, and at a fraction of the cost. They are, in addition to increasing the confidence of participants to find jobs, keeping our rural villages and towns clean, thus assisting in the promotion of tourism, maintaining graveyards and churches, protecting our heritage, assisting in child care crèches and providing assistance in day care centres.

Deputy Nash suggested that because people are not progressing into employment, CE schemes may no longer be fit for purpose. Many young people coming out of university with PhDs are not progressing to employment in the current climate. It is wrong to suggest that if the rate of progression to employment is not what it should be, there is something wrong with the scheme. Far from it. CE schemes are keeping people’s minds active. They give people a sense of purpose and a reason to get up in the morning. Despite this, it is being suggested that these schemes should be cut.

I am concerned about the level of payments to supervisors. Sadly, there is no pension scheme in place for these people. I appeal to the Government to address this matter at the earliest possible opportunity. These people have given much of their lives — 15 years or more — yet they are being ignored when it comes to retirement, which is dreadful. There are only a relatively small number involved. The Government needs to address this issue.

  9 o’clock

Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan My involvement with community employment schemes extends back as far as the AnCo days, which pre-date FÁS. Consequently, I am familiar with the valuable work done by such schemes for and within the communities, as well as for the participants. Part of my experience has been with highly disadvantaged and long-term unemployed people in the north inner city. The schemes there gave the participants the opportunities to progress into the workplace and even into further training and education. Community employment schemes supply an array of services to communities and I refer to an internal report of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on child care and after-school schemes, which stated such schemes do not help people to get a job. I disagree because these schemes have given the parents of those children the opportunity to avail of schemes. In addition, one must recognise that certain schemes are mainly social in nature and are for extremely marginalised and vulnerable people. They provide such people with a focus for each day and what they do is invaluable in respect of enhancing confidence and self-esteem, as well as in providing courses on parenting skills, nutrition and health.

As for drug rehabilitation programmes, I acknowledge the recent positive response from the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, about the ring-fenced places in this regard. Participants in such schemes have a history of little formal education, very low literacy and numeracy, mental health issues and general poor health. In addition, some have criminal records and extremely difficult family circumstances. They have been supported through the schemes, which have done monumental work. Some of those schemes had participants who were highly medicated when they joined the schemes but who now are drug-free, which is something on which the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, is very keen. I know many of those involved and have attended such programmes where one can see men and women, boys and girls with their lives back. They do not cost the State what they would cost, were they still in addition or within the [350]criminal justice system. They have gone on to employment, further education and act as support and as mentors for those struggling with their addictions.

The cuts will disproportionately affect certain people. While reviews are welcome, the manner in which this was announced was most unfortunate. It was followed by confused and contradictory messages and cuts were implemented while the review was going on. Finally, the review cannot be an exercise in filling in a form about expenditure. There is a different kind of review and a different balance sheet, which is about life and the effect on life. These schemes have let people back into society to become productive members of, and contributors to, community life and many of them have regained their families in the process. Moreover, they have not burdened this country in the way the faceless financial gangsters have.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath First, I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak in this important debate on community employment schemes. At the outset, I thank and commend Sinn Féin on bringing this matter before the House for this two-day debate. In addition, I hope the Minister and the Government will listen to the people on the ground, particularly those who are involved in community employment schemes. I must declare a special interest as I have been a voluntary director of the Northside Centre for the Unemployed in Coolock for more than 20 years. I am familiar with the valuable work carried out by those involved in community employment schemes. Only today, one of my constituents contacted me about his wife, who is a participant in a community employment scheme. I am glad the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, is listening to this point. My constituent stated that last week the participants in his wife’s community employment scheme did not get paid on the normal day, which is Thursday. No explanation was forthcoming and they eventually were paid on Friday. This week, the workers received a call to inform them their pay may not reach their bank accounts until next Monday as apparently, the community employment scheme overdraft has been cancelled by the bank. My constituent asked whether this is a new tactic being employed by the Department of Social Protection and others to save money at the expense of the people who need it most and stated it was a bloody disgrace. I raise this issue in this debate because it is important that people engaged in community employment schemes receive support, equality and respect.

In the real world, I visited Coolock last Monday where I listened to details of a highly valuable community employment scheme. It has dealt with many people who are at risk. Although it deals with dysfunctional people, that is, people with major problems in their personal lives in respect of finances and personal issues, at the same time, 66% of those involved came through the scheme and began to go out to work in the morning. Many of them commented it was a new lease of life for them and for their families. This is the positive side of community employment schemes and this also makes a positive contribution to the north side. Tonight, I call on the Government to reverse immediately the cut of 66% to community employment schemes’ training and materials budget and to reinstate immediately the training and materials budget to 2011 levels. I also note the Department of Social Protection’s review is creating confusion and frustration. Finally, I urge all Members to support this motion to ensure that all people participating in community employment schemes are treated with respect and dignity.

Debate adjourned.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.05 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 8 February 2012.


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