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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 18-26
 Header Item Child Care Services Provision
 Header Item Social Welfare Rates
 Header Item Rural Social Scheme Applications
 Header Item National Internship Scheme Placements
 Header Item Child Benefit Rates
 Header Item Departmental Reports
 Header Item Parliamentary Questions Numbers
 Header Item Social Welfare Benefits Eligibility
 Header Item Youth Guarantee

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 800 No. 4

First Page Previous Page Page of 92 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 18-26

Child Care Services Provision

 18. Deputy Mick Wallace Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton her views on whether a Scandinavian model of childcare could be adapted to an Irish context; her plans to develop same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18974/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The Deputy will be aware that I believe the provision of adequate childcare is essential to support parents and especially those parenting alone to take up employment. Employment offers the best protection for those at risk of poverty and this is especially the case for families with children. The model of child care which is available in Scandanavia is a very comprehensive model although it is also very expensive. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs (D/CYA) estimates that the cost of universal child care provision in Ireland could reach around €1 billion per annum. In light of the current fiscal environment, this level of funding is not available. In December I announced, along with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs a new pilot afterschool childcare scheme which will be funded from the transfer of savings from my Department as part of the Budget. The scheme will provide 6,000 places on an annual basis and will cost €14m. The first phase of this pilot scheme for the provision of after school childcare places will begin on 29 April. Up to 500 childcare places will be available to people who have been long term unemployed or were former recipients of the One Parent Family Payment and who have got a job offer or have significantly increased their part time work.

The rate of subsidy for the scheme is €35 per week rate of subvention and a parental contribution of €20 per week per child. During school holidays the subvention rate will increase to €100 per week but the parental contribution will remain at €20 per week. In this phase the scheme will be made available in seven locations and can be applied for through seven local offices of the Department of Social Protection Finglas, Dundalk, Tralee, King’s Inn Street, Cork city, Mullingar and Limerick city (Dominic Street). Customers who meet the criteria will get a letter of eligibility so that they can apply to the local childcare committee for a place. The new scheme will incentivise and support people who are long term unemployed to avail of an employment opportunity by providing them with increased access to subsidised after-school child care. The scheme will build on the existing supports provided for, and implemented by, the D/CYA in the child care sector, including the Community Childcare Subvention (CCS) and the Childcare Education and Training Support (CETS) schemes, through which child care is provided to some 40,000 children of low-income parents at reduced rates.

Social Welfare Rates

 19. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the extent to which she expects to be in a position to meet the budgetary requirements of her Department without the imposition of extra curtailments in respect of payments to social welfare recipients such as job seekers, old age pensioners and those in receipt of child or adult dependent allowances and/or disability related payments; if she has identified the extent to which she can comply with the Troika requirements entered into by her predecessor in the coming year and thereafter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18932/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Thee Estimates for the Department of Social Protection as published in the 2013 Revised Estimates (REV) provides for expenditure of €20.243 billion on schemes, services and administration in 2013. Thee Estimates are based, in the main, on an analysis of trends as regards likely numbers of recipients and average value of payments in 2013. Actual trends on individual schemes are being closely monitored on an on-going basis. Decisions about the adequacy of resources available to the Department will be taken in the overall budgetary context.

As the Deputy will be aware Ireland is in the final year of the EU-IMF Programme of Financial Support. The references to financial targets in the agreement relate to the overall fiscal consolidation, not to Departmental or sectoral budgets. The Troika recognise the scale of this spending on social protection and have emphasised the importance of reform in this area both as a contribution to fiscal consolidation and to facilitate economic recovery. They have not however identified any specific programmes that should be curtailed or discontinued in their view, nor have they specified any savings or expenditure targets in the social protection area. Although the Troika may identify areas of expenditure which they believe merit examination, any changes to the schemes operated by the Department are decided by Cabinet, subject to the approval of the Oireachtas, in the context of the on-going review of expenditure generally and in the context of deciding the fiscal consolidation measures to be included in Budget 2014.

In relation to Budget 2014, the Deputy will be aware that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform's Expenditure Report 2013 published by Government last December provides for additional new expenditure reduction measures of €440 million to be achieved in 2014 in the Department of Social Protection budget. Reducing overall expenditure in 2014 in line with this target will be very challenging. No decisions have been made at this stage as to how these targets will be met.

Rural Social Scheme Applications

 20. Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if she will outline the maximum duration that a participant can stay in rural social scheme employment; her views on situations that have now developed whereby participants are on such schemes indefinitely; the steps she will take to ensure that there will be a turnover of participants to prevent the exclusion of certain applicants due to incumbents now having almost permanent status on such schemes [18692/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The rural social scheme provides income support for farmers and those engaged in fishing who have an entitlement to specified social welfare payments. Participation on the scheme is not intended to open ended and entitlement to an underlying social welfare payment must be proven annually to ensure continuation on the scheme. Given the nature of the scheme and its focus on addressing community needs as well as providing income support, as opposed to an activation or training scheme, the same requirements in respect of limiting duration are not considered to have the same relevance. The scheme currently provides work opportunities for around 2,600 participants and 130 supervisory staff. A wide consultation process with stakeholders and participants will be required in order to discuss any proposal for change.

National Internship Scheme Placements

 21. Deputy Gerry Adams Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the date on which she will publish the evaluation report on the JobBridge scheme. [18827/13]

 27. Deputy Brian Stanley Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton her plans to ensure that a host organisation benefiting from free labour through the JobBridge scheme makes a financial contribution to the weekly payments made to participants; the date on which these payments will begin and the value of these payments. [18828/13]

 30. Deputy Joe Higgins Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton following the Indecon Report into the JobsBridge scheme which revealed that 240 of the 7,300 companies surveyed admitted to availing of the scheme to displace paid jobs, the reason that only 12 companies have since been banned from participating in the scheme. [18969/13]

 31. Deputy Gerry Adams Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the number of persons who have participated in the JobBridge scheme in the private sector; the number of those persons who remained in employment within the company in which they completed a JobBridge internship. [18826/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I propose to take Questions Nos. 21, 27, 30 and 31 together.

Since it commenced on 1st July, 2011, Jobbridge has made good progress. As at 18 April, 2013, 16,545 jobseekers had commenced internships since the scheme was launched. Currently there are c 6,000 people on internships with c 2,500 internships opportunities available to be filled. In order to assess the impact of the scheme the Department commissioned Indecon economic consultants to complete an independent evaluation based on an analysis of Departmental data and surveys and interviews with host organisations and interns. I expect to publish the final report from Indecon in May.

Indecon’s interim report, published last year, found that 61% of interns secured employment either with their host organisation or another employer within 5 months of finishing an internship. These progression rates compare very favourably with similar schemes across Europe. The evaluation study also found that 67% of internships were with private sector host organizations. The participation of large numbers of private sector host organisations is making a significant contribution to the quality of experience for interns and in improving their chances in entering the workforce.

Of those individuals who undertook their internships in private sector host organisations, 54.1% were in employment at the time of the research (this includes interns who had just completed their internship) of whom 30.2% were in employment with their host organization. This indicates that c one third of interns progress from an internship into direct employment with the host organisation. The issue of host organisations making a financial contribution to the weekly top-up payment to interns is under review in my Department. However any change to existing arrangements will need careful consideration as one of the advantages of the existing scheme is that it is simple to understand and administer for interns, host organisations and the Department.

With regard to the issue of displacement the Department has taken all reasonable steps to minimise displacement of existing paid employment by internships. The terms of the scheme prohibit the use of internships to displace existing employees, there are limits on the number of internships a host organisation can offer (no more than 10% of the workforce at a particular location), host organisations are not permitted to ‘roll-over’ internships by replacing one intern with another at the end of the internship, and all applications from host organisations are screened to minimise the possibility of displacement. Nevertheless displacement may be subtle and it is impossible to eliminate it completely.

The Department’s own control measures are based on a combination of randomised monitoring visits/inspections with host organisations and on investigation of complaints received from interns. As of 18th April, 2013, 15 host organisations have been excluded from further participation in JobBridge as a consequence of these control activities.

Child Benefit Rates

 22. Deputy John McGuinness Information on John McGuinness Zoom on John McGuinness asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton her plans for the future of child benefit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18958/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Child benefit is a universal payment that assists parents with the cost of raising children and it contributes towards alleviating child poverty. The estimated expenditure on child benefit in 2013 is around €1.9 billion and it is currently paid to around 611,000 families in respect of some 1.16 million children. The social protection system also provides assistance to low income families with children through the payment of qualified child increases on primary social welfare payments and through the family income supplement payment. Both of these provide a level of assistance which is directly or indirectly linked with a household’s income situation. The social protection system also provides assistance to low income families with children through the payment of qualified child increases on primary social welfare payments and through the family income supplement payment. Both of these provide a level of assistance which is directly or indirectly linked with a household’s income situation.

Achieving a better design of the overall system of child income supports, including child benefit, raises complex issues about the effectiveness and the efficiency of the full range of income supports currently provided to families and their children. In this context and in line with a commitment in the Programme for Government I established an Advisory Group on Tax and Social Welfare, which has been tasked with recommending cost-effective solutions as to how employment disincentives can be improved and better poverty outcomes can be achieved, particularly child poverty outcomes. The Advisory Group prioritised the area of family and child income supports and its report on this issue was published in February.

This report makes important recommendations on how child benefit could be maintained as a universal payment while reforming the current system of child and family income supports so as to better target those who need these supports most. The Group concluded that there is no one perfect method of targeting child and family income supports. While some members of the Advisory Group found that taxation of child benefit is an attractive reform option, it was recognised that this approach, being limited to only one child and family income support payment, does not contribute to a better overall design of the child and family income support system. For this and other reasons, there was a strong preference in the Group for another approach based on a two-tier child and family income support payment. The Group considered that this approach would allow for a rationalisation of the overall child income support system while minimising work disincentives and allow for better flexibility in the targeting of support for different household types.

Given the range of complex issues involved, including fiscal, operational and legal considerations, as well as the implications for reforms in terms of child poverty and employment incentive outcomes, the Government has made no decision at this time on the core recommendations of the report. It is the Government’s intention that the report will now contribute to the policy debate on the matter. In considering the proposals to reform the structure of child and family income support payments, including the balance between income supports and services, such as childcare, I expect that Government will also take into account further work by the Advisory Group on the issue of social protection and taxation supports for working age persons and more general developments in the budgetary and fiscal situation.

Departmental Reports

 23. Deputy Peadar Tóibín Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton further to Parliamentary Question No. 92 of 5 March 2013, the date on which the social impact assessment of the taxation and welfare changes announced in Budget 2013 was completed; the date on which it will be published; the number of persons within her Department who were tasked to complete this work and their positions within her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18840/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton My department published the Social Impact Assessment of Budget 2013 on 28 March 2013. The assessment covers the main welfare and direct tax measures in Budget 2013, which generated savings/revenue of almost €1 billion. Social impact assessment is an evidence-based methodology which uses a tax/welfare simulation model developed by the Economic and Social Research Institute to estimate the likely distributive effects of budgetary measures on income and social inequalities. Four departmental staff contributed to the preparation of the assessment. Technical assistance on the use of the Switch model was provided by the Economic and Social Research Institute. Responsibility for the assessment rests solely with my department. Four departmental staff contributed to the preparation of the assessment. Technical assistance on the use of the Switch model was provided by the Economic and Social Research Institute. Responsibility for the assessment rests solely with my department. I hope that the publication of the assessment will inform public discourse and contribute to the policy making process for Budget 2014.

Parliamentary Questions Numbers

 24. Deputy Catherine Murphy Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton if she has instructed staff in her Department to routinely request the withdrawal of Parliamentary Questions before they are officially responded to; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18696/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The practice of withdrawing Parliamentary Questions (PQs) has been in place for over 20 years and has assisted the Department to cope with the large volume of PQs it receives annually. The Department provides the Deputy with the relevant information in relation to the individual query and in a majority of cases subsequently confirms this information in writing. In general, Deputies find this service helpful as they can often receive the written response quicker than the formal PQ reply. The Department has also set up dedicated enquiry telephone lines and specific email addresses for each section in the Department specifically for the purpose of dealing with queries from members of the Oireachtas in relation to individual cases/claims.

Social Welfare Benefits Eligibility

 25. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the steps she is taking to allow self employed persons who are seeking work but ineligible for a social assistance payment to be eligible for schemes or employment when being on the live register is a requirement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18904/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Given the scale of the unemployment crisis, the key objective of activation policy and labour market initiatives is to offer assistance to those in need of support in securing work and achieving financial self-sufficiency. This policy objective prioritises scarce resources to those in receipt of qualifying welfare payments. Accordingly the employment services and schemes provided by the Department are focused, in the first instance, on this cohort of unemployed people. It is recognised, however, that not all unemployed people (including those previously self-employed) are dependent on the State for financial support and some services (for example assistance with jobsearch activities, use of online job search tools) are available to such people if they register with the Department’s employment services offices.

It should also be noted that the State is funding over 450,000 in further education, higher education and training, namely:

- 75,000 FÁS training places.

- 180,000 Further Education places, 162,000 of which are full-time Higher Education places provided in Universities and Institutes of Technology across the country.

- Over 40,000 training places through Skillnets, including 8,000 for the unemployed, in partnership with private employers.

- The Momentum initiative provides free education and training projects for up to 6,500 long-term unemployed jobseekers.

- Over 6,000 Springboard, free part-time higher education, places in 2012, with additional places to be announced for this year.

Eligibility for accessing many of these interventions is not contingent on receipt of a social welfare payment or signing for credited contributions. Extension of the initiative to those not associated with the Live Register is not being considered given the current size and construct of the Live Register, in particular the numbers of people who are now long-term unemployed.

Youth Guarantee

 26. Deputy Willie O'Dea Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the progress she has made on implementing a youth guarantee scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18946/13]

 48. Deputy Peadar Tóibín Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the details of her implementation plan of the Youth Guarantee; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18841/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I propose to take Questions Nos. 26 and 48 together.

The EU Council Recommendation on a Youth Guarantee received political agreement at the EPSCO Council meeting on February 28th.  Following some small changes required by the Council’s Jurist/Linguists, it is anticipated that the final text will be formally adopted by the Council this month.  The Recommendation is that Member States should: Ensure that all young people under the age of 25 years receive a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education.

  While it is recommended that the guarantee should be implemented as soon as possible, it is recognised that implementation will be more gradual in the Member States experiencing the most severe budgetary difficulties and higher rates of youth unemployment. The government will now review the current range of youth employment policies in Ireland to assess what measures will need to be taken to commence the gradual implementation of the guarantee. This will include the identification of what would be the appropriate timescale for implementation in Ireland's current employment and budgetary circumstances.

  In this context, the Government intends to work with all relevant stakeholders to maximise the impact of a youth guarantee in Ireland. We have sought funding from the European Commission for a the proposed pilot Youth Guarantee project in the Ballymun area of north Dublin, and numerous organisations (e.g. IBEC, Ballymun Job Centre, National Youth Council of Ireland) have agreed to participate in this pilot.

  The scale and nature of any additional measures required for the gradual implementation of a guarantee at national level will depend on the trend in youth unemployment, and in particular the number of young people likely to experience periods of unemployment of more than four months under current policies. In this context, it is a welcome development that the official labour market figures published by the CSO recently indicated that the number of young unemployed at the end of 2012, at 59,000, a reduction of almost 9,000 on the same time a year earlier. It is to be hoped that this is the beginning of a sustained downward movement in youth unemployment as the economy recovers. Even so, the implementation of a guarantee will, almost certainly, require an expansion in the range of opportunities currently on offer to young people in the form of further education and training, internships, subsidised private-sector recruitment, and supports for self-employment.

In this regard the State already provides a significant number of initiatives which are of relevance to young people and the Department of Social Protection took steps in Budget 2013 to increase funding and places for schemes such as JobBridge, Community Employment, TÚS and a new state employment scheme in the local Government sector. In total an additional 10,000 places will be provided.  Other relevant provision is made through the training and education programmes delivered through FÁS and the further education sector. The size and the timescale for any additional provision that is both desirable and feasible, over and above that outlined above, will be established over the coming months.


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