COMMUNITY EMPLOYMENT SCHEMES MUST BE PROTECTED
Labour spokesperson on Social Protection, Willie Penrose TD, has said that whoever is appointed Minister for Social Protection in the Cabinet reshuffle, must ensure that Community Employment schemes are protected.
During Questions to the outgoing Minister last week, Deputy Penrose asked the new Fine Gael leader, Leo Varadkar, to ensure that local schemes are allowed to recruit people, and that their costs are met.
Deputy Penrose said:
“At a recent meeting of a Westmeath community employment sponsor network group, major concerns were raised by members about the Department of Social Protection’s proposed changes to Community Employment schemes.
“They believe the Department might not fully understand the important role community employment schemes play in towns and villages across the country.
“They say the proposed changes to the eligibility criteria and the qualifying length of time will severely limit the pool of people accessing community employment schemes and greatly impact the essential services they are providing in local communities.
“There is not enough support available for the main sponsors of Community Employment schemes.
“I have asked the Department to advise on how the position can be improved, or whether funding can be made available to the main sponsor who wishes to be trained in the development and running of these schemes.
“There are many changes taking place in Community Employment schemes, and the main sponsor must be up to date with all of the changes made by the Department.”
Deputy Penrose has also called for the approach to all Community Employment schemes to be harmonised.
“There is not enough awareness of community employment among the unemployed on the live register. We need a public awareness programme introduced on a pilot basis by the Department of Social Protection. The period of participation on child care schemes is three years. Environmental scheme participants are initially allocated just one year. Why can it not be the same? Why can it not be three years for everything? Let us have a level playing park. If some schemes are for one year and others are for three, one will of course go on the three-year one,” concluded Deputy Penrose.
Notes to Editors:
Deputy Penrose put the following points to the outgoing Minister for Social Protection:
1) That people over 55 years of age who are seeking work face “ageism” in the jobs market.
“Qualifications are not a guarantee that one will find work. We are an ageing society and there is no proper structure in place to support people over 55 years of age, aside from the community employment programme. Forcing this group to attend training, with the use of all sorts of paraphernalia, is unfair. Many of them have literacy or rehabilitation issues. There is no outreach service in rural areas. There are no departmental offices in my area of Ballynacargy. It is all theory. A big shift has taken place under the Minister. There has been a shift from a community focus to a shifting-people-on approach,” said Deputy Penrose.
2) That the likes of JobPath and Seetec are an “absolute disaster”.
“A letter from them means an applicant is no longer eligible for community employment”, said Deputy Penrose.
He also asked for clarification as to whether a participant can continue given that Intreo case workers are assessing a client’s eligibility.
“They are interested only in shifting people on to Seetec and so on, regardless of whether they are suitable. When they get their claws in, it is like an alligator getting one between its teeth. They will not let go. I brought to the Minister’s attention cases of abuse by them. I want them wiped out. I do not care a sugar; I said that before. I am sick of them. Will this continue? This has to stop,” said the Labour TD.
3) Deputy Penrose is concerned at the criteria used in determining applications for the community employment scheme with regard to those aged 21 including whether it completely at the discretion of the case officer.
4) Deputy Penrose maintains that the materials budget allocated to community employment schemes is “severely inadequate” due to the rise of insurance costs.
“I have asked for the material allowance be increased to accommodate the increase in insurance costs and to revert to a payment of €20 per week to remedy the cash flow deficit existing on community employment schemes.”
5) Deputy Penrose is concerned about the use of the Jobs Ireland website, which he says has “caused a lot of confusion.”
“It also hinders the application procedure for all community employment schemes and is no longer connected with the old FÁS application procedures, making the submissions list obsolete. One is required to have a high standard of education to operate computers and associated software, thereby contradicting the whole ethos.”
6) “Participants coming off Tús schemes are immediately eligible to commence on community employment schemes involving child care, but with environmental schemes the participant must go back on payments for two weeks before becoming eligible for a community employment scheme longer than one year.”