Current Policy Developments

This section provides our commentary on recent policy developments and their implications for unemployed people and others distant from the labour market.

It also highlights relevant policy developments and bring to readers attention who is calling for submissions; on what; what the deadline is to have your say; and to whom you need to send it.

Unemployment: What's the Programme for Government saying?

In our election manifesto the INOU asked four key questions of politicians:
1. What will you do to tackle unemployment?
2. Will you reverse the cuts made to Jobseekers Allowance and Benefit?
3. How will you improve services to unemployed people?
4. What will you do to create decent jobs?
So how does the new Programme for Government entitled Government for National Recovery 2011-2016 the Government answer these questions?

1. What will you do to tackle unemployment?
The Fine Gael / Labour Government are promising to introduce a Jobs Fund now called Jobs Initiative within the first 100 days of Office. The INOU understands that this Initiative will be published the second week in May and if the Government adhered to their own programme it should include the following items:

* Provide resources for an additional 15,000 places in training, work experience and educational opportunities for those who are out of work;
* Cut the 13.5% rate of VAT to 12% up to end 2013;
* Halve the lower 8.5% rate of PRSI up to end 2013 on jobs paying up to €356 per week;
* Reverse the cut in the minimum wage;
* Abolish the Travel Tax as part of a deal with airlines to restore lost routes;
* Implement a number of sectoral initiatives in areas that will create employment in the domestic economy;
* Initiate a long-term strategy to develop new markets in emerging economies;
* Secure additional resources for the national housing energy retrofitting plan, as part of plans to phase out subsidies in this area by 2014;
* Expand eligibility for the back to education allowance; and
* Accelerate capital works that are 'shovel ready' and labour intensive including schools and secondary roads.

Comment: some of these initiatives will clearly have a bigger jobs impact than others e.g. accelerating labour intensive capital works that are 'shovel ready'. Some of them will take time to come to fruition and may have a bigger impact on economic growth than jobs per se e.g. long-term strategy targeting emerging economies. The cost of doing business is constantly raised by employer organisations e.g. Local Authority rates and energy costs. What real impact will a cut in the lower rates of VAT or employers PRSI for a limited period have on employers' confidence and their willingness to employ?
Given there were 442,000 people on the Seasonally Adjusted Live Register in March 2011 and given the potential numbers of young people entering the labour force each year, Ireland would need job growth far exceeding current forecasts to give unemployed people real hope of a job.

2. Will you reverse the cuts made to Jobseekers Allowance and Benefit?
Under Equality and Social Protection the Government states that they "will maintain social welfare rates" and "reverse the recent cut in the national minimum wage". They also state that they are committed to achieving the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion poverty targets.
On the issue of addressing poverty traps they say they will amend the 30 hour rule for Rent Supplement and Mortgage Interest Supplement for people moving from welfare to work; activate people on a reduced week who refuse extra day(s) employment; and over time, One Parent Family Payment will be replaced with a parental allowance that does not discourage marriage, cohabitation or work.
The Government states that they will have "a zero tolerance approach to social welfare fraud". They proposed moving people off Rent Supplement and onto Rental Accommodation scheme and ensuring that landlords are tax complaint. They are also committed to moving additional staff into social welfare appeals process to resolve the backlog issue.
Under Ireland in Europe the Government state they are fully committed to the "EU2020 strategy and its creation of employment and smart, sustainable and inclusive growth".


Comment: If the Government are serious about meeting the NAPSI targets then it is absolutely imperative that no further cuts are made to social welfare payments. It is disappointing to see this Government failing to deal with the issue of how the social welfare system can deal with atypical working and supporting people take-up irregular work which could support people to maintain their links to the labour market.
It will be interesting to see how this Government fares in getting more people onto RAS: progress to-date has been painfully slow. In bringing in additional staff to address the backlog to social welfare appeals it is really important that these staff are very familiar with the social welfare system. The INOU is conscious that appeals are arising because claimants were misinformed by frontline staff.
It is astonishing, and in particular given all that the country has been through, that the only place the word fraud is used is with regard to social welfare recipients. Much of what is termed 'fraud' in the public arena is in fact misunderstandings and misinformation which would be more properly addressed through the development of a pro-active client centred employment and entitlement service. The real problem facing Ireland is the lack of jobs, if the Government fails to get that right very little else can be resolved.

3. How will you improve services to unemployed people?
Under Labour Market Policy P4G aims to provide an additional 60,000 places across a range of schemes and initiatives; to increase access to further higher level education for unemployed people; and to incorporate literacy training into a wider variety of further education and training.
It should be noted that the proposed new National Employment and Entitlements Service will have a broader role than FAS as FAS never had an 'entitlement' function per se. In effect this development will build on the changes made by the last Government whereby FAS was split between the Departments of Education and Skills (training) and Social Protection (employment and community services). According to the Programme for Government this new service will cover:
* All employment and benefit support services will be integrated in a single delivery unit managed by the Department of Social Protection.
* A 'one stop shop' for people seeking to establish their benefit entitlements; looking for a job; and seeking advice about their training options.
* It will process citizen entitlements such as supplementary welfare allowances, higher education grants and welfare allowances. It will manage as much as possible means testing for State entitlements.
* It will also be responsible for employment referral and training supports provided by FÁS. This service will offer users a higher level of personalised employment counselling, with more frequent face-to-face interviews.
* Those on the live register who are identified as being most at risk of long-term unemployment will receive priority treatment for more intensive support. It will ensure active case management for people in need of assistance.

Under Local Government reform the P4G proposes moving "many of the functions currently being performed by agencies - such as community employment and enterprise supports - back to local government". This statement strikes the INOU as odd given that neither community employment nor enterprise supports were under LG in the first place. Also the P4G states that they will "merge local enterprise and job support functions of local, regional and national agencies into a single business and enterprise unit within Local Authorities. This will allow streamlining of local job creation and support functions, increased shared knowledge capability and resources while saving on administration costs." What exactly does this mean and how will it relate to the National Employment and Entitlement Service? This could be a particular issue for unemployed people wishing to become self-employed if they are trying to access wider supports than just the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance.

Under Public Sector reform the P4G talks about putting "resources into the hands of citizens to acquire services that are tailored to better suit their needs and less expensive for the taxpayer". In our recent activation project this very point was raised and recommended by unemployed people.

Under Education the P4G states that this Government's ambition is to build a knowledge society. Education is at the heart of a more cohesive, more equal and more successful society, and it will be the engine of sustainable economic growth. With regard to jobseekers they say that lifelong learning, community education and vocational training will be a high priority and that they will expand training options for jobseekers across the VEC, further and higher education sectors to facilitate upskilling of the labour force. They also state that they will address the widespread and persistent problem of adult literacy through the integration of literacy in vocational training and through community education.

Further issues are raised under the heading of Fiscal Policy including the commitment to review Universal Social Charge; to bring in a range of measures to tackle the problem of welfare fraud; and to establish a Tax and Social Welfare Commission to examine entitlements of self employed and the elimination of disincentives to employment.

Comment: It is critical that in developing this new National Employment and Entitlement Service that is strives to meet the needs of unemployed people and other social welfare recipients; that it strives to provide the very best service to ensure people can access their entitlements in a timely fashion ; and that they are given good advice and appropriate choices to support them to take up education, training and employment options.
When the previous Government re-arranged Government Departments and Agencies a year ago one of the issues that arose for the INOU was: who was in charge of active labour market policy? With the announcement of the Ministerial roles and the roles of Minister of State, the INOU was struck that this gap still persists. To ensure that unemployed people are offered a seamless service from their entitlements to best advice re education, training and employment programmes to access to a job, it is vital that the Departments of Education and Skills; Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation; and Social Protection work well together.


4. What will you do to create decent jobs?
The issue of job creation is covered under a range of headings including the 2011 Jobs Programme, aka Jobs Budget or more recently 'Jobs Initiative'; sectoral strategies; supporting SMEs; increasing exports; innovation and commercialisation and include:
* Specific sectoral strategies for job creation in the domestic economy including retail; ICT; Agri-food; tourism; green jobs; international education; and social enterprise.
* New National Development Plan covering 2012-2019: based on a comprehensive study of Ireland's public investment priorities over that period.
* Strategic Investment Bank that will become a provider of finance to large capital projects, a conduit for venture capital and a lender to SMEs.
* NewERA plan: New Economy and Recovery Authority (NewERA), which will absorb the National Pension Reserve Commission.

Comment: Even if Ireland secures the funding to get all of this off the ground will it still produce enough jobs to get people back to work and give hope to all the young people who will leave school and college over the next few years. The Government is proposing job creation of 20,000 per annum: this figure is regrettably not enough to stand still let alone give real hope to unemployed people of a future in Ireland.