At the beginning of June 2021, the Government published the long-awaited Economic Recovery Plan. This Plan will consist of four pillars as follows:
- Ensuring our public finances are sustainable for a lasting recovery.
- Helping people back into work by extending labour market supports and through intense activation, and reskilling and upskilling opportunities, driven by Pathways to Work 2021-2025.
- Rebuilding Sustainable Enterprises through targeted supports and polices to make enterprises more resilient and productive.
- A Balanced and Inclusive Recovery through strategic investment in infrastructure and reforms that enhance our long-term capacity for growth, balanced regional development and by improving living standards.
This article will look at the second of these pillars: helping people to get back into work.
In the Plan the Government notes that “Our ambition is to have 2.5 million people in work by 2024, exceeding pre-pandemic levels.” They go on to say that “The government’s labour market approach is about providing opportunities to reskill and upskill, minimising long-term unemployment, and supporting individuals to secure sustainable and quality employment.” It will be absolutely critical that the employment created is of good quality and sustainable in every sense of the word.
The Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) will continue as it is up to September 7th, however, the scheme will be closed to new applicants from July 1st, 2021. The Government is proposing to cut the PUP by €50 from September 7th, again from November 16th, and finally from February 8th, 2022. These proposed changes are based on the assumption that the health crisis will not worsen in the meantime.
Unlike on a Jobseekers payment, students who lost their employment because of COVID-19 restrictions were able to receive a PUP. However, this will change from September 7th. To compensate for this, the Government are proposing “€10 million in assistance will provide supports for the forthcoming academic year for students impacted by COVID-19”.
Pathways to Work 2021-2025 is cited as “Ireland’s national employment services strategy and overall framework for activation and employment support. It is a central focus of the Government’s response to dealing with the impact of the pandemic on workers. It supports those who are unemployed - as a result of the pandemic; pre-pandemic; and those whose former jobs are no longer available to them -to return to work through intense activation, and upskilling and reskilling through education and training initiatives.”
The Pathways to Work targets outlined in the Economic Recovery Plan are similar to the targets announced in the July Jobs Stimulus 2020 including 10,000 places on the new Work Placement Experience Programme; 8,000 places on Jobs Plus; and 3,000 places on State Employment Schemes. There will be a new Government Youth Employment Charter and other measures to “support disadvantaged groups and people distant from the labour market to find employment”. It will be important that Pathways to Work itself provides more information on how this work will be undertaken to deliver good outcomes for people.
In addition to the 35,000 education and training places announced in last year’s Jobs Stimulus, another 15,000 places will be created. The Economic Recovery Plan notes “Flexibility in how lifelong education is constructed, offered and experienced needs to be further developed. Building on the disruptive 2020 experience, new models of learning, including (but not limited to) those enabled by new technologies, present an important opportunity to open up delivery approaches, educational methods and learning environments.” However, the past year also highlighted the digital divide in Irish society: people without the income, the broadband, the equipment, or the skills struggled to engage in online learning, while people with these resources and skills could and so improved their employment prospects.
In the National Recovery and Resilience Plan, under the second priority seeking to accelerate and expand digital reforms and transformation, there is a commitment to address the digital divide and enhance digital skills through the proposed Adult Literacy, Numeracy and Digital Literacy Strategy and a new Digital Strategy for Schools. If these Plans are to lead to an inclusive and sustainable recovery, then this digital divide must be pro-actively addressed.
To read the full Plan please follow this link.