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  • Senator Sharon Keogan

Senator Sharon Keogan — Community Employment Schemes

The issue on the table is the exclusion of those aged 18 to 20 from participating in the community employment, CE, scheme. It is generally accepted that the Government should reward the behaviour we want to encourage in our citizens, and being an active citizen in our economy is one such behaviour we should champion. While this has been the case for years, the events of budget 2023 led me to think about what message the Government is trying to achieve through the CE scheme. Budget 2023 saw a €5 increase in the CE top-up payment from €22.50 to €27.50 from January 2023. Meanwhile those in receipt of a weekly jobseeker's payment will receive an increase of €12 per week.

The CE scheme is designed to help people who are long-term unemployed or otherwise disadvantaged to get back to work by offering part-time or temporary placements in jobs based within local communities. Participants can take up other part-time work during the CE placement. The work is community based. The training provided through CE is delivered with a quality assurance framework. When a person's CE placement ends, the person is encouraged to seek a job elsewhere using the skills, experience and training gained while participating in the CE scheme. The duration of a CE scheme placement is for 12 months, with some exceptions. The general qualifying age for CE is 21. There are exceptions to this, of course. The CE drug rehabilitation programmes are available for persons aged 18 or over who are in recovery or referred for a rehabilitation place on a CE scheme. Members of the Traveller and Roma communities can qualify from the age of 18. Ex-offenders aged 18 or over are referred by the following agencies: the Probation Service, the linkage service, the gate service, the resettlement service and the Irish Prison Service. Refugees aged 18 or over who are authenticated by the Department of Justice, have a valid work permit or Garda National Immigration Bureau card with stamp 4 and are in receipt of any Department of Social Protection payment for any length of time, can quality for a CE scheme.

I ask the Minister of State to advise whether the current influx of refugees over the age of 18 will be in a position to take up a CE scheme. After all, this would encourage social integration of refugees within communities. The current social welfare payment for 18-year-olds is €117.70. This payment will increase to €129.70 in January 2023. Approximately 20,000 people under the age of 25 were getting jobseeker's allowance at the end of September 2022. Why are we saying to 18-year-olds, 19-year-olds and 20-year-olds who are not in education, employment or training that they cannot avail of our work support scheme, and all they can do is collect their dole money? It is not empowering to our young people to reward them for doing nothing. It is lazy governance. As a Government, we must do better for our teens and our young people. One will never get a career or an opportunity by lying in bed all day and we should not reward it either. Given that the take-up of CE and Tús programmes is at an all-time low, surely these programmes should be opened up for this age cohort as a matter of urgency.

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