With the numbers on the live register failing to show any major drop in recent months and the number of long-term unemployed growing, it’s important to look at what services the Government offers to incentivise those on benefits back into the workforce or into further education.
The most recent jobs figures released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show unemployment at 426,000 (14% of the workforce) with four out of nine being on the unemployment register for more than one year.
The figure is a decrease from the height it reached in February 2012 when unemployment was at 15%, but has remained largely static since the beginning of 2013.
Since the recession began, which brought with it an almost doubling of those on the Live Register, the Department has introduced a host of measures to alleviate unemployment and direct people back to work.
When contacted the Department’s press office said with the amalgamation of the Department, Fás and the Community Welfare Service as “Intreo”, all those in receipt of welfare must attend a group engagement session, where they are informed about opportunities available under the various unemployment schemes. This is then followed up by one-to-one interviews with an “experienced employment services officer”.
But this wasn’t the experience of Dermot Murray (25), a graduate of a business course DIT who has been unemployed for nine months.
He was only offered the group engagement session after six months on the register and said the rest of those present at the meeting were over six months unemployed as well.
He does think the meeting was helpful though. “You get a lot of information, while those giving the presentations are very honest and open about what’s available.”
He’s more critical of the one-on-one meeting with the employment officer. “It was completely patronising. I understand that the officer probably has to deal with some difficult people from time to time, but it’s like she was talking to a five year-old who had to be put in his place.”
As part of the meeting, the officer assesses your CV and offers advice on improvements. The jobseeker then fixes up the CV and sends back a draft to the employment advisor to assess further. “She said she would respond to my re-drafted CV by the end of the week, but I never got a reply”.
The most famous incentive the Fine Gael-Labour coalition has offered to those unemployed is Jobbridge, where six or nine month internships are made available at companies where the intern is taken from the Live Register and paid by the state.
The applicant must be on the live register for more than six months and receives €50 on top of the social welfare benefit they receive.
Patricia McKenna (26) is in her sixth of a nine month internship at a major multinational company in Dublin city centre, which boasts profits of billions per year.
She believes the Jobbridge scheme suited the company in the time of recession, which despite making large profits in the preceding years, has cut back on staff worldwide.
“They were not hiring in many areas so I believe the Jobbridge scheme suited them in this regard to fill gaps,” she says.
When contacted for this article, the press office at the Department of Social Protection informed us of “a variety of control measures and criteria” to ensure employers do not use Jobbridge as a way of replacing existing employees or recently laid off staff.
These include an employer being unable to avail of Jobbridge if “the organisation would have to recruit an employee to carry out the tasks identified in the internship.”
Meanwhile, major companies cannot overload their staff with interns from the scheme as it is limited to 20% of the workforce or 200 interns, if the 20% amount exceeds that figure.
The Department points to the successful figures of the internship scheme. Over 15,000 internships have commenced since its launch in July 2011, while 61% of Jobbridge interns have progressed into full-time employment within five months of the ending of their contract.
For McKenna, her experiences show different perspectives on Jobbridge. She points to the tag of “intern” as being a hindrance to her prospects with the company. “I don’t find myself that challenged or very very busy at work at all because management know I am not staying so it is pointless for them to give me long term projects.”
She works 9-5 Monday to Friday so “the work I do does not resemble the money I earn in the slightest.”
“I do think it is exploitation because as history tells us – you work you get paid, simple as. Anything else just ruins the very simple business model”, but also adds “it fills a gap on your CV that may not have been filled otherwise due to many businesses taking a complete freeze on hiring staff particularly those with fewer than five years experience.”
To deal directly with those on the Live Register for over one year, the Government introduced Tús in July 2011, a scheme solely for those in receipt of benefits for over one year. To date 8,650 people have commenced Tús work placements.
Other schemes on offer include the Back to Education Allowance, where during the current academic year, over 25,000 people are supported under the scheme where those unemployed can return to secondary or third-level education and still retain their benefits.
The Back to Work Enterprise Allowance (BTWEA) and Short Term Enterprise Allowance (STEA) schemes offer incentives for those who wish to start up a business, which over 11,800 take-ups in 2012.
The Employer Job PRSI scheme, meanwhile, exempts employers from paying PRSI on an employee taken from the live register for up to 18 months. The initiative has seen over nearly 3,400 employees take up positions at companies.
If those unemployed refuse to attend meetings, take up offered courses of employment, a penalty of €44 can be imposed. If they continue to fail to engage with the Department, their receipt of benefit is open to review, leading to possible suspension or termination of payment.
“All persons in receipt of a Jobseekers payment must take up any reasonable offer of employment. The consequences of not doing so include full loss of payment,” says the Department’s press office.
Names have been changed