Statements on the Youth Guarantee

February 5th, 2014

Senator Jillian Van Turnhout speaking on the issue of Youth Guarantee: Statements. Seanad Éireann

I welcome the Minister and thank her for keeping the commitment she made during the debate on the social welfare legislation to accede to my request for a discussion on this plan. I also thank my colleague, Senator O’Donnell, for her very informative report.

I welcome the plan. This is the first occasion since the advent of the financial crisis that a comprehensive plan bringing together all the elements to tackle youth unemployment has been produced. We should acknowledge the role the Minister has played in this regard, both in terms of her brief and in the context of her personal commitment to youth employment. It is extremely positive that a concerted effort will now be made to support young people from unemployment to education, training and work experience.

During the debate on the social welfare legislation, we engaged in a lengthy discussion on youth unemployment. As a result, I will use the time available to pose some very specific questions on the youth guarantee. I fully support the decision to commence the engagement process relating to the youth guarantee with the 22,000 young people who have been on the live register for 12 months or more. This makes sense. May we take it that these young people will be offered quality and appropriate educational, training or work experience placements by the end of 2014? If that were made clear, it would send out a great message to people.

I welcome the personal progression plans and the focus and early intervention for young people with a low probability of exiting the live register, PEX, score. There is a need for a two-way process between case officers and young people. Will there be a commitment to changing focus from needs of education and training providers to those of the unemployed and local labour markets? A greater number of and more intensive engagements can only happen if sufficient case workers are available. Is the Minister in a position to provide details with regard to the number of case officers and hours that will be assigned to the youth guarantee in 2014 and 2015? It is not clear from the youth guarantee implementation plan how much of the education-training provision is existing and how much will be new. This is important because it is clear, in view of demand, that merely rearranging the existing provision will not be sufficient. Will the Minister indicate, particularly in the context of education and training, where new provision will be available? I welcome the changes to schemes such as JobsPlus, particularly as these will allow employers to take on young people and obtain the wage subsidy for those under 25 who are on low to medium PEX scores and who have been unemployed for four months rather than being obliged to wait for 12 months. This is a welcome initiative and I thank the Minister for putting it in place.

The Minister correctly pointed out that some of the targets are ambitious. I was very happy when I discovered that the expected number of new JobBridge places for young people is set at 5,000 for 2014. Given that 6,000 young people under 25 have participated on the scheme since July 2011, however, this means that the Department proposes to almost reach in one year a target it previously took two and a half years to achieve. Will the Minister provide further information in respect of this matter and on the proposed JobBridge scheme for disadvantaged youth? I am interested in the latter but I would welcome additional detail in respect of it. I welcome the strong focus in the plan on disadvantage. Those in this category are often missed by plans of this nature because we tend to go for the low-hanging fruit and forget about that which is difficult to reach. I am disappointed that the opportunity to harness the capacity of the youth work sector in the context of supporting the implementation of the guarantee has been missed. I know the Minister has had some very positive meetings with representatives from the National Youth Council of Ireland and other youth work organisations on this issue. The reality is, however, that it will be challenging for State agencies to reach and engage with young people who are most disadvantaged. This is because those agencies lack the connections into the community that those youth sector already have in place. As already stated, the plan represents a missed opportunity and this regard and perhaps it might be possible to review the position that has been adopted.

The Minister may be able to answer some of the questions I have posed now. Perhaps she might respond in respect of the others at the earliest opportunity. I thank her for her vision, commitment and proposal to drive the youth guarantee forward. We are focusing on the right area and my questions are intended to achieve the results we all want to achieve.

Written Response

Youth Unemployment: Motion

Thursday, 12th June 2013

The Minister is welcome to the House. I very much welcome that Senator Reilly and her colleagues tabled this motion.

It is an important issue for us to debate, and considering the motion and amendment, one could see the glass as being half full or half empty. Nevertheless, it is really important that we are discussing youth unemployment. Unemployment, and specifically youth unemployment, is something that concerns us all across the House. Nevertheless, focus should not be solely on employment as for the age group in question, this is the period in which they are most likely to be in education and training. Unfortunately, the picture remains seriously bleak when we take employment, education and training into consideration.

Some people have already cited the Indecon assessment of the economic value of youth work report of 2012, which was commissioned by the National Youth Council of Ireland. We know Ireland has the fourth highest number of young people not in education, employment or training at 18.4%, compared to the average at 12.9% for the EU in 2011. In April 2013, the figure for young people who are long-term unemployed for more than 12 months was 27,857. I realise that is a reduction on previous months but it is still a considerable number of long-term unemployed young people. Ireland also has the highest number of children and young people under 18 at risk of poverty or social exclusion, with the figure at 37.6%, as compared to the 27% EU average.

We are all aware of the devastating impact that unemployment has, particularly on the social and health aspects of young people’s lives, as well as morale and self-esteem. It is generally accepted that increased social pressures such as financial and employment worries can trigger mental health problems or exacerbate existing issues. Unless concerted action is taken, the mental health of young people in Ireland and Europe will decline in coming years. We know that in 2009, Eurofound, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, which is based in Dublin, conducted research indicating that across 21 EU member states, the cost of exclusion of young people from employment amounted to more than €100 billion. The study considered the cost of social welfare payments and contributions to GNP and it put a preliminary figure for the cost to society at €14,000 per young person who is not in education, employment or training. Some €11,000 would be from unpaid contributions like PRSI and PAYE and €3,000 is representative of benefit payments.

The cost to the Exchequer of youth unemployment is estimated to be €3.16 billion annually. Last December, the Independent group put forward a motion in this House on the importance of the value of youth work. We had good support across the House in our belief that the State must recognise the value of the youth work sector and its potential for a cohesive approach in tackling youth unemployment and exclusion. We know just under 400,000 young people benefit from youth work in Ireland and 53.3% of these are from socially or economically disadvantaged areas. Over 40,000 volunteers are involved in youth work, with almost 1,400 whole-time staff equivalents. Some 26% of young people in Ireland participate in a youth club or youth organisation, and that is the highest level in the EU. The Indecon report proved that for every €1 invested by the State in youth work, we save €2.22 as a State in the long run. This can be contrasted with the fact that youth organisations have received cumulative cuts during the recession, with the cuts running at approximately 30%. Youth organisations could be used as a vehicle in tackling youth unemployment but we are cutting their funding.

The youth guarantee is very important to me and everybody in this House because it will give young people an offer of a job, work experience, apprenticeship, training or combined work and training. It is hoped this will be found within four months of the young person finishing education or becoming unemployed. We should hope it will achieve the target of having 2 million young people out of unemployment by 2014.

I agree with the contention in the motion that the youth guarantee scheme must play a central role in the Government’s strategy to address our young person not in education, employment or training, or NEETs, crisis in Europe. I commend the Government for signalling its support for the youth guarantee from the outset and making it a priority. Given what I have stated on the importance of the youth work sector, I also welcome the determination of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, in securing EU agreement on a greater role for youth work in supporting EU policy proposals for youth employment and social inclusion. I welcome the pilot scheme planned for Ballymun. It is good that we will have a pilot but we must consider local circumstances. I am a bit concerned about the length of time it may take to mainstream the process.

I am conscious of the time but I will comment on those who are most disadvantaged. These are the 9,000 young people who have been on the live register for three years or more. They have literacy issues and they are early school leavers. The have a poor relationship with State agencies. We must do much more to tackle the problems of this cohort of young people within the youth guarantee. The youth sector is well placed to work with this cohort, who are the hardest to reach. There should be a joint initiative between the Departments of Education and Skills, Social Protection, Children and Youth Affairs and Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.
Has the Minister identified additional measures to support young people who are long-term unemployed in avoiding the weaknesses identified in the scheme already in operation in Finland and Sweden?

Order of Business, 15 November 2012

I too have been deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life in Galway. I urge caution. I have listened to several speakers, in particular Senator Colm Burke. We need to be careful about our role. We need to ensure there is due process. This is a very sensitive time for many people. I ask the Government to publish the export group report as a matter of urgency. My understanding is that Ireland needs to report by the end of the month. The sooner the report is put into the public domain the better for us all. Rather than having a discussion based on speculation let us have an informed and calm debate. The difficulty with the issues is that as soon as one speaks on it people want to place one on a spot in the spectrum. I urge Members to have an informed debate and express impassioned views after they have seen the expert group report.

My colleagues and I from the Independent Group have tabled a motion on the Order Paper on the value of youth work. I seek Government time for a debate on this motion. I ask my other colleagues in the Seanad to add their names to the motion, which I will circulate to them. This report will be launched later today but it demonstrates the economic value of youth work. If anybody had the pleasure, like I had yesterday of attending a very impressive showcase of youth arts in the Mansion House that was hosted by the National Youth Council of Ireland, they would have seen young people from film, youth theatre and orchestras. It was an inspirational lunchtime for me. The value of youth work in our communities is often understated. I hope we can have a good debate about the important value that youth work plays.

Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill 2011 – Second Stage

2nd February 2012

Yes. In the spirit of equality and the subject matter in question, Senator Fiach Mac Conghail and I have agreed to share our time equally.

I very much welcome former Senator, Dr. Mary Henry, to the House. I acknowledge the work of many people to get us to where we are in our consideration of this Bill today. Senator Mac Conghail’s statement will focus on the transparency and disclosure aspects of the Bill. I wholeheartedly share his views on this. My statement will focus on the gender quota dimension of the Bill. I commend the initiation of this Bill by the Minister, Deputy Hogan. I thank him for initiating it in this House and giving us the opportunity to start the discussions. It is a strong Bill, which the Minister has outlined.

I am not necessarily a cheerleader for gender quotas. If anybody looks to my history he or she will note that when I was president of the National Youth Council of Ireland I lobbied hard for the removal of the gender quotas from the council’s constitution on the basis that it was no longer required. However, I believe in quotas when necessary and I believe the introduction of gender quotas for candidate selection is extremely necessary here.

Women account for half of the Irish population and yet we are vastly under-represented in the policy and decision making process that shapes our future. This is not because women are disinterested. I know from personal experience with the girl guides and civil society organisations the passion and commitment of many women and the vital role they play in shaping Ireland for the better. One need only go to any town or community in Ireland to see this role very clearly demonstrated.

The historic and persistent under-representation of women in Irish politics is problematic in the interests of democracy and from a human rights perspective. We recently celebrated the passage of 90 years since women in Ireland first won the right to vote and since the election of Countess Markievicz as the first female TD and MP elected. The intervening years have not boded well for gender parity representation in Irish politics. Ireland has one of the worst records of women’s representations in national parliaments worldwide. We are currently ranked 22nd out of 27 EU member states and 79th in international rankings. Since the foundation f the State in 1918 our Dáil has never had less than 85% male representation. As leader of an independent group of Senators I am part of a group with 57% female membership. That has not done us any harm but it is an anomaly. Out of a total of 1,620 Seanad seats filled between 1922 and 2009 only 9.3% have been by women. It is fitting that the Bill should be initiated in this House and that we are making a move towards balanced gender representation by way of affirmative action and the application of a legislative gender quota. For those who remain sceptical about the effectiveness of gender quotas, it should be noted that of the world’s top ten democratic parliaments in terms of representation of women, eight employ a gender quota.

I have two concerns with respect to the Bill. Are we missing an opportunity by not applying a gender quota to European and local elections? I agree fully 50:50 Group and its contention that for quota legislation to be meaningful and to work, it must be extended to local government. By failing to do that, we run the risk of making the same mistake as was made in France where women who do not come from a political family are effectively excluded from entering local politics and thus gaining political legitimacy within their constituency.

I am sure the Minister will agree that we must ensure that the gender quota is not only implemented in isolation but that we must also encourage women to run for election. In this regard, I commend the initiative of Women for Election who endeavour to inspire, equip and inform women to run for political office and to provide tailored training and support programmes for interested women.

I look forward to the debate today and on the later Stages in the coming weeks to ensure that Ireland enters the ranks of the top ten democratic parliaments.

Innovation at the Heart of the Jobs Challenge – Statements

14th September 2011

I thank the Minister for joining us today. He might be wondering what I, as a children’s rights advocate, have to say about jobs. For more than 15 years I worked for a small and medium-sized enterprise, through the good times and bad times. As I dealt with making staff redundant and dealt with transfer of undertakings to a UK entity, I understand the sleepless nights that people are going through. I very much welcome the commitments the Minister made today about driving down costs for businesses, increasing the access to credit and the need for regulatory reform. I also appreciate his understanding of the situation for young people because according to the National Youth Council of Ireland, Ireland has the second highest rate of youth unemployment in western Europe, with one in three young men unemployed, which represents a trebling of the figure since 2008.

Senator Cummins asked us to keep our comments for today short. I have one question and one proposal for the Minister. My question is very topical as it relates to the junior certificate examination results. I know there has been a focus on mathematics, and in doing so I take the opportunity to congratulate my nephew who got an A in his honours mathematics paper and who single-handedly may have contributed to the upward trend. However, people have not focused on foreign languages. Some 12% failed ordinary level French, 8% failed ordinary level Spanish and 7.5% failed ordinary level German. Poor foreign language capacity will hinder job creation, especially in the emerging export-led markets and with the changing demand for the global economy, the focus having shifted towards Asia and the consequent need for graduates with, for example, Mandarin. Only one secondary school in Ireland teaches Mandarin as a foreign language subject. I ask the Minister to clarify the role he will play regarding education and whether we will actually join the dots.

I was very encouraged by what the Minister had to say about us needing to add to our exports and we need to put a foot on that export ladder. In preparation for today’s debate I talked to representatives of a number of companies and I will now make what I believe to be an innovative proposal. I will give credit for this to a home-grown entrepreneur, Colm Lyons, of Realex Payments. Irish businesses need to get established in overseas markets, which can sometimes be achieved online, but more often it requires staff to relocate to set up offices. This can often take from 18 to 36 months. During this time local staff are typically recruiting others to train, after which they go back to the head office. Realex has asked several staff to move and while some have moved, many are concerned about the general state of things here and want to remain in their job in Ireland. The proposal is to have a scheme for Irish staff working abroad whereby if a staff member is assigned to grow the business in an overseas market, the company could accrue a bonus for the staff member that is paid tax free when the assignment is completed. It could be controlled, for example, by Enterprise Ireland, which would approve the company, the role and the individual against certain criteria. I believe this scheme would act as a great incentive for staff to be based abroad for a certain period of time and thus accelerate the growth of Irish businesses overseas. I ask the Minister to give the proposal serious consideration.

I conclude by going back to my children’s rights background. Research in the UK and US has found a negative impact of parental unemployment on children and young people. For example, young people living in a workless household are more likely to have poor educational outcomes, including increased incidence of truancy and early school leaving. Therefore I believe the Minister’s brief includes children’s rights and I will be doing what I can to support his work.