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?