In our recent Statement of Priorities, the Taoiseach and I made clear that the ongoing task of economic repair would now be accompanied by an equal focus on social recovery.
Social recovery means raising living standards so that the benefits of renewed economic growth are felt by every family and every community.
And the social recovery starts with jobs, because secure and fairly paid work is the single best protection against poverty.
That is why the Action Plan for Jobs is so critically important, because it places job creation at the centre of everything the Government does.
It ensures concerted action across Government to help both businesses and jobseekers.
And we are making firm progress.
Since the Action Plan process commenced in 2012, more than 600 individual actions have been delivered across Government to improve the operating environment for business and to support those seeking employment.
And today’s Second Progress Report for 2014 shows the extent to which we are continuing to prioritise job creation across Government, and deliver on the commitments we set at the start of the year.
The positive effects of this effort can be seen in the employment figures.
Almost 70,000 additional jobs were created in the last 18 months.
Unemployment has fallen from a crisis peak of 15.1% to 11.6% now.
The Pathways to Work strategy, overseen by my Department, is playing a vital role in this process.
Whereas the Action Plan is designed to accelerate the transition to a sustainable, jobs-rich economy, the Pathways strategy aims to ensure that as many as possible of those newly created jobs go to people on the Live Register.
We are implementing the nationwide rollout of the Youth Guarantee, for example, to ensure that jobseekers under the age of 25 get the work, training and educational opportunities they need.
We have transformed the Department from a passive benefits provider to an active and engaged public employment service that supports businesses in their recruitment needs as well as jobseekers.
On that front, we have delivered a series of large-scale employer briefings around the country to inform businesses of the schemes and supports specifically created to help them, such as JobsPlus.
And we are working to remove any remaining welfare traps in the system – for example, by introducing a new Housing Assistance Payment to replace Rent Supplement.
HAP will subsidise rent for people on welfare and in low-income employment so that they will not lose housing assistance when they move from welfare to work.
In the same vein, we will spend more than €280 million this year on Family Income Supplement – the weekly tax-free top-up payment for employees on low pay with children.
That’s a 25% increase since 2012, and more than 44,000 working families with almost 100,000 children will feel the benefit of the scheme this year.
That is just a flavour of the work we are doing in the Department, and across Government, to prioritise job creation and help people back to work.
This unrelenting focus on jobs is crucial to the social recovery.
And we are committed to building that recovery.