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Minister Burton addresses ICA and COFACE conference ‘Vulnerable families – What can Ireland do?’

The Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton TD, this evening (Monday 4th February 2013) addressed the conference Vulnerable families – What can Ireland do? organised by COFACE (the Confederation of Family Organisations of the European Union) and the ICA (the Irish Countrywomen’s Association.

The conference, which is being held in Dublin Castle today and tomorrow, is discussing how to tackle the negative effects of austerity measures on those most at risk of poverty and social exclusion.

Speaking with organisers, delegates and guests, Minister Burton said: “This conference is addressing a crucial issue - how Europe can protect vulnerable families. As Minister for Social Protection in one of the countries worst affected by the economic crisis, I see and deal daily with the fallout.

“The current economic crisis has underlined the critical importance of the welfare state. Without it, millions of families across the EU would literally be left with nothing. In Ireland, research has shown the effectiveness of the welfare system in combating poverty. Official data shows that in 2010, social transfers reduced income poverty by 60 per cent. That single statistic alone demonstrates the absolute necessity of the welfare system.”

Minister Burton also remarked on the fact that during the economic boom in Ireland, the number of jobless households rose and stood at 22% by 2010 and she described how, during these economically straitened times, she is working to reform the social welfare system from a passive one to an effective and engaged public employment service. “My Department has launched a new one-stop service called Intreo for jobseekers, where they receive both their benefits and employment supports in the same place. We’re spending more than 1 billion euro this year on activation programmes, to help people return to work, training or education”, said the Minister.

Minister Burton is also working with Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald, on a joint childcare initiative which will provide an additional 6,000 childcare places this year. The places will be targeted at low-income families where the parents are availing of an employment opportunity as access to subsidised school-age childcare can greatly assist low-income families and, in particular, lone parents to make the transition into employment. This work is ongoing at EU level too. During its Presidency of the EU, the Government will seek to advance the Social Investment Package. A particular focus on children and youth, prevention and early intervention, will be a key element of the package.

Another area that the Irish Presidency will address is youth unemployment. Some EU Member States are experiencing unemployment levels above 25% and youth unemployment levels of double that.

Minister Burton explained: “We have to give people hope for the future and we have to avoid the creation of a lost generation. That is why I have placed such a priority on securing agreement on a Youth Guarantee. Under such a guarantee, a young person under 25 would be guaranteed a job, training or educational place within a set number of months of becoming unemployed.

“This week, EU social protection and employment ministers will gather in Dublin to discuss these issues. I look forward to chairing the negotiations and am confident that, over the term of our Presidency, we can achieve a successful outcome.”

Minister Burton concluded by wishing the delegates well with the remainder of the conference and with the important work of seeking to protect vulnerable families.

Note for Editors

The Confederation of Family Organisations in the European Union (COFACE) is a pluralistic organisation which aims to promote family policy, solidarity between generations and the interests of children within the European Union.

COFACE was originally founded in 1958. Since then, it has been linking together family organisations from all over Europe to discuss and work on issues such as balancing work and family life, children’s wellbeing, solidarity between generations, migrant families, disabled and dependent persons, gender equality, education, parenting, health issues, consumer affairs, etc.

The Irish Countrywomen’s Association (ICA) is the largest membership organisation of women in Ireland. Started in 1910, the ICA meets in 560 Guilds all over the country. In 1977, the ICA became affiliated to COFACE.