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Speech by the Taoiseach, Mr. Enda Kenny, T.D. at the Pathways to Work 2013 – 14 Digital Hub – July 18th 2013

Speech by the Taoiseach, Mr. Enda Kenny, T.D.

at the Pathways to Work 2013 – 14

Digital Hub – July 18th 2013

Good afternoon everyone.

The Government has held a special cabinet meeting this afternoon to advance new proposals to create and support Irish jobs.

One of the main strategies considered and approved at that meeting is today’s updated Pathways to Work strategy which outlines a 50 point plan to fight back against long term unemployment.

There is no greater threat to the long term economic and social wellbeing of our nation than that of long term unemployment.

As the Government deficit falls, reducing unemployment will be the Government's top priority in the second half of this Government's lifetime.

We cannot allow economic recovery to bypass the tens of thousands of families that saw their lives turned upside down by the economic collapse.

The truth of the matter is that we have unacceptably high numbers of people who are now long term unemployed, those who are out of work 12 months or more.

Getting these people back to work will be one of the greatest challenges facing the State. It will require a much more coordinated response among all relevant Departments and agencies.

We're making some progress. The private sector is adding 2,000 jobs per month, Live Register numbers are beginning to come down slowly.

But we must acknowledge the scale of the challenge we face. Far too few of the jobs that are being created are being filled by the unemployed. Almost 300,000 people unemployed, of which over half have been unemployed for over a year.

Through no fault of their own jobseekers that pass 12 months without finding employment find it much more difficult to get back into a workplace. The difficulty gets even tougher after 24 months.

Long term unemployment perpetuates a cycle of poverty, inactivity and hopelessness… We need to break that cycle.

Unfortunately, long term unemployment has been a long term problem for Ireland.

Even during the so-called boom years with full employment we had an above average level of jobless households when compared to our European neighbours.

Today after the crash a shocking 22% of households are categorised as jobless, double the European average. This is a completely unacceptable situation which threatens the social fabric of Irish society if allowed to fester.

The failure of successive Governments and public administrations to make the deep reforms necessary to our welfare and employment services has condemned far too many families to hide in society’s shadow, cast adrift in long term unemployment.

When this Government came into office we declared that we could no longer tolerate a passive welfare system that abandoned hundreds of thousands of people to unemployment without any real engagement.

Getting the unemployed back to work will require a totally new approach to how we provide state supports for jobseekers.

This was the approach outlined in our landmark strategy ‘Pathways to Work’ launched last year which proposed an entirely new vision for our welfare and employment services.

Instead of being cast adrift by the State, unemployed people now face group engagements, one-on-one interviews, skills and experience assessments, training and work placements, as we continue to roll out one stop shop Intreo offices nationwide.

Engagement with these services is now fully compulsory if jobseekers wish to continue to receive benefits.

Minister Joan Burton has an ambitious and pressing agenda in rolling out these new services across the country. When completed it will transform the Department of Social Protection from a passive payments system into a modern employment and activation support service.

The scale of the change will also require a greater engagement by the private, community, voluntary and not-for-profit sectors in the delivery of employment services.

Today’s updated ‘Pathways to Work’ strategy turns our attention to long term unemployment in particular.

There is no magic bullet to the solving the problem of long term unemployment.

But I and my Government have declared one ultimate principle that guides all our work in this area: that work must always pay.

This isn’t always the case in Ireland with our welfare and other support systems making it unaffordable for some jobseekers, particularly those with families and with a housing need, to take up work.

Gainful employment, not long-term welfare dependency, is the only sustainable route out of poverty.

To remedy one clear example of a disincentive to work the Government today approved at Cabinet the latest design of a new Housing Assistance Payment to replace rent supplement for the long-term unemployed.

Rent supplement is only available to people who are unemployed as a housing support. Initially designed as a short term safety net for people it has now ballooned out to support 84,000 households in the State, 53,000 of which have been unemployed and in receipt of this payment for 18 months or more.

The problem with rent supplement is that if you start a job you lose the support. The very nature of the support acts as a disincentive to work.

The new Housing Assistance Payment will be based on a household’s means rather than their employment status and will support the transition from unemployment into work.

Our welfare and other support systems have other anomalies such as this. This is why the Government established an expert group on tax and social welfare to examine the interaction of both systems and to make recommendations to ensure that work always pays.

We have over one million working age adults on some category of welfare support payment. For a country of our size we have to be asking ourselves are we doing everything possible to get people back into jobs and employment.

The 50 point action plan being launched here today represents a giant leap in the State’s fight against long term unemployment.

It will bring a new level of coordination and focus to State services to provide for the needs and long term benefit of jobseekers.

As a Government we will continue to do everything in our power to help create more jobs, to break down the barriers to employment and to get Ireland working again.

Tomorrow we’ll be outlining our latest progress in implementing the Action Plan for Jobs and will be detailing further outcomes from today’s Cabinet meeting.