Good afternoon everyone,
I am delighted to be here today to launch the next phase of the Government’s ‘Pathways to Work’ labour market activation strategy.
This is an essential part of our long term economic plan to reach full employment and to keep the recovery going.
The overhaul of our welfare system that we undertook, spearheaded by the Tánaiste and her Department, were absolutely necessary considering the massive unemployment challenge we inherited from the previous Fianna Fáil Government.
What was worse than the 15% unemployment was the fact that many people... and whole families... were abandoned on the dole queues by a passive welfare system.
Fianna Fáil’s disastrous ‘hands off’ approach to social welfare policy... that avoided taking any decisions or implementing any difficult reforms... led directly to families being trapped in cycles of joblessness, poverty and welfare dependency.
Instead of investing in job support services and helping to get the long term unemployed back into work Fianna Fáil just hiked welfare payments without reform which ensured that even during the boom years Ireland suffered from one of the highest rates of jobless households in Europe.
It is clear from Fianna Fáil’s latest statements on the matter that they have learned nothing from their time in opposition, and that they are still the same old policy light Fianna Fáil.
My promise to everyone is that we are never going back to that style of Government.
During our first term in Government we have started to transform our passive welfare system into an active employment service that works with people to get them into jobs.
I want to see people independent in work, not dependent on welfare.
We believe that a job is the best route out of poverty, that work should pay, and that people shouldn’t be abandoned on the dole queues.
This Government of Fine Gael and Labour will break the endless cycle of poverty by getting people off welfare and into jobs.
The first Pathways to Work strategy was successful in reducing by almost 40% the numbers of people unemployed since 2012.
The establishment of Intreo Offices, and new activation programmes and supports such as JobBridge, JobsPlus, Springboard courses, Momentum courses, the new Housing Assistance Payment, the Youth Guarantee, are engaging with unemployed people every day to help them back into work.
These developments have also contributed to decreases in Long-Term Unemployment which decreased from 9.5% to 5%, and Youth Unemployment which decreased from 33% to 19.2%.
While we have made progress, this is still too high. We are determined that nobody will be left behind by our economic recovery.
For this reason the next Government needs to be more radical to end the plight of jobless households.
In this new Strategy, which covers the next five years, we are setting a new target to move another 50,000 Long-Term Unemployed people into jobs.
Furthermore, this year, 60,000 Long-Term Unemployed people will be referred to our contracted employment service which will offer essential group and one-on-one support services.
As the economy recovers we will be shifting resources to encourage others back to the labour market and into jobs.
Expanding activation as a tool of social inclusion will be an important element of this strategy which sets a target for boosting the employment rate for people with disabilities so that those who wish to do so can participate more fully in society.
This strategy will also work in conjunction with the ongoing reforms in the skills and further education sector that are being advanced by Minister Damien English and Minister O’Sullivan.
While the past five years has seen a lot of progress in activation policy, I believe that the next five will see an equal transformation in skills training, apprenticeships and traineeships.
Building on the recent reforms with the development of SOLAS, local education and training boards, and the Apprenticeship Council, we will open up new opportunities for all our people to pursue rewarding careers through on-the-job training.
Working with the new Apprenticeship Council and with industry we have recently approved 25 new modern apprenticeships courses in areas as diverse as financial services, information technology, manufacturing and engineering.
In the years ahead we will build on this progress by introducing new apprenticeships in modern professions and by creating new career traineeships that have strong links to local enterprise needs.
As with the previous version, this Strategy contains ambitious and significant targets across the range of activation and support measures.
Next Monday we will also be publishing the Action Plan for Jobs for 2016.
Together ‘Pathways to Work’ and the ‘Action Plan’ will keep the recovery going, deliver full employment and rebuild a sustainable economy.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the members of the Labour Market Council, who give so freely of their time to work with the Government on this important work; your contributions bring depth and perspective and are very much valued, and are a hugely important element of our approach to labour market activation and supports; thank you.
Together it is the ambition of this Government to keep the recovery going, to make sure that nobody is left behind in that recovery, and that job creation and getting people into those jobs remains the top priority for us all.