The following letter was sent to the Minister of Social Protection, Leo Varadkar and his Minister of State, Finian Mc Grath as well as all the main opposition parties. It outlines our concerns about the future of CE and community provision of services
27th March 2017
I am writing to you on behalf of the Campaign For CE Reform Group. Our members operate Community Employment Schemes throughout the Dublin area.
Recent policy changes have led to a progressive deterioration in conditions for provision of Community Employment Schemes. It is now incumbent upon us to raise these issues with you on behalf of our communities. Successive governments have introduced a series of policy changes to Community Employment Schemes and these changes have had detrimental effects on our ability to recruit CE Participants. They have also made it more difficult to cost effectively run community services and provide Back to Work training.
The following questions have been submitted by members of the group as the most pressing for which they require clarification. We would appreciate the Minister’s response at his earliest convenience or a meeting to examine the issues further with the Department.
Can the Minister clarify if the Government’s intends to phase out provision of crèche and playschool service provision by CE schemes?
The recent change in criteria of all crèche and playschool staff – obliging them to hold at least a QQI level 5 in Childcare – has led to enormous pressure on CE operated crèches. The policy change diminished their capacity to continue offering their services. Although people without this qualification can still work in the room with children, they no longer count towards the adult to child ratio.
Historically, a large proportion of CE participants were trained to level 5 as they worked in these facilities, while also gaining invaluable real world experience. This experience and qualification can then facilitate progression to work in the field in the private sector. From a recruitment perspective, as we are sure the Minister is aware, it is difficult to find a potential CE participant already in possession of a level 5 childcare qualification. Therefore current CE childcare staff are unlikely to be replaced by future CE participants.
As you will no doubt be aware, CE crèches are vital in facilitating low income families’ participation in the labour market. The potential closure of such crèches would place increasing pressure on the State to provide adequate childcare.
Needless to say, we anticipate such a policy would cause deep upset to community groups, who otherwise cannot afford to hire staff and lead to disquiet in local communities reliant on the service to remain in work.
Will the Minister commit to providing additional resourcing for QQI Level 6 training for CE participants?
We welcome the Minister’s commitment to lower the qualifying age for CE participation. Many young people struggle from social deprivation and find it as difficult as older people to enter the labour force. This may be due to leaving school early or suffering a lack of confidence, coming from difficult backgrounds or indeed work experience, which is increasingly demanded by employers.
CE is a vital first step for the long term unemployed back toward the labour force and the services it provides knits communities together. These services often exist where no other offering is conceivable due to social deprivation. With their absence, communities would suffer. Our participants receive job practice and the opportunity to be awarded QQI accreditation.
We ask that the Minister and the Department consider increasing the individual training budget for participants undertaking or engaging in a QQI Level 6. Often, CE participants do not have the time on CE to complete a level 6 award, due to the constraints of their individual training budget. This means that participants may finish their time on CE without completing their QQI Level 6 award.
In an increasingly educated work-force, QQI Level 5 may be not sufficient to close the gap between their starting point and the labour market, for under qualified people.
Will the Minister and the Department consider increasing the additional supplement given to those on Community Employment Schemes?
For many potential participants, transport costs to their point of work negate the additional benefit of the supplement to their payments.
Can the Minister clarify if it is a stated policy objective to place welfare recipients in JobPath, in preference over Community Employment?
Can the Minister clarify exactly what criteria are required to move from JobPath to CE?
There has been some confusion and no little difficulty, caused by the implementation of the JobPath scheme. We are advised that the current instruction from DSP requires mandatory placement of long term unemployed individuals with two private companies. These individuals are then prevented from participating on Community Employment Schemes, should a suitable vacancy arise, while they are engaging with JobPath.
This barrier is having, and will continue to have, deleterious consequences for the community sector as a whole and especially for the individual participants. It has come to our attention that INTREO place greater emphasis on placing welfare recipients in the JobPath programme, often without mention of the potential opportunity in Community Employment.
We understand the Minister’s good intentions towards finding people gainful employment in the private sector. For many who are long-term unemployed, CE is well positioned to provide intensive support and training and bridge the distance separating them from the labour market. We are concerned that the training involved in JobPath appears non-specific, compared with the QQI courses CE could potentially provide.
We are concerned that suitable applicants have reported to our members their experiences of being strong-armed into participating in JobPath instead of their preferred CE course. They are then not allowed to leave the program and transfer to CE to take up an available position. This starves CE of suitable applicants, maintains a high vacancy rate and fails to best serve the interests of those who require training to return to work.
In an answer in a Dáil debate on related questions (Question No: 299 Ref No: 5475-17), you stated that “in a small number of exceptional cases, which are assessed on a case by case basis”, a person can leave JobPath for CE. We feel it is important to know what those cases are.
Can we ask the Minister, if it is the Department’s policy to replace LES mediators? If so, with whom?
We also understand that Local Employment Services (LES) have been placed on 6 month contracts and are concerned forthcoming changes to structure will leave us underprepared.
What policy changes is the Minister referring to in his stated desire to ‘recalibrate’ scheme like CE?
The Minister stated on the Fine Gael website, as one of his policy objectives for 2017 that he would “recalibrate labour activation schemes like CE and Tús to focus on those farthest from the labour market”.
What we request is assurances that welfare recipients will continue to be presented with the option of Community Employment in Intreo offices with fair emphasis on both paths. We would also request that a probationary period be applied to those people who have been transferred to the JobsPath, which allows them to transfer to Community Employment should they wish.
As we are sure the Minister is keenly aware, Community Employment provides communities across the State with a deep network of services. It has always acted where State provision has not been fully accessible to the community and is a partner of the state in looking after some of the most vulnerable communities in Ireland.
Many non-profit organisations and charities rely heavily on CE staff forming a virtuous cycle of community provision, individual retraining and upskilling, and placement. We fear that limiting potential recruits will cause untold damage to the system and will be very unpopular among local communities.
Our group would appreciate greatly an opportunity to meet you to further discuss these issues and work toward resolutions, which better serve our communities.