Call for intern scheme to include those with disabilities

Tue, Jul 26, 2011, 01:00

Excluding people on disability allowance from the JobBridge scheme is unfair, say campaigners

THE GOVERNMENT is unfairly excluding people with disabilities from its €20 million JobBridge internship scheme, disability campaigners have said.

The Irish Wheelchair Association and the Association for Higher Education Access and Disability (Ahead) said yesterday they were very disappointed that people on disability allowance were not eligible to go on the new internship scheme.

JobBridge is designed to help people who have been unemployed for at least three months to get back to work. Eligibility for the scheme is restricted to people on the Live Register and in receipt of a jobseeker’s payment or signing for credits for three months.

Launched by Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton last month, the scheme offers participants an allowance of €50 per week on top of their existing social welfare entitlements for the duration of a six to nine month internship. Some 5,000 internships will be made available under the scheme.

Ahead has written to Ms Burton to try to have the criteria for the internship scheme widened to include people on disability allowance.

“The new JobBridge scheme looks brilliant . . . but unfortunately this innovative scheme appears to be closed to unemployed people on disability allowance,” according to the letter, which is signed by Ann Heelan, executive director of Ahead.

“There seems to be an assumption underpinning the scheme that people on disability allowance are not fit to work 30 hours per week and could not be job seekers. Yet this assumption is simply not true,” she wrote.

Ms Heelan said people on disability allowance “could work, wanted to work and are frustrated with the jobs market and the lack of opportunities”.

She warned the Government that by excluding people with disabilities from the scheme “it is giving a negative message to employers that their equality obligations are dispensable”.

Kathleen McLoughlin, chief executive of the Irish Wheelchair Association, said the exclusion of people with disabilities was endemic in society.

She said she would be very disappointed if the Government were simply excluding people on disability allowance from JobBridge because they wanted for solely “political reasons” to take people off the Live Register.

People on disability allowance are not recorded on the Live Register.

In a statement, the Department of Social Protection said it confined the eligibility to those on the Live Register to prioritise scarce resources.

“The policy objective is to prioritise scarce resources for those on the Live Register, so as to increase their chances of leaving it and ensure a reduction in Exchequer costs over time,” it said.

By last Wednesday, some 1,130 of the 5,000 internships due to be provided under the JobBridge programme had been advertised. Some 110 interns had already been selected by firms and organisations.