Minister worried by numbers on disability
On the two-tier payment, she said she agreed with the principle of a core universal payment but said it would be difficult coming up with the structure for a second-tier payment. That would involve some form of means testing.
She also said she was aware of the impact such cuts would have on families with average or decent incomes but with high levels of debt.
“I am concerned that there are a lot of parents in their 30s and 40s, with two or three children, who are heavily indebted.
“[It was fine] doing this reform at a period when the economy was not in difficulties. We have to be mindful that this age group is relying very strongly on universal payments.” If there are changes next year, she said, she would be “very anxious to maintain a high level of universal payment despite the need to find savings”.
Ms Burton also emphasised what she said were two sets of statistics uncovered in recent research, both of which she described as “outliers”.
The first was the high numbers of working-age adults who were getting some form of disability, illness or sickness payment. The other troubling statisic, said Ms Burton, was that over one in five households in the country, or 22 per cent, were now classed as having no adult in the family in the workforce. This, she said, was markedly higher than the EU average.
“Even in the boom years, between 2004 and 2007, the number of jobless households increased to double-digit figures, to 15 per cent. People will remember the labour shortage was not filled from people on the Live Register but from skilled immigrants coming in . . . The failure of Irish politics [at that time] was that the [government] did not go in to disadvantaged communities to help people on the long-term register,” she said.
Generally, she said the scale of unemployment remained the key challenge for her department and the Government.
She said the budget for employment supports had increased dramatically, up from €95 million per annum to just over €1.05 billion for 2013. That would help create an extra 2,500 places in Jobsbridge, an extra 2,500 places in community-based Tús programmes, 3,000 social employment places through county councils, and 2,000 further places in community employment schemes.
Many of these, she said, would be directed at longer-term unemployed.
The full development of “Pathways to Work”, she said, would be a significant advance. A full profile and background information for people on the Live Register is created, to allow better assessment for job and training matching. In addition, some 400,000 of the new personal services cards will be issued in 2013, as well as a big acceleration in the opening of “one-stop shops”, where all the services including payments are available in the one office.
“The key thing there is if we can create enough opportunites to activate people, and allow them return to education or training, we can make a serious impact on unemployement, especially long-term unemployment”.She said if the Government succeeded in getting people back to work it would reduce enormously the need for unpopular cuts.