Making work schemes work

Sir, – I was concerned to read in the coverage of the Dublin Economics Workshop (“€800m a year ‘misspent’ on work schemes” Business…

Sir, – I was concerned to read in the coverage of the Dublin Economics Workshop (“€800m a year ‘misspent’ on work schemes” Business, February 2nd) comments from Prof Philip O’Connell, in which he referred to Community Employment (CE) Schemes as having “no impact on getting people back to work. That is the be-all and end-all of it”.

He is further reported as saying, “International evidence points to training which is focused on what employers need rather than on what those out of work may request.” While his call for rigorous evaluation of education and training programmes is to be welcomed, I would take issue with his assessment of CE Schemes.

In our experience running the Trinity Horizon Programme, designed to facilitate the re-entry to employment of women recovering from depression, Community Employment Schemes were often an ideal employment solution for this group. They provided interesting, flexible jobs on a part-time basis with on-the-job training. Our research in the National Flexi-work Partnership (with Ibec, Ictu and other organisations, under the ESF EQUAL Initiative) also demonstrated that the kind of work provided by Community Employment Schemes optimally met the work-life balance needs of groups such as working parents, carers and older people, as well as those with mental health problems, while also facilitating social inclusion in the workplace.

At the same time, these schemes provided badly needed workers for valuable, under-resourced community programmes such as Age Action Ireland and Aware. While non-Exchequer funded jobs may be a preferable solution from an economic point of view, the question should be asked whether paying the dole to someone is a better solution than paying for a CE Scheme.

Moreover, the social benefit of CE Schemes is multi-faceted and not something to be undervalued. I hope the Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, will look to these programmes as potential models to be expanded in the new programme to be developed for unemployed youth. – Yours, etc,


School of Social Work & Social Policy,

Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.