Ministers Humphreys and O’Brien announce major reforms to Community Employment (CE) and Rural Social Scheme (RSS)
· Participants over 60 can now remain on CE & RSS until retirement
· New flexibility to allow CE Schemes retain current Participants until replacements are found
· Referrals to CE & RSS to be significantly ramped up in 2022
· Changes will reduce vacancies & protect vital local services in communities
The Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphreys TD, and Minister of State, Joe O’Brien TD, have today announced major reforms to Community Employment (CE) and the Rural Social Scheme (RSS).
The purpose of CE is two-fold; to support long-term unemployed people to gain work experience and training to assist them in finding employment opportunities in the open labour market whilst also providing vital services in local communities.
Some 850 CE schemes deliver a wide range of key community services, particularly in disadvantaged and rural areas. There are over 19,000 people availing of CE, with a budget of €340 million this year.
The Rural Social Scheme (RSS) is an income support scheme that provides part-time employment opportunities for underemployed farmers who receive specific social welfare payments. There are almost 3,000 people availing of RSS at present, with a budget of €52 million for 2021.
The changes which were approved by Government include:
Age rules: The age from which participants can remain on CE until reaching pension age is now lowered to 60 years, (down from 62 years). This rule will also now apply in respect of people aged 60 and over on the Rural Social Scheme.
Vacancies: A CE participant whose term has expired will be allowed remain on their scheme until a replacement participant is found. This will reduce the impact of vacancies on the scheme and ensure vital community services are maintained.
Referrals: Improvements are also being introduced to increase and strengthen the process of referring unemployed candidates to CE schemes. In future, a minimum of 40% of unemployed people referred to schemes by the Department’s Intreo offices will be offered an opportunity to take up places on schemes. Local Intreo Offices will work closely with local schemes in implementing this new rule to ensure people are referred to placements which are suitable to their skill-set.
Baseline Year: The so-called baseline year will be updated from 2007 to 2014 and will continue to be updated on a yearly basis to remain at 7 years behind the current calendar year. This means that time spent on CE before the baseline year will not count towards the maximum time a participant can spend on CE. This will give CE participants who remain unemployed further opportunities to participate on CE and enable them to continue to contribute to providing essential local services in their community.
Making the announcement today, Minister Humphreys said:
“As Minister for both Social Protection and Rural and Community Development, I absolutely recognise the vital role that our CE and Rural Social Scheme workers play in local communities right across the country.
“CE and RSS support a range of vital local services such as childcare, meals on wheels, the maintenance and upkeep of local amenities and other vital work in our communities.
“As with all other sectors of society, COVID and public health restrictions have placed additional challenges on community employment schemes.
“I am aware that some local schemes have been experiencing difficulties in filling vacancies and this in turn has a knock on effect on the delivery of important local services.
“The changes that I am announcing today provide additional flexibility to local schemes and will improve the experience of thousands of CE and RSS participants, both now and into the future.
“I have long been of the view that programmes like CE cannot be viewed solely as a job activation measure, there are also huge societal benefits from the good work carried out in local communities by these schemes. I am pleased to have secured Government approval for these changes which I know will be warmly welcome by CE and RSS Schemes across the country.”
Minister O’Brien commented:
“Throughout the pandemic, the Department of Social Protection continued to support CE and other employment support schemes, maintaining placements and supporting valuable services provided by these schemes. This included the extension of participant contracts on a number of occasions – the latest up to February 2022.
“These improvements demonstrate Government’s commitment to the ongoing support of CE and RSS to the valuable services that they deliver for communities as well as the continued valuable work experience and training opportunities they provide to the long term unemployed.
“Under the revised scheme we will promote more referrals to CE schemes from people most distant from the labour market including persons with disabilities, members of the traveller and Roma communities, ex-offenders and migrant groups, who meet the eligibility criteria. New schemes targeting these specific groups will also be developed. CE sponsoring authorities will be encouraged and supported to accept referrals from particularly marginalised groups ensuring that everyone eligible gets a chance to avail of the opportunities CE provides.”
Generally, participants have the opportunity to continue to avail of a CE scheme for one to three consecutive years, up to a maximum of six years in total. Participants over age 62 can currently remain on CE until they reach retirement age, subject to certain conditions. Since 2017, the maximum time allowed on RSS is six years for new entrants.
The new improvements will extend the time some participants are allowed to continue to avail of CE – mainly categories of participants who tend to find it most difficult to secure employment once their time on their scheme ends. These improvements will also further support schemes delivering vital services to local communities.
Interdepartmental Working Group
Ministers Humphreys and O’Brien have also published the Interdepartmental Working Group Report which looked at the most appropriate organisational arrangements to manage CE social inclusion schemes. The recommendations in this report will now be reviewed in light of the changed circumstances arising from the pandemic. The report is available at: www.Gov.ie/dsp
Expanding Contracted Public Employment Services
Furthermore, following agreement by Government, the Department of Social Protection has now published Requests for Tenders for the expansion of employment services across the entire State. The Intreo Local Area Employment Service RFT for Phase 2 has been published. This will extend the service across the remaining 19 counties (7 counties were procured under Phase 1 earlier this year).
In addition, the new Intreo National Employment Service RFT will be published in early January. These RFTs will ensure the Department’s contracted employment services for jobseekers are placed on a sound legal footing and ensure there is sufficient capacity across the State to respond to the needs of those seeking employment.
To ensure continuity of service provision through the continued referral of jobseekers to the Department’s existing service partners, and while these procurement processes are underway, the Department is extending its contracts with Local Employment Services, JobPath and Job Clubs (in the Phase 2 areas) until the end of June 2022. The new services the Department is procuring are due to commence from July 2022.