Labour spokesperson on Social Protection, Willie Penrose, says that whoever is appointed Minister for Social Protection in the Cabinet reshuffle must ensure that Community Employment Schemes (CE ) are protected.
During questions to the outgoing Minister last week, Deputy Penrose asked the new Fine Gael leader, Leo Varadkar, to ensure that local schemes are allowed to recruit people, and that their costs are met.
Deputy Penrose said: “At a recent meeting of a Westmeath Community Employment sponsor network group, major concerns were raised by members about the Department of Social Protection’s proposed changes to Community Employment schemes.
“They believe the Department might not fully understand the important role Community Employment schemes play in towns and villages across the country.
“They say the proposed changes to the eligibility criteria and the qualifying length of time will severely limit the pool of people accessing Community Employment schemes and greatly impact the essential services they are providing in local communities.
“There is not enough support available for the main sponsors of Community Employment schemes. I have asked the Department to advise on how the position can be improved, or whether funding can be made available to the main sponsor who wishes to be trained in the development and running of these schemes.
“There are many changes taking place in Community Employment schemes, and the main sponsor must be up to date with all of the changes made by the Department.”
Deputy Penrose has also called for the approach to all CE schemes to be harmonised.
“There is not enough awareness of Community Employment among the unemployed on the live register,” he said. “We need a public awareness programme introduced on a pilot basis by the Department of Social Protection. The period of participation on childcare schemes is three years.
“Environmental scheme participants are initially allocated just one year. Why can it not be the same? Why can it not be three years for everything? Let us have a level playing park. If some schemes are for one year and others are for three, one will of course go on the three-year one.”