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Saturday 24 February 2018

Burton's slow progress on reform becomes prime target for troika

Joan Burton: her department has failed to achieve goals
Joan Burton: her department has failed to achieve goals

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

SOCIAL Protection Minister Joan Burton's slow progress on reforms to help get unemployed people back to work has become the top target for the troika.

A series of failures to meet targets on getting people off the dole is revealed in a confidential memo obtained by the Irish Independent.

The cabinet sub-committee memo shows a key goal of reducing the amount of time people spend on the dole is now abandoned – after embarrassingly increasing rather than reducing.

Dithering on decisions, missed deadlines and abandoned targets by the Coalition are contributing to the crisis of long-term joblessness.

The Government is coming under intense pressure from the troika to accelerate the promised reforms to assist the 400,000 unemployed.

Tensions are mounting within the Coalition over the failures to follow through on plans to not penalise people who get off the dole and take up a job.

Social welfare reform has replaced health spending as the number-one focus of troika officials during reviews of the bailout.

The frustration within the Government stems from the slow pace of reforms aimed at eliminating poverty traps, which are not actually about cutbacks in spending.

Instead, the Government's plan to tackle the dole queues is mired in failures:

* A target to reduce the average time on the live register from 21 months to less than 12 has been abandoned – after going in the opposite direction.

* A target to get 20,000 long-term unemployed into work last year was missed by almost 20pc – despite enough new jobs being created.

* A target for getting long-term unemployed people into work this year is already behind by 50pc.

* The deadline for the introduction of a new rental support for the unemployed and those on low incomes was missed still hasn't happened.

* Slow progress on the ending of double welfare payments.

* Slow timeframe for reforming the child benefit system.

* Slow decision on outsourcing employment services to help people find a job.

The latest review of the bailout by the European Commission points to a number of reforms where there is a lack of progress and warned of a danger of one-stop-shops for the unemployed not being opened on time.

The cabinet memo shows how the target on reducing the average time on the live register was abandoned after being missed.

"Pathways To Work published commitment will not be achieved given current projections. It is proposed to review this target," the memo says.

Since then, the target has been dropped completely –and replaced with other measures.

Ms Burton's department admits the target is gone.

"Because of the manner in which the department actively engages with jobseekers, this is now being replaced by two more specific targets which offer more precise assessments of the progress made in helping people return to work.

"The two specific targets in question are the persistence rate – the level of drift from short-term to long-term unemployment; and the exit rate – the rate at which people leave the live register.

"Both of these measures are better indicators of the impact of Pathways to Work." But government sources say there are worries at senior levels about the long-term unemployed being trapped on the dole queues and never working again – unless there are radical changes.

"There is real concern about the lack of social welfare reform. The economy may bounce back but are we going to get people off the dole?"

Irish Independent

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