Solas staff will relocate to revamped welfare offices
The infamous old dole office grilled hatch is poised to become a thing of the past, courtesy of an ambitious plan by Social Protection Minister Joan Burton to totally revamp the look and role of the nation's welfare offices.
The proposed major overhaul of the State's social welfare offices, which will begin in May of this year, will also see staff from the former quango Fas swop their palatial current buildings for the somewhat more frugal comforts of the local dole offices.
Last year Pathways to Work, a major policy document by Social Protection Minister Joan Burton, outlined the Government's intention, in an era of mass unemployment, to completely transform the function of the dole office.
Up to now social welfare offices have merely processed benefit payments for clients, but in the near future more than 700 Fas (now called Solas) officers will shortly be relocated to the State's dole offices.
This will allow those receiving unemployment benefits to collect their payments and simultaneously check out opportunities for retraining and jobs.
The plans -- which are modelled on how welfare offices such as the Pole Emploi in France, the UK Jobcentre Plus offices and the Centre-link employment offices in Australia operate -- will see the current 'Victorian' layout of the dole offices being transformed to create spaces "fit for one-to-one counselling and job coaching".
The department is also planning to extend public opening hours, to end the spectacle of unemployed people having to queue outside welfare offices.
In spite of the much anticipated changes, sources noted that, even when renovated, the local dole office may come as a shock to those in Fas who are "believed to be used to far plusher conditions".
The revamp will begin in May in four pilot areas -- in the King's Inns, Parnell Street, Arklow, Sligo, and Tallaght -- with a further 10 offices being opened over the rest of the country this year.
It is expected that the changes will play a key role in implementing the minister's intention to secure better "profiling'' of those entering the live register and a system of "far more regular engagement'' with them.
Under the new Pathways to Work policy document, those who are unemployed for a prolonged period of time will be regularly referred to "education and/or training and placement/work experience opportunities at appropriate intervals'', while there will also be regular "implementation of sanctions against those who refuse to engage with the activation process''.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, one departmental spokesperson noted that the objective was to create a situation where the "first day you collect a payment is also your first step back to work''.
The objective of the changes, the spokesperson said, was to ensure that the nation's social welfare offices should "change and look and feel better'' than the current Victorian institutions.
But the new offices were also part of the plan to create a "new welfare culture of rights and responsibilities where you have the right to be paid, but you must also have a responsibility to either seek retraining or to return to the workforce as swiftly as possible'', added the spokesperson.