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Targeted actions required to reduce number of 'low work intensity' households

The percentage of people in Ireland living in households where no-one is employed, or where there is only marginal attachment to the labour force, is higher than in most of our European peers. But until now, little research has been carried out on why this is the case and what are the barriers to employment faced by people in these ‘low work intensity’ households.

The characteristics of low work intensity households include:

  • higher levels of unemployment;
  • lower education levels;
  • higher rates of disability;
  • households more likely to contain children;
  • households more likely to be headed by a lone parent;
  • households more likely to be in the 'manual social class'; and
  • more likely to be in rented social housing.

A report published last week by the National Economic and Social Council (NESC), entitled Moving from Welfare to Work, found that there is a diversity of low work intensity households: unemployed people, lone parents, people with an illness or disability and ethnic minorities.

They also avail of a range of income support payment schemes. 

Most had labour market experience and low levels of education. The report found that the main reasons why people were not working at the time of the interviews were because:

  • they had lost their job, often due to the economic crash;
  • they had left work to care for children;
  • they or a family member developed an illness or disability;
  • being a Traveller or African migrant, they found it difficult to get work.

The NESC concluded that Ireland’s social welfare and employment support system, including Intreo, the Local Employment Service and JobPath, does a reasonably good job supporting people into employment, but “there is a need to have a greater focus on the household”. This means encouraging and supporting into jobs partners of people who are unemployed, lone parents, people with a disability and their carers who wish to enter employment.  

The NESC have pointed to the need for: 

  • engagement with people who are not in paid work and are not on the Live Register;
  • adequate time for case officers to engage with clients;
  • supports that meet the needs of those most distant from the labour market;
  • more affordable childcare, particularly after-school care; 
  • more public housing, and additional affordable private housing; 
  • improved career guidance; 
  • stronger links between training agencies and the labour market;
  • measures that provide more certainty for people with children who are moving from welfare into employment; 
  • greater engagement with employers; and
  • actions to reduce uncertain hours of work.

The report found there can be a lack of trust between service users and Intreo, and at times, people feel they have no choice in relation to the activation/training options offered. Some also felt there was not enough places on sought-after courses with good labour market potential. In addition, service users reported that it can be difficult to get information on the options open to them. 

There are significant costs to the State, in the form of income transfers, in supporting households with low work intensity. Such households unsurprisingly experience much higher poverty rates, and this has a detrimental long-term effect on children in these households.

The report examined the experiences of low work intensity households and the services they interact with, through 92 interviews with households, service provider organisations, employers, senior officials in government departments and agencies, and national stakeholder organisations. The research was carried out in a disadvantaged suburb in Dublin in 2016-2017. 

Additional Recommendations from the Report

1.      There is a need to develop a stronger focus on the household, by continuing work to expand activation supports to adult dependents, people with a disability, and carers who wish to enter employment.

2.      Coordination needs to improve, and this requires stronger links between the employment support services and employers, and between the wide range of services to support jobless households. Resources for co-ordination need to be provided; and

3.      The intensity of support available to ensure effective outcomes should increase, particularly for those most distant from the labour market, such as

  • lone parents;
  • people with illness/disability;
  • those with literacy difficulties;
  • those with poor English;
  • those with no work experience or contacts;
  • those with a history of addiction or time in prison.

The study’s findings provide more specific guidance on key issues arising from the research, which have implications for a range of government departments and agencies.

For employment support services it points to the need for:

  • Tailored supports for those most distant from the labour market;
  • Adequate time for case officers to engage with clients, and pairing of the most disadvantaged clients with the most experienced and qualified case officers; and
  • Ensuring that those who have completed employment support schemes, such as CE, are linked effectively to employment; along with recognition that this also supports social inclusion and community services.

For particular services it points to the need for: 

  • More affordable childcare, particularly after-school care;
  • More public housing, and additional affordable private sector housing;
  • Greater promotion of the fact that those leaving welfare to take up employment can keep their medical card for three years;
  • Considering the possibility that those with an on-going illness could retain their medical card for the duration of their illness; and
  • Greater support for those on low incomes to enable access to transport and IT that facilitates moves into training and employment. 

For further education and training it points to the need for:

  • Financial support to cover the full costs of those in jobless households attending education and training, including childcare and transport;
  • Improving career guidance provision and ensuring it is consistently available;
  • Upskilling the low skilled in employment, making greater use of the  National Training Fund and Skillsnet;
  • Stronger links between training and the labour market, by linking training resources to skills needs, and involving employers more in curriculum development, work placement and recruitment; 
  • Reducing early school leaving further by providing more alternatives to schoolbased education;
  • Supporting disadvantaged groups with higher education qualifications to access appropriate employment; and
  • Further research on why people who undertake multiple training courses do not progress to employment.

For supports to help people move from welfare to work it points to the need for:  

  • Measures that provide more certainty for people with children, and/or in precarious employment, to reduce the risk of moving into paid work;
  • Better tapering of payment withdrawals for people with children, to incentivise opportunities to take a job;  
  • More timely assessment and payment of income supports and secondary benefits; and
  • Awarding the Working Family Payment automatically to eligible households moving from welfare to work.

In relation to employers it points to the need for:

  • Employment support and training services that engage more comprehensively and consistently with employers;
  • Employers to be encouraged to engage more with applicants with atypical CVs, e.g. through recognising the value of volunteering; and
  • Actions to be continued that address negative issues arising from precarious working practices. 

For institutions and service provision it points to the need for:

  • Greater trust between service users and service providers to ensure effective engagement;
  • Additional flexibility to allow local service delivery to be better tailored to meet people’s needs;
  • More funding to address the needs of disadvantaged groups;
  • Poor neighbourhoods to have adequate resources to self-finance community services; and
  • Evaluation to continue to be built in to all programmes, and data to be collected that adequately captures service outcomes, including ‘distance travelled’, as well as acting on the evidence gathered from data and evaluations.