The Department of Social Protection has confirmed that, as of May 2, four people had been disqualified from receiving their jobseeker’s allowance for up to nine weeks because they failed to engage with the scheme.
Under the terms of the Gateway initiative, dole claimants who have been on the Live Register for more than two years are paid an extra €20 per week on top of their jobseeker’s allowance to work for local authorities.
An average of 19.5 hours per week is on offer in areas including village enhancement schemes; landscaping; tourism ambassadors; animal control; and libraries.
Each placement lasts for 22 months.
The Government has said the initiative “aims to improve the employability and maintain the work-readiness of those who have been out of work for 24 months or more”. Participants are selected by a random process conducted by the department from those who have been in receipt of a jobseeker’s allowance payments for that period. It is then up to city and county councils to oversee the work done.
The department did warn previously that failure by a dole claimant to take up a work opportunity under Gateway could lead to a loss or reduction of social welfare benefits. It said it would first reduce the person’s benefits for failure to engage and, if refusal continued, would stop payments.
The scheme has been very slow to take off. Almost 18 months after the Government announced it in a budget speech, just 177 of the 3,000 places available have been filled.
That is despite the fact that to date, more than 3,500 jobseekers have been invited to participate.
Of those, 32 to date have had their jobseeker’s allowance claim closed on grounds of “non-entitlement”, according to the department.
It said that is due to a combination of jobseekers voluntarily closing their claim and of the Department of Social Protection finding others ineligible.
“Customers’ entitlements change as their circumstances change,” it said. “When a claim closes as the customer is no longer entitled to the payment, this does not mean that their original claim was incorrect. Where the department has evidence of fraud, these cases are followed up.”
Fianna Fáil has described Gateway as a “two-year community service sentence” with people having to work almost for free or be forced off the dole, while trade unions have claimed compulsory job placement programmes displace work paid at market wages. They say that if there is work to be done in both the private and public sectors, then employers should respond by employing labour.