Unemployed people claiming the dole could be made to work in the community for their benefits, it emerged today.
Eamon O Cuiv, Minister for Social Protection, revealed the new measures could be enforced within months.
He plans to develop two schemes to give more opportunities to people who are out of work and want to maintain their skills and improve job prospects.
“Changing the way we approach our existing resources can unlock the potential of new ways to create locally-based jobs,” said Mr O Cuiv.
“We must create a better future for people who find themselves without a job; to provide them with work activity in the short term, to up-skill them and give them opportunities to get back into the mainstream workforce as speedily as possible.
“Maintaining people’s employability through regular work activity will be important for getting people back into the competitive economy.”
It is understood that if claimants do not turn up for the hours they are expected to work, their benefits will be stopped.
The Government’s work opportunity schemes – which include the Community Services Programme and the Rural Social Scheme – are set to expand from early autumn when they are transferred from the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs to Mr O Cuiv’s office.
Between them, both work schemes already give work opportunities to 5,300 individuals countrywide.
Mr O Cuiv believes the move will make a difference to services nationwide.
“There are many needs in communities in terms of provision of after-school services, childcare, services for older people and environmental projects that we could continue to address through these schemes,” he added.
“There is also the semi-economic sector where we have heritage centres, tourist facilities and sports clubs that can generate some financial income, but that will always require some small state support from work schemes.”
The Rural Social Scheme gives additional work and income to low income farming and fishing families who provide essential community services and help development and to maintain rural walkways and tourism.
Meanwhile, funding supplied under the Community Services Programme gives employment opportunities to people with disabilities, the long-term unemployed, travellers and recovering drug users and ex-prisoners who get involved in activities for the elderly, for people with disabilities and recycling and environmental projects.