Jobpath is described by government as an approach to “employment activation” which caters mainly for people who are long-term unemployed (12 months or more) to assist them to secure and sustain full-time paid employment.
Depending on where you live in the country it is delivered by one of two private companies – Seetec Limited and Turas Nua Limited.
And these companies are doing exceptionally well, financially speaking.
Indeed, information just provided to me through a series of Parliamentary Questions reveals just how well.
What I can now say for certain is that the total amount paid to Turas Nua and Seetec for the operation of the JobPath scheme for the period 2015 to date is just over a quarter billion euros or €247.9 million.
The break down for each year is as follows: 2015 – €1.2m; 2016 – €25.2m; 2017 – €57.4m; 2018 – €71.7m; 2019 – €58.6m and 2020 – €33.8m (to date).
This is a staggering sum of money especially when one considers that Turas Nua in particular has been the subject of continuing controversyand harsh criticism with respect to how it operates.
Indeed, one report from Waterford IT described how clients of the Turas Nua service experienced a very distinct intensification of pressureupon them as they were effectively coerced into a bureaucratic system which could be “unsympathetic and given to autocratic direction and demands.”
Clients also spoke about how they felt “actively and capriciously patronised, cajoled, threatened, manipulated and bullied” with many also identifying this service as the state, acting through a private company, to deliberately lower their expectations of work, firstly in terms of their reservation wage but also interfering in their family and caring responsibilities.
All of this stands in sharp contrast to the evidence provided by Mr. John McKeon, Secretary General of the Department of Social Protection, when he spoke recently before the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee.
There, Mr McKeon challenged the negative perceptions surrounding the Jobpath programme. He insisted that the people his Department had surveyed had described the service in “glowing terms.”
I have to say, that my experience as an active on the ground TD is that this is simply light years away from what I have been told by often times distraught and distressed constituents forced to engage either with Turas Nua or Seetec.
I have dealt with qualified teachers, being continually pressurised by the companies to take up work that is manifestly unsuitable to their skill levels. I know mothers in part time, well loved jobs that have been told they must leave these positions or face financial penalties.
This is something my Rural Independent Group colleague Mattie McGrath has previously highlighted. In fact, last year Mattie asked former Minister Regina Doherty why the number of social welfare recipients who have had their payments cut or reduced on foot of recommendations by Turas Nua had exceeded 10.5 thousand.
There is also the issue of repeat referrals for people who already engaged with the service. This repeatedly comes up at constituency level as one of the most depressing and irritating aspects of people’s engagement with both Turas Nua and Seetec.
These companies let us remember are paid an average cost per client of €873 with an additional €331 each time a person is subsequently referred (despite the fact that the companies already have the data they will need about the person from the initial referral). In this scenario it is impossible for the companies to lose out.
What I would like people to know however is that although it remains the case that engagement with these private companies is mandatory, the current Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphries recently made it clear that she has instructed her officials that no person should be referred to JobPath on more than two occasions.
The Minister also informed the Dáil on that occasion that “practical steps are under way in my Department at present to implement this instruction.”
From my experience with people who have engaged with the service this cannot happen fast enough. It might also help reduce the exorbitant fees that are being shelled out to these companies.