Publication - Disability Sectoral Plan July 2006 - 5. Activation and Employment

Print page

5. Activation & Employment


5.1. Introduction

While the Department of Social and Family Affairs has a primary role in ensuring that social security programmes are developed in ways that are responsive to the income needs of all people, it also has a role to provide opportunities to encourage and assist people to become less dependent on the welfare system.

The Department will during the period of this Plan (2006/2009) continue to develop the range of employment and other supports available to persons with disabilities, as well as, addressing potential financial barriers which may prohibit labour market or other activity. Additionally, the Department will actively engage and work closely with the Department of Health & Children and Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and the relevant agencies under their remit, on these issues, as well as training, and employment support for people with disabilities.

The Department during the period 2007 to 2013 is committed to the development of and the implementation of a systematic programme of engagement for all persons of working age including with people with disabilities. This programme represents an important structural reform of the income support system and the activation of persons receiving these supports.

5.2. Existing Employment Activation Supports Process

The Department has a range of existing activation measures for people with disabilities that complement its payment functions. These initiatives include such employment support measures such as:

  • Back to Work Allowance which can assist transition to work for people in receipt of disability related payments
  • The Back To Education Allowance which allows for second chance educational opportunities and enhanced employability.
  • Family Income Supplement.
  • Special projects are supported by Facilitators in the Department's Social and Family Support Service (SFSS) through its facilitator network
  • Earnings disregards for Disability Allowance and Blind Pension schemes which exempt a proportion of earnings from employment.
  • Exemptions from the general "no work" conditions in the case of certain rehabilitation employments for Disability Benefit and Invalidity Pension.
  • Technical assistance and training grants

The SFSS assists people who are most marginalised and most distant from the labour market, by focusing on their abilities and potential. The service supports a wide range of personal development and basic skills training initiatives at local level in co-operation with other statutory and non-statutory agencies, which are availed of by lone parents, people with disabilities, unemployed people and others. In some cases participants progress to employment, training or further education, while in others the outcome is increased self-esteem and increased capacity and willingness to participate in further self-development opportunities. Additionally the SFSS has as a key remit the provision of quality information and referral of customers to other agencies or service providers.

5.3. Midlands Pilot Project

This Project was initiated in January 2005 and designed as a multi agency response to increasing numbers applying for Disability Allowance with particular reference to those between the age of 16 and 25 years. The agencies involved in the project were the Department of Social and Family Affairs, FÁS and the Health Service Executive. Preliminary research into the employment and training support needs of those on a Disability Allowance payment was undertaken in counties Longford, Laois, Offaly and Westmeath and has involved a series of one-to-one consultations with recipients of the allowance in the age cohort 16 to 25 years.

The objectives of the project included:

  1. To Provide an integrated point of contact for persons with disabilities and a multi agency examination of their training and employment support potential.
  2. Facilitate participation in training and employment supports by addressing the needs of groups with high risks of poverty (i.e. people with disabilities).
  3. Reduce social welfare dependency and create economic independence for people with disabilities.
  4. Examine the nature and extent of existing supports used by various providers to assist people with disabilities to progress to employment or other opportunities.
  5. Analyse and benchmark the outcomes of the pilot against previous approaches.

The findings and an evaluation of the project being completed will critically inform any further development by the Department with regard to activation for people with disabilities.

5.4. Implementation of the Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) Expenditure Review

The BTEA is a second chance education scheme administered by this Department designed to assist unemployed people, lone parents and other disadvantaged groups who are being held back in their search for employment by a lack of qualifications. The primary objective of the scheme is to remove the barriers to participation in second and third level education faced by people in receipt of unemployment assistance / benefit and other payments, thereby providing an incentive to them to improve their employment prospects.

There are two strands to the scheme, one at second level and one at third level. The Third Level Allowance was established as a separate stand-alone scheme with effect from September 1996. The Second Level Allowance Scheme was established on a similar basis in April 1997. Both schemes were merged into a unified BTEA Scheme in January 1998.

A Review of the BTEA scheme was laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and published in September 2005. The review has now moved to the implementation phase.

An inter departmental steering committee of the Department of Social and Family Affairs, Department of Education and Science, Department of Finance and FÁS has been set up to progress the implementation of the review.

Terms of reference for the committee are as follows:

  • Implement the recommendations of the BTEA Expenditure Review contained in the September 2005 report.
  • Explore the policy recommendations in the BTEA Expenditure Review; explore the administrative and operational requirements and I.T. supports, set out definitive eligibility criteria in a customer centric manner.
  • Detail the administrative / operational requirements in order that a successful implementation of the recommendations contained in the review are achieved.
  • Detail and have put in place the necessary IT supports/systems to ensure the implementation of the recommendations.
  • Devise an internal and external information strategy to support implementation of the BTEA Expenditure Review providing clarity for implementers and customers of the BTEA Scheme.
  • Arrange for working groups, as appropriate, to be put in place to progress the recommendations contained in the BTEA Expenditure Review.

The recommendations of the Working Group will shape the future of second chance education and income support for the target group of welfare dependent people. They will also structure the delivery of these services in a more cohesive way, building on and developing the 'joined-up' Government strategy, providing enhanced customer service and more effective outcomes. This approach to dealing with the needs of the target group will help ensure that those who are most in need of this assistance are directed to it through the NEAP referral system with the appropriate educational supports provided by the Department of Education & Science and a standard rate of income support being provided by DSFA (see table 5.4).

Table 5.4.



Performance Indicator
Outcome Measure

Facilitate participation in education by social welfare customers of working age and specifically people with disabilities who are most distant from the labour market, in order to enhance their employability and assist them in accessing sustainable employment

Ensure that there is clear knowledge and understanding of the nature, extent and causes of poverty and social exclusion and the strategies to address it


Establish a Working Group comprising representatives from the relevant agencies to oversee the integration of VTOS income support provision back into DSFA income support.

Revise scheme to facilitate participation in education by social welfare customers of working age that are most distant from the labour market.

Implement the recommendation that the Department of Education & Science (and its Agencies) should provide all educational supports while the Department of Social & Family Affairs should provide income at the rate of the primary payment,

The NEAP process should be enhanced, where an education option is considered to be most appropriate in the context of second chance or further education, referral to the BTEA should be made.

Implement recommendation that the VEC become the main access route for the target group in applying for second chance education in the further education sector

Group established September 2005. Integration of VTOS recommendation to be completed by 2008.

Complete revision and introduce scheme extension by September 2006

Implementation completed by September 2008 for second level option and September 2009 for third level option. Department Social & Family Affairs & Department Education and Science.

First phase completed by September 2006. Further phases for completion 2007 and 2008.

Complete implementation by September 2008. DFSA & DES

5.5. Development of Employment & Activation support.

Having regard to the medium term development of employment and activation supports for persons with disabilities (i.e. 2006/2009) a series of initiatives are planned. These can be regarded as an intermediate position before the introduction of the significant Social & Economic Participation Programme as outlined in section 5.6.

Additionally the Department is committed to working in close co-operation with the Department of Health and Children and Enterprise, Trade and Employment to progress this particular agenda. Details of this cross Departmental co-operation are detailed more comprehensively in section 6 of the plan. The Department's specific proposals are scheduled in table 5.5.

Table 5.5



Performance Indicator
Outcome Measure

Ensure that income supports and associated benefits do not create financial barriers to people with disabilities participating in the labour force or availing of training or educational opportunities

Engage meaningfully with persons of working age, particularly marginalised groups and provide services directly and in co-operation with other relevant agencies to encourage and support these people in taking up relevant work, training and education or development opportunities




Ensure that our schemes and services which support people with disabilities do so in a manner which facilitates their full participation in society and which meets the mainstreaming principle of the equality agenda.




Ensure that the rules for entitlement to Disability and Carers payments are appropriate to the circumstances of claimants, are easy to understand and are applied in a fair and consistent manner


Co-ordination of the removal of disincentives across schemes e.g. tailoring income limits for receipt of HSE secondary payments with Disability Allowance.

Implement revised Disability Allowance earnings disregard.

Increase carers benefit and employment retention period duration to 2 years.

Increase employment threshold for carers from 10 to 15 hours.

Revise and update Memorandum of Understanding and Framework for Cooperation between Social Welfare Services and FÁS

Administration of the employment and activation supports (i.e. BTWA, BTEA, income disregards and exemptions schemes)

Review findings and evaluation of the Midlands Employment and Participation pilot project.

Projects to increase labour market participation of certain DB customers consolidated and expanded.

Ensure that the policy relating to the automatic restoration of benefits and allowances for persons engaged in employment and activation is publicised and comprehended.

Review the contingency basis of disability schemes and put forward any proposals for change arising.

Develop proposals for simplification of aspects of the means test.

Ensure that means-testing rules are consistent with activation and support for work policies.

Undertake transfer of functions from HSE

Proposals made and discentive effects addressed 2006/2009. Analysis of trends in poverty, unemployment and inactivity traps.

Implement measure by June 2006. Monitor impact 2007and participation rates of person availing of revised disregard.

Implement measures by June 2006.


Implement measure by June 2006

Memorandum to be revised.

Completed by December 2006

Analysis of participation rates for persons with disabilities within these schemes during the period 2007/2009

Evaluation completed by September 2006

Completion of projects and evaluation of outcomes by end 2007

Publicity initiatives undertaken. Completed by 2007

Proposals brought forward 2006/2009.

Proposals brought forward in Social Welfare Acts 2006/2009.

Number of rules reviewed and revised. Social Welfare Acts 2006/2009.

Integration and simplification of payments and supports 2008/2009.

5.6. Development of a Social & Economic Participation Programme

DSFA recognises that many of its customers could participate more fully in society and some could become more self-sufficient if they were provided with supports that address the financial and non-financial barriers to participation that they face.

An increased focus on activation measures is consistent with thinking elsewhere, for example as set out in NESC Report 113, the Developmental Welfare State. There is growing appreciation of the merits of a life-cycle approach linked to activation measures e.g. treating all people of working age in a similar way, whether they present as unemployed, lone parents, people with a disability or in some other category. This puts less emphasis on contingencies and more on activation – facilitating progression regardless of the circumstances that led the person to require income maintenance.

Accordingly, the Department is committed to the implementation of a Social and Economic Participation Programme. The objective of the programme is to promote participation and social inclusion primarily through activation measures aimed at people of working age.

While the programme will be aimed at people of working age, the expected outcomes will not lie exclusively in labour market activity. Given the levels of social exclusion experienced by certain recipient cohorts, outcomes such as enhanced quality of life, educational advancement, increased social and foundation skills are equally important and may in certain instances provide a stepping stone to potential labour market engagement. The objective of the programme for people with disabilities is to promote participation and social inclusion, primarily through activation measures aimed at people of working age applying for or in receipt of both short term disability payments, such as Disability Benefit, and long term payments such as Disability Allowance and Invalidity Pension.

The proposed approach is necessarily complex and represents a major challenge for the Department. It will require substantial organisational changes and commitment of the necessary resources. Given the scale of change required particularly in DSFA but in other organisations also, it is envisaged that the programme would be implemented on a small, manageable scale at first so that the programme could be tested and developed as needed.

This system involves a more intensive engagement and case management of people with disabilities or illness payments. The primary focus is on the customer and at the first point of engagement with the Department of Social and Family Affairs (i.e. claim application). This customer centric approach provides a route for customers into the world of education, training or employment or other related activities.

The activation programme is a generic one that can be modified or applied to people of working age who are in receipt of income support and who have some capacity for further progression or activation ( see FIG 1). For people with disabilities the programme is not singularly predicated on labour market engagement but also recognises that other forms of activation such as further education, developing life skills are equally important social inclusion outcomes.

The primary objectives of the programme are to:

  1. Identify a clear framework whereby people of working age are not passively paid income support without some exploration of their employment or other potential. The model provides a bridging mechanism between the income support system, the labour market and alternative social inclusion systems. There is an absence of this bridging mechanism in the context of certain working age income support schemes;
  2. Provide a co-ordinated and integrated approach to the activation of people of working age rather than strictly through a categorisation of their income support contingency.
  3. Provide for a systematic identification of the employment, educational or life skills potential for income support recipients. This will be achieved through appropriate profiling and the consolidation of previous information on interventions, allied to capacity assessment. This process will identify recipients for whom activation can be meaningfully achieved.
  4. Establish clear boundaries between, as well as provide a more co-ordinated and systematic process of referral to, other statutory agencies and voluntary service providers, who have responsibility for and funding provision for the employment, training, and foundation skills services.
  5. Ensure that the appropriate supports to enable and sustain participation are provided and co-ordinated on a multi agency basis.
  6. Provide a consistent measurement of the outcomes for people who were activated or progressed, both in terms of labour market activity and also in respect of other social inclusion measures.
  7. Enable a more appropriate impact assessment on the effectiveness and efficiency of the existing programmes and policy instruments across a range of statutory provision.
5.6.1. Intervention

The programme proposes that systematic, early and active intervention should take place with all client groups of working age. Ideally this should be undertaken by this Department at claim application stage. Additionally the model also has capacity to embrace people already engaged in activation (e.g. BTWA, BTEA, Disability payment Exemptions and Income Disregards). This would contrast with the current practice where, with the exception of unemployment payments, the provision of income support has been passively made without recognition that many people availing of income support may have some capacity for further progression.

The timing of such interventions would be predicated on certain attributes and following the necessary profiling or segmentation of customers. The first part of the process would be to proactively advise the customer that activation opportunities exist and that a systematic process of engagement is available.

5.6.2 Segmentation

Following a claim application the segmentation of customers of working age would occur. Ultimately, this would require an initial level of customer profiling at claim application stage. Typically the profile would include age, employment history, and geographical location, previous intervention history, ect. It would also decide at what point interventions should occur.

In the case of Disability Schemes, the existing Medical Review and Assessment procedures would still be used primarily to establish an underlying entitlement to a disability income support. It would, however, also provide an assessment of occupational capacity or ability and activation potential.

It is recognised that many people with disabilities may not ever be in a position to engage in employment related activities because of the profundity of their disability. Accordingly, a more differentiated approach is required which enables activation to be directed at people with disabilities who are in a position to participate, or who expressly indicate that they would consider participating.

5.6.3. Intermediation

Following the assessment of the customer's employment or other activation potential at the previous "segmentation" stage, the "intermediation" stage would form the basis for further referral to the agency most appropriately placed to meet the needs of the customer involved. A number of configurations could occur:

  • Based on the profiling no activation potential is evident and payment of income support remains the primary focus
  • Direct referral to the relevant service provider, such as FÁS without interview
  • Referral to DSFA facilitator for interview on assessment of needs or activation options
  • Referral to FÁS or other agency for interview and further assessment of needs/options
  • Referral to specialist services where appropriate

Based on these referrals/ interviews, activation would occur where appropriate and with the needs of the customer being more appropriately and immediately addressed. Specifically, the role of the Department would be that of intermediary with the customer and the agencies or service providers involved in the process, largely through the DSFA Facilitation Service. The DSFA role would be to complement, not to supplant, services provided by other agencies.

5.6.4. Supports

A critical part of the process would be the identification of employment training and other supports to inform the customer how activation options can be sustained and supported. This would include guarantees around the restoration of benefits, if required.

Where activation occurs, this would be supplemented with the relevant support packages comprising of the relevant employment, training, occupational supports that exist or new ones introduced. Similarly information needs could be met as part of this process. These information and support needs can be met, depending of the nature of the activation, either centrally through back office support, or through a localised response.

5.6.5. Outcome Monitoring

The final element of the process is to establish the outcome for the individual while also considering the impact of
the activation mechanism undertaken. Over time, this will provide a relatively comprehensive profile of customers of working age who avail of income support. It will allow for an individual customer's activation history to be tracked across income support schemes, rather than on a scheme by scheme or contingency basis. This has implications in terms of better control and more systematic outcome measurement. In addition it will allow for the inclusion of more appropriate outcome measures rather than a strict concentration on labour market placement as the primary focus.

At a macro level, the Department would ultimately assume an important role in the measurement of labour market and social inclusion outcomes specifically in relation to its own customers. That role would be vital in terms of assessing the impact and efficacy of a variety of social inclusion and labour market interventions in reducing dependency on social welfare. The activation programme would provide a consistent measurement of the outcomes for people who were activated, both in terms of labour market activity but also in respect of other social inclusion measures. The programme would enable a more appropriate impact assessment on the effectiveness and efficiency of the existing programmes and policy instruments across a range of statutory provision in relation to DSFA customers.

FIG 1.

Customer Claim Application Process


Last modified:25/09/2008

 Application Forms


 Intreo/Local Office Locator

Search for your local office