New database will help improve policy analysis

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Tuesday, 3 November 2015: Commenting on findings by the ESRI on the Department of Social Protection's 'Back to Education Allowance' scheme, published today, the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, T.D. said: "The research conducted by the ESRI was commissioned by the Department of Social Protection in order to help it analyse policy outcomes. I am pleased to say that the results published today have already been considered by the Labour Market Council which has made six recommendations all of which have already, or are being, implemented by the Department."

The Back to Education Allowance is a second chance education support that allows people getting a welfare payment to continue to receive an income support if they return to either second level or third level education. This education support is in place since 1996.

This is the first study to be commissioned by the Department of Social Protection using a new dataset that was developed by the Department, namely, the Jobseeker Longitudinal Dataset (JLD). The JLD is a comprehensive database which tracks social welfare claim histories, further education and training, and employment data of individual jobseeker customers since 2004. The JLD is a very rich source of data and is being made available to researchers and academics for the purpose of undertaking research into the labour market and the interplay between the labour market and the State's welfare, employment and further education and training services.

As an initial test of the JLD the Department asked the ESRI to assess the effectiveness of the Back to Education Allowance scheme in progressing participants from the Live Register into employment or further training over the period 2008 to 2012. The results show that people who took up a second chance education option while unemployed in 2008 had lower levels of employment in 2012 and 2014 than those who did not take up these options. These results although very stark are similar to results found in international research which indicate that the benefits of a return to further education at an individual level are typically found over the medium to long term rather than the short to medium term. The longer term return to educational activity is shown in the ESRI data for 2014 and subsequent follow-up analysis of the data by DSP as at June 2015 which indicates a very significant narrowing of the gap in employment outcomes (to just 4% for third level participants). This trend in the data suggests that third level participants will, on average, outperform non-participants by 2016/2017.

Based on its own 2012 review the Department of Social Protection has already taken a number of steps to improve the short-medium term outcomes of the BTEA scheme. – Case officers now vet all applications for labour market relevance of the intended course of education and payment rates have been standardised with Jobseeker payments. As a consequence the BTEA scheme today is quite different to that evaluated in the report and the number of participants has fallen from 25,000 to 18,000 over the period. The ESRI study validates these decision and points to some other areas of development as recommended by the Labour Market Council including in-term reviews of participation and linking-up of welfare and education sector IT systems to facilitate better tracking of progression. These recommendations are being actioned by the Department.

The Labour Market Council, an expert advisory body established by the Tánaiste in 2013, representing employers, jobseekers, trade unions and labour market economists, was asked to review a pre-publication of the report. It has made a number of recommendations which are currently underway or being considered by the Department.

The Tánaiste concluded: "It is most important to have an independent evaluation of schemes such as the Back to Education Allowance. It is taxpayers' money that goes to provide the funding for these schemes. It's essential that the Department gets value for the money spent on these schemes and, most important of all that unemployed jobseekers benefit from these schemes by getting a job. I have asked the officials in my Department to implement the Labour Market Council recommendations, to monitor progress and to report to me on an ongoing basis."

Press Release Ends.

Note for Editor


Labour Market Council Recommendation Comment by the Department of Social Protection
1. Detailed evaluations of all other Labour Market Programmes should be expedited utilising the Department’s new innovative longitudinal database and other evidence. The evaluation of PLC courses by SOLAS is also a priority, as a significant component of the courses undertaken by BTEA recipients. The Department has developed a detailed evaluation plan in association with the Labour Market Council. Evaluations of the Intreo activation process and the JobBridge scheme are about to commence. These will be followed with evaluations of the BTWEA, CE and TÚS.

An evaluation of PLC courses by the ESRI is currently underway under commission from SOLAS.
2. Research should be undertaken as a priority to establish the drivers behind the poor employment outcomes of Back to Education Allowance when account is taken of potential factors such as ‘the lock in effect’ of the programme. Towards this end the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Social Protection should undertake complementary qualitative evaluation(s) to help inform why the BTEA is failing to meet its employment objective and provide guidance on the future of the scheme. In this regard, course completion rates, the quality of the qualifications received, the earnings of those who do progress to employment and the employment outcomes over a longer duration (e.g. at 2016) are all factors that warrant assessment in a more comprehensive analysis. The Department of Social Protection will commission a qualitative evaluation of the Back to Education Allowance scheme as recommended. It expects to issue an RFT for such an evaluation before the end of this year.
3. The Department of Social Protection should consider using existing models and databases to update the Back to Education Allowance evaluation to establish if there are any changes in reported impacts since the evidence was compiled and whether recent changes to the scheme have led to improved outcomes or not. This work is currently underway we expect to have an updated analysis to the end of June 2015 completed in the next few weeks.
4. Data sharing should be implemented between Department of Social Protection and the Department of Education and Science to support improved oversight and monitoring of Back to Education Allowance participants. In particular this should be done to establish if the course completion rates and the level of educational attainment achieved by participants had an impact on the post-completion employment rates. Both the Department of Social Protection and SOLAS are in the process of developing new systems which will share data and which will, when completed (end 2016) facilitate tracking of participation and completion.
5. Increased supportive interaction should take place between the Department of Social Protection and participants on Back to Education Allowance so that participants are clear on what is expected of them; and that the operational guidelines, for example, continued participation dependent on educational achievements, are clearly understood by both sides. At least one mid-term meeting with each participants on Back to Education Allowance programmes of more than 6 months should be undertaken by case officers to advise participants on the appropriateness for them of continuing with the programme. Since 2014 DSP case officers review and assess all Back to Education Allowance applications for labour market relevance. The implementation of a mid-term case review is being considered as part of Pathways to Work 2016 – 2020.
6. In the short-term, new approval processes introduced in 2014 should, together with all monitoring and control mechanisms, continue to be applied to ensure labour market relevance of programmes approved for Back to Education Allowance purposes. In the medium-term, consideration should be given to restricting access to new entrants onto Back to Education Allowance until there is an understanding of reasons for negative employment impacts (recommendations 2 and 3 above). In the longer-term, consideration should be given to increasing provision on specific programmes for which there is evidence that they enhance job prospects of participants (this action will be informed by the outcome of recommendation 1 above). This recommendation will be considered in the context of the results of the qualitative evaluation (1. Above). The current review of the National Skills Strategy by the Department of Education and Science will also take account of the findings of the Back to Education Allowance evaluation.
Last modified:03/11/2015