Four out of five jobseekers on Steps 2 Success scheme have not found work

Former Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry launched the Steps 2 Success scheme in Derry in 2014. Picture by Stephen Davison/Pacemaker

FOUR out of every five jobseekers on a compulsory Stormont Executive employment scheme set up two years ago have not found work.

And of those who did secure employment with Steps 2 Success, fewer than one in four were still in work six months on.

The programme, launched in October 2014 to replace Steps to Work, is a mandatory scheme for those who have been claiming Jobseeker's Allowance for 12 months or more, or nine months for those under the age of 24.

Out of 31,556 people registered to the scheme since its launch, just 6,773 have found work.

Failure to participate can result in welfare payments being cut.

Three private contractors were employed to lead the scheme across the north on a five-year contract - Ingeus UK in Belfast, EOS Works in the north-west, and Reed in Partnership in the southern area.

The Department for Communities did not list the fees they have received to date, but The Irish News understands that the total sum for the contract is expected to be between £50-80m.

Of participants starting in the very first month in October 2014, 42% initially found work, with a quarter of those still in employment six months later.

However, the figure has dropped steadily ever since, with only between one-fifth and a quarter of those registering actually finding work.

The number of those remaining in employment after six months has fallen to 10% or less for every single month since May 2015.

In response to several assembly questions from Sinn Féin North Belfast MLA Carál Ní Chuilín, communities minister Paul Givan said the department has "not carried out any formal reviews" of the programme.

He also confirmed that 5,333 benefit sanctions have been applied to welfare claimants enrolled in the scheme.

A participant, who did not wish to be named, said: "I am told to apply for jobs I know I will not get because I do not meet the requirements. I can sum up my time on Steps 2 Success as forced job searching every time by myself for two hours with no support from staff or forced attendance at workshops which are cancelled."

In a statement, Ms Ní Chuilín said: "It is clear that this scheme isn't working for those who are central to it – the participants.

"Under the previous DEL minister, Stephen Farry, people who needed support were being referred to a scheme without any great hope of a particular outcome.

"Many local training and employment support groups have given input into what an alternative scheme should look like. It is those at the coal face who should be listened to in order to establish an alternative."

Sara Boyce from the Participation and Practice of Rights lobby group also said the figures show that "Steps 2 Success doesn't work".

"It also highlights the fact that private providers are making huge profits on the backs of unemployed people while those same people are having punitive sanctions imposed on them for not participating in a failing programme that is of no benefit to them."

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