Northern Ireland news

Fewer than one in eight on compulsory Stormont job scheme still in work a year later

Fewer than one in eight participants on a compulsory Stormont job scheme who found work were still employed a year later
John Monaghan

FEWER than one in eight people who found work through a compulsory Stormont employment scheme were still in a job a year later.

Welfare payments can be cut for those who fail to participate in Steps 2 Success, which is mandatory for those claiming Jobseeker's Allowance for 12 months or more, or nine months for those under the age of 24.

After the programme was launched in October 2014, just over 40 per cent of new starts found work and 20 per cent of those were still employed a year later.

However, latest figures show that this '12-month outcome' had almost halved to 11 per cent for those starting the scheme in March 2015.

The figure is below the Department for Communities' own performance target of 15 per cent.

Around a quarter of the 41,777 people who had gone through the scheme up to March this year had found work of any kind.

The department said £32.4 million was paid to three contractors responsible for the scheme - Ingeus UK in Belfast, EOS Works in the north-west, and Reed in Partnership in the southern area - between October 2014 and June this year.

Gareth Moore, a member of the Right to Work group who was on Steps 2 Success, said the figures are "no surprise given my own experience of the programme".

"I was in a position where I had successfully found both voluntary and paid work with Department for Communities-funded community arts organisations to help me advance my chosen career in the arts sector," he said.

"Yet this very same department forced me away from that path and onto a 12-month Steps 2 Success programme under constant threat of sanction, with no job at the end of it."

Sinn Féin North Belfast MLA Carál Ní Chuilín also claimed the scheme "wasn't working" for participants.

"People who need support most were being referred to this scheme without any great hope of a positive outcome in the end," she said.

A spokeswoman for the department said latest figures "highlights the improving picture in terms of participants moving into employment", but added that it "acknowledges the disappointing drop" in the 12-month rate.

"All monitoring of performance by Steps 2 Success lead contractors is managed closely by two dedicated teams on a continuous basis... (and) improvements are made to the programme on an ongoing basis.

"In addition, the department intends to conduct an interim external evaluation of the programme during this year which will inform the way Steps 2 Success currently operates and any future employment programme."

The department said it did not collate information on the type of contracts offered to those entering employment but said that it "asks that participants are in a job of 16 hours or more and this can be made up of a maximum of two jobs".

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