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Less than one in five people on compulsory Stormont jobs programme still in work a year after completing scheme

Steps 2 Success was launched in October 2014 by former Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry. Picture by Stephen Davison/Pacemaker

FEWER than one in five initial participants in a compulsory government employment programme was still in work a year after completing the scheme.

The Steps 2 Success 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.

Failure to participate can result in welfare payments being cut, with thousands of people on the scheme hit with sanctions.

The latest figures from the Department for Communities, released in February, show that just 19 per cent of those who began Steps 2 Success in October 2014 were in employment a year after finishing the scheme, falling to 12 per cent for participants who began in December 2014.

In October, The Irish News revealed that four out of every five job-seekers had not found work at all and that fewer than one in four of those who did gain employment were still in work six months on.

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 - at an estimated total cost of around £50-80 million.

Sara Boyce from the Participation and Practice of Rights lobby group said that "urgent action" was needed despite the political impasse at Stormont.

Ms Boyce said: "It is clear from these figures that Ingeus UK, People PlusNI and Reed in Partnership are failing to meet their targets and it seems that the department is giving them an easy ride.

"While the department cannot tell us what sanctions they have imposed on these private companies, since May 2016 a total of 5,333 sanctions have been imposed on Steps 2 Success participants for 'failures' such as being late for a meeting. These sanctions are leaving people in destitution."

She added: "In the absence of a responsible minister, the department's Permanent Secretary, Leo O'Reilly, needs to take urgent action. He must mitigate the harm being caused by ensuring that basic due process and impact assessments are in place before people are sanctioned."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Communities said that the programme has helped 9,560 people into employment since its inception and is "continually monitored".

"The majority of participants from the latter cohorts (from 2015 and 2016) are still on the programme and still have time remaining during which to find and sustain work."

The spokeswoman added: "The programme continues to meet the expected performance level for job outcomes and has a positive impact on the lives of each of these individuals and their families."

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