Almost half of local people referred on to a new pilot ‘Want To Work?’ scheme for Derry and Strabane have failed to participate, it has emerged.
A report providing an update on the project was brought before the November meeting of the Business and Culture Committee on Tuesday, with Independent Derry &Strabane Councillor Gary Donnelly raising concerns over it.
Despite some reservations, the Council recently introduced the first project of its kind in the north, devised by representatives from within the Department for Social Development (DSD).
The DSD have provided £277,000 funding to the council to provide work focussed advice and support through until June.
Various central government departments and agencies have joined forces with Derry City and Strabane District Council, employers and the independent advice sector as well as other local partners to deliver the project.
It’s aim is to provide earlier intervention and better engagement as well as more intensive support for those who have recently become unemployed, are making fresh ESA claims.
The pilot commenced on September 7th with three staff recruited and its aim was to provide a bridge between benefits and employment.
The Social Security Agency approaches ESA claimants and asks if they wish to take part voluntarily. These people’s details are also passed to the Council’s Want To Work advisor, who then telephones the person within days to set up a meeting.
To date, the committee was told, 60 people have been referred from the Social Security Agency. Of these, eight were deemed unsuitable and a further 20 were sent letters as they couldn’t be contacted by phone. None have replied.
The Committee was told that this leaves a “47% rate of nonparticipation”, but the report adds that DSD are “extremely happy” with the level and types of intervention being offered.
Independent Derry City and Strabane District Council Councillor Gary Donnelly said that some councillors raised concerns when the scheme was initially proposed, and that some people from within the independent advice sector have also now raised concerns.
He said that the nonparticipation rates suggested there were problems.
A council officer responded said the scheme has only been fully staffed for the past few weeks, with meetings planned with the five chairs of the Advice sector to discuss how to improve the programme and increase rates of participation.
He also stressed that the scheme was voluntary and involved trying to help people improve their skills.
Sinn Fein Councillor Patricia Logue said there had been a cautious welcome for the project when it was initially introduced. She said it was vital the five chairs were spoken to when the full year review was done.