Concerns over ‘Want to Work?’ extension plan

Sinn Fein Councillor Patricia Logue.

Sinn Fein Councillor Patricia Logue.

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Concerns have been expressed that some people electing to join a revised new Want To Work? scheme in Derry may not actually be fit to do it.

The concerns were raised after the Council’s Business & Culture Committee was told that the government and Council had applied for funding to extend the ‘Want To Work?’ pilot project undertaken here, to include a number of new elements.

Want To Work? was introduced in Derry & Strabane last year as a pilot project with funding from the Department for Social Development and the Executive’s Change Fund.

The current project- which has 126 people enrolled- involves asking fresh ESA (Employment & Support Allowance) claimants if they want to sign up for training, upskilling, education, work experience, health and practical assistance. To date 14 people having gained employment after undertaking it.

The Committee was told that the government and council have applied for £300,000 to expand the project with two new approaches: targeting 18 to 25 year-olds and a ‘Work, Health and Well Being’ trial focusing on mental health, with participation offered when a GP provides the person with a ‘fit note’ to return to work.

Sinn Fein Councillor Patricia Logue (above) expressed concerns over how this element would work with regards to people with mental health issues, and proposed the Department officials be called in to answer questions on it.

“I would act on the side of caution before we accept this other pilot project,” she said.

Independent Councillor Paul Gallagher claimed the council was looking at programmes that were “punitive” and “administering cuts on behalf of the government”, adding that there could be young people with various issues who may feel they are fit to go on this programme and ask their doctor for a fit note, without realising this will affect their benefit allowance.

He warned that the councillors could end up having people “knocking on our doors saying ‘we have been wiped off our benefit and its your fault’.”

Colr. Logue said the pilot last year was not about administering cuts but about enabling people to get skills.

She added that the Advice Services should also be brought in around the table “because they are a very vital part of the discussion”.

Independent Councillor Darren O’Reilly proposed that the Advice Services should be consulted before the Departmental delegation is brought in.

The Want To Work? project offers supports and interventions to clients who agree to participate including: mentoring, paying taxi fares for meetings and classes where necessary, sourcing training including IT, Essential SKills, First Aid, Child Protection, Food Safety, and sourcing and paying for (where necessary) gym membership, swimming, yoga.It also aims to help clients set up bank accounts, access a GP, food bank, sort out accommodation issues, assist with CVs and interview techniques, mock interviews, job search and volunteering.