‘Reluctance and fear over Universal Credit’

Tina Gillespie, Skills Manager, at DC&SDC.
Tina Gillespie, Skills Manager, at DC&SDC.

A senior council officer trying to get more people into gainful employment in Derry and Strabane has warned the controversial Universal Credit (UC) system is discouraging unemployed people from taking up job opportunities.

Tina Gillespie, Skills Manager at Derry City & Strabane District Council’s Business and Culture Directorate, said out-of-work citizens are afraid of seizing new positions and apprenticeships or enlisting on back-to-work schemes for fear they will be shunted onto UC.

Ms. Gillespie addressed the chill factor in a report to the DC&SDC B&C Committee on a recent event during which eight local construction firms offered over 30 ‘social clause’ vacancies to unemployed residents of the council area.

The posts were offered under the new ‘Buy Social’ policy for public construction contracts worth more than £2m in the North that was introduced in April 2016.

This set contractual requirements for targeted recruitment and training opportunities to be made available by construction firms on big public capital jobs.

The event, reported Ms. Gillespie, sparked huge interest and was very well attended.

“A total of eight contractors attended the Guildhall event, promoting over 30 vacancies available on the day but also registering interest from attendees regarding future job vacancies,” she stated in her report to the committee on Friday.

“A total of 170 visitors attended the event with 148 of those seeking employment opportunities,” she added.

Notwithstanding the success of the recruitment showcase, Ms. Gillespie, said potential employees were increasingly afraid of taking up jobs because they are worried about being transferred onto the UC regime due to their “circumstances changing”.

Since early 2018 all new claimants of the old Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment Support Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credits payments in Derry have been processed through the UC system. And between July 2019 and March 2022 all welfare claimants will be transferred across if it continues. But reports that people are waiting up to six weeks for any income under UC has put people off taking up new jobs.

“Although we had a very positive turn out for the event we must be mindful of the context in which we are operating in terms of the roll out of Universal Credit (UC) in the Council area,” stated Ms. Gillespie.

“There is a lot of issues regarding the payment of this benefit. Any change of circumstances will result in the claimant transferring immediately to the UC benefit. This transition is not seamless and means there is waiting period of up to 6 weeks for payments. This has created a lot of reluctance and fear from eligible individuals to progress from benefits to employment.”

Work on the big North-West Multi-Modal Transport Hub (Farrens), Strathroy Link Road (Fox Contracts), A6 (Graham Farrens), Strabane Academy (Woodvale), Ebrington (FP McCann and Lowry) and the Dungiven to Drumahoe dualling (SWS) jobs were among those advertised at the ‘Buy Social’ event.