Steps To Work shock

JUST 15 people in Londonderry were participating in the Department of Employment and Learning’s (DEL) new and improved Steps to Work programme at the end of November with local unemployed people still largely relying on ‘New Deal’ - a scheme slammed as a “poor return for taxpayers’ money” by local politicans in 2009.

Londonderry is the only place in Northern Ireland where Steps to Work - aimed at reducing joblessness - has yet to be rolled out with New Deal continuing to operate until a contract for its more flexible replacement is awarded.

According to the latest DEL statistics for December 2010 just 15 people here were participating on the Steps to Work programme.

DEL told the Sentinel last year it hoped to roll out Steps to Work in the North West in the first six months of this year.

The Department describes Steps to Work as a fresh approach to tackling joblessness, offering different choices around work related activities to help people find employment, but not yet in Londonderry.

A statistical bulletin published this month shows that from September 2008 to December 2010, 46,523 participants started Steps to Work.

The majority of participants who started were mandatory, accounting for 73 per cent (33,858 participants) of all starts.

In the quarter October to December 2010, 4,533 mandatory and 1,442 voluntary participants started the programme.

The total number of participants on Steps to Work at the end of December 2010 was 12,806. Of these, 10,545 (82 per cent) were mandatory and 2,261 (18 per cent) were voluntary.

From September 2008 to December 2010, 33,354 participants left the Steps to Work programme. Of this total, 20 per cent had an immediate destination of unsubsidised employment, 42 per cent returned to benefits, 13 per cent left for other destinations and 24 per cent went to unknown destinations.

DEL has hailed Steps to Work as a more flexible alternative to the controversial New Deal programme which was criticised in 2009 for providing a “poor return for taxpayers’ money.”

The Stormont Public Accounts Committee slammed the mandatory element of the New Deal programme for over 25s when it emerged fewer than 20 per cent of participants had secured employment on leaving the programme, despite 69 million spent on implementation from 1998 to 2007.

But DEL has said it hopes the new scheme will be available in Londonderry within the first six months of 2011.

The spokesperson told the Sentinel last October: “Steps to Work replaced New Deal as the Department’s main adult return-to-work programme from September 2008.

“It has been rolled-out across Northern Ireland with the exception of the Foyle contract area. The existing New Deal contracts in the Foyle area have been extended until 31 March 2011.

“Arrangements have been put in place to ensure, as far as possible, provision replicates what is available in Steps to Work.

“The Department hopes to be in a position to have the Steps to Work provision available in the Foyle Area during the first six months of 2011.”

Addressing the Assembly last Wednesday Social Development Minsiter Alex Attwood whose brief overlaps with that of DEL said: “I am aware that the Derry City Council area does not currently operate the Steps to Work Programme. “However, I have ensured that the same work experience opportunities will be made available to unemployed people in the Derry City Council area as a result of Social Housing and Urban Regeneration contracts through utilising the Department for Employment and Learning’s New Deal Programme.”