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During 2013, long term unemployed people across Belfast worked tirelessly behind the scenes to unite people on one issue – jobs.

Over 2000 signatures were collected at dole offices across the city by the Right to Work: Right to Welfare (R2W) group and cross party support was secured in the endeavour to pass the ‘REAL JOBS NOW’ motion. They have also secured the backing of UN Special Rapporteur Magdalena Sepúlveda for their work.

The group, which is made up entirely of unemployed people, are committed to ensuring the motion is implemented as soon as possible.

R2W group member Bertie Atkinson, who is currently on the 50+ Steps Ahead ‘Back to Work’ programme said:

It’s been a long year of campaigning and now we are seeing progress. Belfast City Council has passed our motion which means real jobs and apprenticeships being ring fenced for the people who need them most in our city.”

Bertie continued:

“We don’t want more ‘back to work’ schemes which are not working, but real jobs, with real wages that provide real dignity and security for families. Now that it’s Belfast City Council policy, it’s time to see it implemented and we are presenting Councillors today with our proposals for implementation to speed that process up.

“We have done our Job - now it’s time for council to do its job and deliver this initiative to bring real change to the lives of long term unemployed people and their families.”

In the first motion of its kind to be brought forward by unemployed people themselves, Belfast City Council members proposed and seconded the motion in early January and ratified it at full council on (Monday 3rd February). It mandates council to use existing public monies and expenditure in a fairer and more effective way to target long term unemployment, which is a massive and growing problem in Belfast.

Long Term Unemployment has rocketed across all communities in 2013. In South and East Belfast there are approximately 1,600 people who have been out of work for over 12 months. In North and West Belfast there are around 2,900 people who have been unemployed for over 12 months.

The motion also has the endorsement of community groups and service providers based in the city’s most deprived communities – including loyalist and republican ex-prisoners groups, Irish language groups, job centres from east and west Belfast and community organisations including Lower Shankill Community Association and Cliftonville Community Regeneration Forum.

The R2W group carried out extensive research in 2013 at dole offices across Belfast. Their findings were alarming:

  • 64% of people did not get a single interview for a position despite having applied for up to 20 jobs in 6 months.
  • Only 5% of people moved into employment following the Steps to Work programme.
  • On the Steps to Work programme 55% said it “wasn’t helpful at all” in developing work skills and 57% said it “wasn’t helpful at all” in providing training and experience.

Seán Brady, development worker with the Participation and Practice of Rights (PPR) organisation who provide support to the R2W group said:

"Now that this motion is passed Belfast City Council can start capitalising on real opportunities and there is none better to start this initiative than the recently announced £30m development at the Waterfront Hall which will create 350 jobs this summer.

“With at least 1 in 4 unemployed people in Belfast being long term unemployed** there is no reason why 1 in 4 jobs should not be ring-fenced for the long term unemployed at this new development. Such a move will go a long way to challenging decades of under investment in disadvantaged communities.

“Building on its recent commitment to tackle poverty in the city, Belfast City Council has the potential to lead the way and set an example as to how we can spend public money in a way that helps those who need it most.”