The Right to Work; Right to Welfare (R2W) group were joined yesterday in Derry by trade unionists from Derry Trades Union Council, UNITE, UNISON, NIPSA, and political representatives from Sinn Féin, SDLP, and People Before Profit to deliver human rights checklists to social security Decision Makers at Foyle Job Centre.

The campaigners queued outside the social security agency before entering the building with numerous formal complaints about the failure to uphold basic due process and impact assessments in the social security decision making process. 
 
The group were supported recently in similar actions at offices in east and west Belfast by staff, trade unionists and elected representatives from Sinn Féin, SDLP, PBP, UUP and Alliance. Derry and Strabane Council and Belfast City Council have now passed motions calling on the Department for Communities to implement the #PeoplesProposal – a human rights checklist to guarantee due process and mandatory impact assessments before decisions are made to stop or reduce the income of claimants.
 
Figures release by the Department for Communities under freedom of information legislation reveal that from June 2015 - August 2016 11,230 decisions were made to remove Employment and Support allowance from the sick and disabled. From April – June 2016 the monthly average of sanctions imposed on ‘Job Seekers’ was 942.
 
R2W met in June with the civil servant currently responsible for social security; Department For Communities Deputy Secretary, Denis Mc Mahon. Mr Mc Mahon committed to consider the #PeoplesProposal yet no progress has been made by the department since the meeting.
 
R2W group member, Bertie Atkinson, is 65 years old. He applied for sickness benefits (ESA) when he had a heart attack. He takes 50 tablets a day and suffers from diabetes and a range of other health issues. Bertie spent the last year on a mandatory government work program under threat of financial sanction. He was declared ‘fit for work’ by a government decision maker based on an assessment carried out by the private company; ATOS.
 
He said; ‘Every day the department delays is another day a child gets robbed of food or a family of rent. Two months have passed since we met the Department officials and provided our evidence. That’s two months of people being treated as ‘guilty until proven innocent’ and struggling to survive. The unions, the staff, the advice sector, the politicians and the public are crying out in support of the People’s Proposal. If the Department won’t implement this basic checklist to guarantee people their rights then we will by bringing it directly to every decision maker.’
 
The Peoples Proposal’ has secured the support of NIC-ICTU and NIPSA (representing social security staff), the Children’s Commissioner, MLAs from the SDLP, UUP, Sinn Féin, Green Party, People Before Profit, the Alliance Party, the former Mayor of Derry, Belfast City Council, Derry and Strabane Council, Advice NI, the Law Centre and a wide range of advice and community sector organisations who have written directly to the department calling for its implementation.
 
Seán Brady from PPR said; ‘The absence of a Minister can't be used as an excuse to justify ongoing human rights abuse. Leo O'Reilly has an opportunity and a duty to rectify the mistake's of the past before the introduction of Universal Credit in September. PPR will continue to support the active citizenship of the R2W group to hold the Department to account for their human rights obligations.’
 
Niall Mc Carroll of Derry Trades Union Council (DTUC) said;
 
'Derry Trades Union Council (DTUC) are privileged to be working together with PPR on this issue in Derry. We view standing up for our peoples human rights as fundamental to our very existence and a core value.'
 
To mark International Workers day 2017, DTUC, with the support of Independent councillor Darren O'Reilly, successfully proposed a motion to DCSDC calling for a full analysis to be completed into the outcomes of the failed Steps to Success programme and the impact sanctions were having on local people and their families.
 
Niall continued; 
 
'As a continuation of our commitment to protecting people against right wing human right abuses we mobilised on Thursday along with PPR. We brought local people out to demand and end to the suffering imposed through sanctions, benefit reductions and the continued degradation of peoples self esteem and right to a decent way of life.'