R2W Group Host Belfast Mayor at Campaign Exhibition to Launch Latest Results

Yesterday (Tuesday 1 April 2014) the Mayor of Belfast Máirtín o’Muilleoir met with the Right to Work: Right to Welfare (R2W) Group at the Golden Thread Art Gallery across from Corporation Street dole office. The Mayor was also briefed on the results of the latest research that the Group has completed.

He commended the work of the Group on his visit and said: “When I hosted the recent forum on poverty in City Hall I was delighted to include this organisation whose work has been vital in highlighting and helping to improve the plight of the unemployed and those in need.”

The R2W Group has been recognised by Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human rights when she said: “The important work being done by the Right to Work: Right to Welfare Group in Belfast, Northern Ireland to hold the government accountable... is crucial and should be praised as a promising practice to be followed.”

The R2W Group have been surveying people outside Belfast’s dole offices (welfare centres) to assess whether or not people’s experience of the welfare system and back to work schemes are breaching basic human rights standards.

Their findings show a steady deterioration in conditions experienced by unemployed people across a range of indicators, for which local ministers in the Department for Employment and Learning, the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment and the Department for Social Development have responsibilities.

Yesterdays visit came on the back of the Group meeting with the Minister for Employment and Learning Dr. Stephen Farry MLA last week (28th March) to present their findings which include:

  • 69% of people who are able to work haven’t had a job in over one year.
  • Only 3.8% of people get a job after taking part in a government back to work scheme such as Steps to Work.
  • An increase in the number of people receiving sanctions which in turn leads to their benefits being stopped, this figure has risen from 39% to 50%.
  • Over three quarters of respondents did not have enough information about how to appeal a sanction decision.

Click here to download a copy of the latest research.

Other government departments with responsibility for progressing the group's indicators; the Department for Social Development and the Department for Enterprise, Trade & Investment, have not met with the Group. The Department for Social Development declined both the Group's requests for a meeting following the launch of the indicators in 2013 and following the latest research results, and the Department for Enterprise Trade & Investment did not respond at all on either occasion.

The Mayor, who has previously cited the work of the Group responsible for the ‘REAL JOBS NOW’ motion as “transformative” was guided through a visual exhibition which documents the many highs and lows in the R2W campaign to improve opportunities for the city’s unemployed.

These have included the successful passing of the REAL JOBS JOW motion, (6th January 2014) at Belfast City Council - which mandates Council to use existing public monies in a fairer and more effective way, by ring fencing jobs and apprenticeships for the long term unemployed. The Mayor also listened to concerns that were shared about the slow pace of implementation associated with this process and the need for urgent delivery in Belfast’s most deprived communities.  

Commenting on the Lord Mayor’s visit Seán Brady from PPR who support the R2W group said: “We welcome the Mayor taking the time to visit the group, hear about their work, and lending his support. At the start of this year it was very refreshing to see the REAL JOBS NOW motion passed at council with cross party political support. It was also important to hear the Mayor talk about the need to tackle poverty.

“But at the same time, the group’s research shows that things are getting worse for those most disadvantaged in our communities. However, opportunities exist. The recent announcement of a £29.5 million investment at the Waterfront Hall with 350 jobs is a prime opportunity to demonstrate the Council’s commitment to implementing REAL JOBS NOW.”

Seán added: “It’s only by listening to the people facing the problems and involving them in creating the solutions that progress can be made on tackling poverty. Hopefully the Mayor’s visit, and his support, will make people sit up and listen to the group, and to the hundreds of people they have surveyed at doles across Belfast last year, who are struggling to support their families in the face of further cuts and job losses.”