Following the  REAL JOBS NOW public meeting in January, one of the Belfast City Councillors who agreed to Champion the REAL JOBS NOW policy, has provided information to the Right to Work: Right to Welfare (R2W) Group which indicates that 116 jobs have been created so far from Belfast City Council’s Investment Programme. It is unclear how many of these employment opportunities have been targeted at the long term unemployed.  The R2W Group’s own monitoring of the implementation of the REAL JOBS NOW! policy has evidenced resistance to the realisation human rights based social clauses at Girdwood Only four jobs - 3 labourers and 1 admin staff - were created for the Long Term Unemployed in the local communities despite a multimillion pound public investment. Belfast City Council officials and contractors involved in the Girdwood Social Clauses Working Group have failed to answer further questions raised in June by the R2W group. Despite the pressing need for information, no further meetings of the Working Group have been convened since this time.

The R2W Group’s frustration at the failure to unlock the potential of REAL JOBS NOW by creating opportunities for the unemployed, has been compounded  by the rise in financial sanctions imposed on ‘Job Seekers’ and other people on the dole across the city.  

Research shows sanctions level rising: According to information received under Freedom of Information legislation, the Department for Social Development, from October 2014 – October 2015 Social Security payments were stopped 21,386 times. Surveys carried out by R2W at Social Security offices in Belfast since 2013 show a steady rise in sanctions. The latest monitoring results show that of the 300 people surveyed, 59% had been sanctioned or had their entitlement to social security payments removed – a marked increase on 39% in 2013 and 50% in 2014. Survey participants stated that, as a result, they were forced to borrow money, use food banks, skip meals, go without heating and apply for crisis loans.

Bens Story – video on how sanctions leave people destitute without due process.

The results have been devastating –

Of those who told us they had been sanctioned or had their social security entitlement stopped, 15% told us that as a result they were forced to visit a food bank. This number more than doubled to 33% when we asked the same group if, as a result they had been forced to skip meals. In total, 36% of those impacted by sanctions and social security payment changes had visited a foodbank and/or skipped meals.  Sanctions are contributing to food poverty.

The R2W campaign has been outside Social Security offices all summer collecting evidence and testimonies  and raising awareness by offering practical support to help appeal sanctions which threaten people’s enjoyment of rights.

Raising awareness: The group worked with the Golden Thread Art Gallery and prominent Director Zhenia Mahdi Nau to produce ‘Copies’, a short film about the campaign and the harsh human impacts of sanctions. It was launched in an open air cinema in North Belfast. It is currently running as part of an exhibition in Belfast City Hall - a timely reminder before Christmas to councillors of the need to implement the REAL JOBS NOW policy in full.

Tackling food poverty by tackling the causes of food poverty.  The R2W group were commissioned by the Belfast Food Network to produce research detailing the food poverty impacts on people who have their social security money sanctioned. The results were launched at the #Enough Is Enough event in October to help develop a food poverty strategy for Belfast.  NVTV video report can be viewed here @13mins

‘We’re sanctioning the sanctioners’ On Halloween the R2W group led a protest to sanction the decision makers at Royston Houses, Ingeus, DSD and DEL who collectively are responsible for the policy and practice of financially sanctioning people on benefits. Letters of sanction for participating in human rights abuses were delivered - A short video was produced by NVTV showing the protest in action.