The Right to Work: Right to Welfare (R2W) group have been active since the summer of 2012, when a group of experienced PPR activists began organising with people who were out of work and on benefits at the Social Security office in Corporation Street, Belfast.  Against the backdrop of rising unemployment and the most radical re-shaping of our welfare system in its history, the work of the R2W group has received acclaim for its innovative approach to asserting rights in the time of austerity.

Commenting on the R2W group, Ms. Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights said, “The important work being done by the Right to Work: Right to Welfare Group in Belfast, Northern Ireland to hold the government accountable through the grassroots development and use of human rights indicators and benchmarks is crucial and should be praised as a promising practice to be followed.”

Right to work welfare sanctions

The Department for Communities work programme ' Steps 2 Success' has been heavily criticised for failing to do what's it was set up to do - get people into sustainable employment. The Right to Work: Right to Welfare campaign has been trying to get information from the Department on the programme, including in relation to sanctions imposed, the cost of creating a job and how many of those jobs created are zero hour contracts? This blog details what's known and unknown about this failing programme and calls for the Executive to follow Scotland's lead by making Steps 2 Success voluntary and removing the threat of sanctions.

The Scottish Government has recently announced that it will embark on a programme of non-compliance with Westminster's hated sanction regime once it takes on responsibility for work programmes next year. This is something the NI Executive already has the power to do. All that is needed is the political will. This blog critiques the Executive's Steps 2 Success work programme, including the use of punitive sanctions against programme participants, the lack of sustainable employment outcomes being achieved through the programme and the inaction by government in the face of these failures. It proposes that instead of arbitrarily punishing people for perceived non compliance with the programme by withdrawing their benefits, the government should adopt a set of proposals developed by the Right to Work: Right to Welfare Group ( R2W) that would ensure people are fully protected through due process and impact assessment in all aspect of the social security system.

The NI Executive's consultation on its new Programme for Government( PfG) commits to giving children and young people the best start in life. Yet the reality is that increasing numbers of children in our society are living in poverty, and benefit sanctions are only making a bad situation worse. Despite its supposed commitment to children, the PfG makes no mention of this. A number of international human rights bodies have called on government to human rights impact assess the use of sanctions to ensure that they are fully human rights compliant. The Right to Work: Right to Welfare (R2W) group has developed a set of proposals designed to ensure that any interference by government with people's right to social security is human rights compliant. The Executive should now adopt the People's Proposal and apply it as a proofing mechanism to its Programme for Government to ensure that children are actually given the best start in life.

'Belfast City Council need to do more' - only 39 Real Jobs for the long term unemployed out of £220M investment

Right to Work: Right to Welfare call on the Minister to protect people on benefits from the ‘conveyor belt’ sanctions regime.

On 12th April a packed Irish Congress of Trade Unions conference in Derry heard calls from delegates to support the ‘People’s Proposals’ for protection against benefit sanctions. The move came about following meetings between ICTU and the Right to Work: Right to Welfare Group (R2W).

Right To Work; Right To Welfare launch ‘The People’s Proposal’ for due process and protection from benefits sanctions driving many into homelessness and food banks.

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.

While Stormont debates welfare reform; Job Seekers and people in receipt of disability benefits sanction ‘decision makers’ for stopping money 21,386 times in a year.

United Nations human rights expert, Maria Virginía Brás Gomes, recently visited Belfast and held discussions with local PPR groups campaigning for improvements on housing, employment, mental health and social security rights.  

Ms. Brás Gomes is a member of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and will be examining the UK government’s human rights performance in 2016.

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