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Report raps £69m ‘back to work’ plan

By Michael McHugh

Less than a fifth of participants secured jobs after completing a Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) back to work scheme, it has emerged.

Despite costing £69m just 18% of those who signed up to the New Deal 25+ programme achieved immediate employment. The findings came to light in a damning report out today.

The New Deal 25+ programme had a one size fits all approach with not enough done to address the lack of qualifications or basic literacy and numeracy skills, Stormont's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said.

The review said: “It appears to the committee that to a large extent the department was simply going through the motions with these participants, rather than actively trying to help them overcome their problems.

“Given that the long-term unemployed were already an especially vulnerable and disadvantaged group this was just not good enough.”

Some people went through it more than five times and still remained unemployed, according to the Audit Office report the PAC was examining.

The report acknowledged the department had recognised, in its new Steps to Work programme, that New Deal 25+ no longer met the needs of the remaining core of more challenging applicants.

New Deal 25+ was introduced in November 1998 to provide work experience or training for the long-term out of work. By the end of March 2007, 74,000 people had gone through the scheme. Around 60% went on work placements but just 7% achieved sustained employment.

The PAC said: “The committee found that during the later years of the programme the department was slow to react to growing problems.

“This was especially true as regards repeat participants who, despite completing the programme on multiple occasions, failed to get a job.”

PAC chairman Paul Maskey said the committee was encouraged to learn that the department's new programme, Steps to Work, is more flexible and allows for tailored support.

“While New Deal 25+ brought a number of benefits to the long-term unemployed it was clear that the overall impact of the programme was limited and often short-lived.

“This is particularly disappointing given the fact that during the period under review the economy was relatively buoyant.”

A spokesman for the department said: “We welcome the publication of the report and will consider the committee's recommendations fully.”

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