Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

'How much does it cost to support the most vulnerable in our society?'

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Three years after the Social Investment Fund was launched by OFMdFM, the community and voluntary sector have yet to benefit from the £80 million ring fenced to support them because Sinn Féin and the DUP cannot decide on the definition of deprivation.

The question must now be asked - how much does their failure actually cost?

I don't mean just the cost in monetary terms. I mean the cost in social and political terms.

The financial cost to community and voluntary groups who cannot access this money is devastating. No funding means no staff, no planned projects, no capacity to react to emergency situations and no ability expand to meet the needs of community. The social and political costs have just as big an impact.

The social cost to those who will potentially have nowhere else left to turn is unacceptable.

Those in debt with no advice could spiral further; those who need support to return to employment could remain jobless; or those young people who are facing a fork in the road could turn to crime without positive role models or activities provided by youth and community workers.

The political costs are also severe. Sinn Féin and the DUP have already soured the political process in Government and they now want to sour the community and voluntary sector and complacently allow the running down of vital projects, many of which work towards keeping communities stable by diverting young people into positive activities.

As an MLA, I see on the incredible contribution from the community and voluntary sector. I see how they work to fill gaps in services provided by the statutory agencies.

These community and voluntary groups, most of whom work on a shoe string, work with the most vulnerable people in our communities. There is an immediate solution though.

The well established and well respected Neighbourhood Renewal Scheme, which the SDLP recommended administer the Social Investment Fund when it was launched, could allocate the money.

While Sinn Féin and the DUP continue to wrangle and prevent access to the £80 million they did agree to spend £400,000 on consultants to the Social Investment Fund.

That adds up to one thing - poor government, poor politics and a poorer community and voluntary sector.

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