450 voluntary sector job losses across Northern Ireland 'unprecedented'
Seamus McAleavey: Scale of the cuts being faced and the resulting jobs losses is unprecedented
At least 450 job losses are expected across Northern Ireland's community and voluntary sector over the next few weeks due to government budget cuts.
Umbrella group the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) said the scale of the impact was unprecedented.
Organisations working in education, the environment, arts and justice will fall victim of the austerity measures, NICVA said.
Chief executive Seamus McAleavey said: "The scale of the cuts being faced and the resulting jobs losses is unprecedented in our sector's relationship with government in Northern Ireland in the last 35 or more years."
NICVA has requested an emergency meeting with the First and deputy First Ministers.
Mr McAleavey added: "Skilled staff will be lost from our sector and the impact will be felt right across Northern Ireland with a loss of local walking routes, arts events and childcare facilities.
"Voluntary and community organisations provide highly specialised services in areas where government provision doesn't meet the needs of local people and often work with harder to reach client groups.
"It is obvious that the most vulnerable people will be harder hit with programmes focusing on training and support to help people get jobs, develop crucial early learning skills in children and rehabilitation being cut."
He claimed decisions were being made unfairly across a number of departments and with no real consideration of the impact on services, or discussion among ministers.
"We believe the view of budget holders is that voluntary and community sector programmes are the easiest and quickest to cut regardless of their value.
"We further believe that some decisions are made recognising that they will ultimately rebound and cost government more in the long run as more expensive options in turn come into play."
Job losses calculated by NICVA at 461 include:
- Early Years Fund - 177
- Environment - 130
- European Social Fund - 137
- Other - 17
Paula McFetridge from the Kabosh Theatre Company said the organisation was facing a 44% cut in its Arts Council investment.
"As a consequence of this we run a significant risk of losing a wealth of creative, talented and skilled individuals through emigration as there will be no professional prospects in Northern Ireland."
Marie Cavanagh from Gingerbread NI, which supports lone parents, said 300 would lose the opportunity to train for sustainable employment.
Karen Sweeney, director of the Women's Support Network which provides childcare and family support, said: "Cuts are being made to all services and this will have wide-ranging, long-lasting effects in terms of supporting vulnerable families, those with mental health issues, tackling unemployment, reducing child poverty and the provision of accessible childcare."
Youthnet said the reduced funding greatly decreased the capacity of organisations to help young people.
"This comes at a time when there is increased demand on youth services that have a proven record of engaging the most disadvantaged young people."
Arts minister Caral Ni Chuilin said: "Following the reduction of the block grant, there has been considerable effort to minimise the impact of funding cuts on arts and culture."
She said the musical instruments for bands scheme is to be put on hold.
"The budget shortfall means that I am unable to endorse funding at the present time.
"I understand that this uncertainty will not be welcome among the bands sector. Over half a million pounds has been awarded under this scheme in the past three years.
"I remain committed to supporting Musical Instruments for Bands and will work to secure further funding as it becomes available."