50 Sure Start staff put on notice, lack of government funding cited
South Belfast Sure Start has issued protective redundancy notices its 50 employees.
The notice was given on Monday, Sure Start Chairperson Eleanor Jordan said, because the project is funded by the Department of Education and "there has been no further funding confirmed beyond the 31st July".
South Belfast Sure Start's 50 staff look after 1,600 infants and young children up to the age of four, and support their families, at least half of which would use the service each week.
The programme was set up in 2001 and this is the first time that staff have ever been sent notice letters, Ms Jordan said.
The staff team of mainly family support and early years workers are worried, she explained.
"Taking politics out of it, the reality is that they have only three weeks of secure employment left.
"Most of them have families and homes to support and are already struggling because the wages are generally low and they haven’t had a pay rise in three years.
"They work extremely hard for young children and families often in the most difficult of circumstances and I know they will be just as worried about what the loss of Sure Start services would mean to the families and children they work with."
The Sure Start programme works in the heart of the most disadvantaged communities of South Belfast.
Communities, Ms Jordan said, who "have borne the brunt of the troubles and already feel left behind in many ways".
Whilst some welfare reform measures are starting to make a difference, the Sure Start programme and its staff are, Ms Jordan stressed, something that parents in South Belfast have been able to rely on.
She continued: "I cannot understand why a government would be so dismissive of its youngest citizens, especially those who are the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in society.
"All the evidence is that investing in early years is the most successful way for a government to improve outcomes for the whole of society.
"How are we going to be able to progress in NI if these babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers get forgotten about amongst all the other things politicians are arguing about?”
“We are calling on all politicians to come together and take whatever action is needed to ensure jobs and the essential services provided by this organisation are sustained," Ms Jordan concluded.
There are 39 Sure Start programmes across Northern Ireland, mostly based in the 25% most deprived electoral wards.
DUP MLA Christopher Stalford posted a comment about this issue on his Facebook page on Tuesday. He wrote: "I have just been contacted by a person who works for SureStart. She, and every other person working for the organisation has been put on pre-emptive notice that they will be out of a job by 31st July unless devolution is restored. Doing this to people over a language act is a disgrace. Selfish madness."
The Dept. of Education has been contacted with a request for comment.
Belfast Telegraph Digital