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Benefit coach recruitment shelved after budget blow


Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has promised she will "continue to fight" to protect low-income families despite her department suspending the recruitment of Universal Credit work coaches.

The decision to halt appointments was made after the funding needed to pay for the positions was not allocated to her department in the draft 2021/22 budget, which is currently out for consultation.

It comes after Sinn Fein Finance Minister Conor Murphy said last month that Stormont had failed to spend almost £300m set aside to cover Covid-19 funding pressures.

However, Westminster will allow that money to be carried into the new financial year, a move the Treasury said demonstrated "unprecedented flexibility" on its part.

The Department for Communities advertised the positions in September and was planning on hiring 350 people on fixed-term appointments.

The coaches were meant to help Universal Credit claimants prepare for work, secure employment, maintain sustained employment and become more financially independent.

The Nipsa trade union said staff were required because of the coronavirus pandemic and the anticipated increase in Universal Credit claims from what is expected to be a large number of redundancies in the near future.

It is understood applicants had already gone through the process of online assessments, video interviews and identification checks.

Many of those who were successful were waiting on a placement letter that would have outlined their start date and office location.

A spokesperson for the department said recruitment had been paused following the publication of the draft Executive budget on January 18.

"It is clear that the draft budget presents very significant challenges for the Executive and across departments, with a constrained spending review outcome," the spokesperson added.

"It is currently out for consultation. No decisions on the final outcome have yet been made.

"The minister is on record as stating that she will continue to fight to protect families living in poverty, low-income families, single-parent families, those with disabilities and children and young people, including those most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and the current economic crisis.

"The minister is committed to working hard to ensure the necessary resources are targeted towards those most in need."

Belfast Telegraph

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