Belfast Telegraph

Employment service for people with disabilities to be axed over Stormont deadlock

By Michael Sheils McNamee

Four jobs will be lost and an employment service for people with disabilities set to be axed due to the Stormont impasse.

Action on Hearing Loss and the RNIB have both said services offered to their clients will stop at the end of next month as future funding cannot be guaranteed.

Action on Hearing Loss have been offering its Specialist Employment Service since April 2015, backed by funding from the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Department for Communities.

As it stands, 65% funding for the scheme from the ESF remains in place and has been secured for the next four years - but the charity has been waiting since December for the Department for Communities to give a commitment on its 35%.

If confirmation of the matched funding is not received by the end of March, four members of staff employed in the service will be made redundant.

Jackie White, NI Director for Action on Hearing Loss told the Belfast Telegraph: "Deaf people find it more difficult than hearing people to secure employment for a number of reasons, and our Specialist Employment Service has a successful track record of being able to secure quality jobs, and changing the lives of deaf people as a result.”

In the past three years the service has supported 87 people, securing full-time employment for 19 and part-time employment for nine. The other 59 have either entered further education, accessed training programmes or taken up work placements.

A representative from the RNIB said matched government funding is "critical" to the delivery of a employment support programme for blind and partially-sighted people, set to begin in April.

A spokesman said: "Our planned programme is eligible for funding from the European Social Fund but without confirmation of match funding from the Department of Communities, we will be unable to proceed."

A spokesperson from the Department for Communities said: "Departments have not yet been allocated budgets for the new financial year starting in April.

“Given the timescale for the commencement of the new phase of ESF from 1 April 2018,  the Department for Communities has written to those organisations who identified the department as a potential match funder, asking them to submit further specific information.  This will allow decisions to be made on applications as soon as an overall budget for the Department has been determined."

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