Stormont’s Steps to Success

The Derry Trades Union Council recently organised a well-attended protest outside the premises of People Plus NI. Protests outside People Plus NI premises have been ongoing since last year.

Socialist Worker

Stormont’s Steps to Success

 Ruairi Gallagher

The company, formerly known as Action for Employment, was established in north-west England during the early 1990’s when unemployment proliferated as a result of successive Tory governments deliberately destroying the country’s industrial-base and privatising its economy in order to  weaken the trade unions and working class solidarity.
People Plus has a discredited history: it has been at the centre of various fraud scandals and has often been publicly criticised for its poor results and the massive salaries which its executives are receiving.
The involvement of People Plus NI can be traced back to October 2014 when Stormont first launched its draconian ‘Steps to Success’ (an obvious misnomer) programme to replace ‘Steps to Work’.
It is a compulsory scheme for claimants who have been on Job Seekers for 12 months if aged 25 or above or 9 months if under.
Three private contractors were tasked to spearhead the scheme across Northern Ireland: Ingeus UK in Belfast, People Plus NI in the north-west and Reed in Partnership in the southern region.
Claimants on the Steps to Success scheme have often indignantly explained they are ‘ordered to look for jobs that do not exist’ and ‘it has caused endless stress and anxiety because of benefit sanctions’.
After a period of time of being on the scheme, claimants are then ‘forced to work for their benefits, which often results in working full time (over 30 hours per-week) for an extra £10 or £15’ on top of the meagre weekly jobseekers allowance of £55 for under 25’s.
Derry is one of the most vulnerable regions across Britain and Ireland, continuing to have high unemployment and a low-wage economy.
The increasing commodification of the unemployed for profit under the capitalist system is wholly unacceptable.
It is a indisputable that people want to work, but they rightly want to work for a living wage. The right to a living wage is a fundamental human right that has been exploited by Stormont’s Steps to Success programme.
Steps to Success, like its precursor Steps to Work, has been a failure. Less than 1 in 5 initial participants have found permanent employment. 31, 556 have registered for the scheme since 2014 and only 6,773 have found work. The number of those still in permanent employment after six months has fallen to less than 10 % for every month since May 2015.
More than 5, 333 benefit sanctions have been enforced on welfare claimants registered for the scheme in Derry. It is estimated 21, 386 benefit sanctions have been enforced on the sick and unemployed in 2015, amounting to approximately 1800 sanctions per-month.
Cuts are hitting people hard across the North.  Private contractors have been handed somewhere between £50-80 million to run this failed scheme. Available money should instead be provided to already existing support groups and advice centres with a genuine interest in helping the most vulnerable in society.
People Before Profit will continue to call for an end to the Steps to Success scheme and hold Stormont to account for its capitulation to the Tories austerity programme and its demonising of the unemployed.

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