Brady: ‘Work Experience Programme could breach human rights of Newry’s jobless’
Sinn Fein’s Mickey Brady has spoken out against attempts by the British government to compel young people to work unwaged under the threat of destitution. The Newry and Armagh MLA was speaking after regulations were brought for consideration before the Social Development Committee, of which he is a member. As part of the Tory-led government’s controversial Welfare Reform legislation, the statutory rule under scrutiny is a part of the pending ‘Work Experience Programme’ which will be targeted at young people aged 16 to 24.
Mr Brady said, “This programme has proven to be highly controversial in Britain and could even be in breach of the Human Rights Act. There are two issues of immediate concern, firstly the coercive way in which the programme is being administered in Britain and secondly the quality of work placements being offered to young people. Work experience for the young unemployed must be meaningful and fair. The current global economic crisis has hit the prospects of young people particularly harshly here, with joblessness amongst the 18 to 24 group reaching a 15 year high. Young people had no hand in creating this crisis and should be treated with respect.”
The Assembly Member continued, “I come from an area where at the height of the conflict and through the dark years of Margaret Thatcher, young people were the backbone of this community and I’m not going to stand by and allow another Tory government treat them like scroungers and spongers. No one wants to see the vitality of youth languishing on the dole. As a Sinn Féin MLA I want to see real opportunities for young people and that’s why Sinn Fein placed job creation at the core of the Programme for Government. But we want real jobs and real wages. Not sham work experience for no wage. Sinn Fein members of the Social Development Committee will be working hard to ensure no young person is forced into undertaking menial work, with little or no prospect of it leading to real employment, under the threat of benefit loss.”
Of the challenges ahead Micky continued, “Our first challenge is to ensure that every young person is aware that participation in the Work Experience Programme is voluntary. But the determination of what constitutes consent is highly contentious. At the moment, once a vague admission of consent is established young people are being compelled to undertake any placement regardless of its suitability and their real needs. Staff administrating the programme should ensure consent is only sought when the young person has been made fully aware of the placement being offered. Young people in placements do have the option of withdrawing within the first week but many are not made aware of this. After the first week failure to comply is subject to loss of benefit sanctions.
He added, “Work experience can be meaningful and fair. We owe it to our young people to ensure the programme offers real opportunities to them, opportunities that will broaden horizons and allow them to gain confidence in the world of work. It will be important to monitor the quality of work placements offered to young people and the manner in which the programme is administered.”
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