Programme Will Help Disabled Find Work

A programme aimed at helping people with disabilities and illnesses find work is to be rolled out throughout Northern Ireland by next April.

The Pathways to Work scheme, which has already been piloted in a number of areas since October 2005 and helped over 800 people to secure jobs, weans people off welfare and provides personal advisers to prepare them for work.

During a visit to one scheme in Enniskillen, Stormont Employment and Learning Minister, Sir Reg Empey said there was clear evidence that the programme which is run by his office in conjunction with the Social Security Agency and the Department of Health was transforming the lives of those people who had become dependent on benefits.

“It has long been acknowledged that the best route out of poverty and social exclusion is through work,” the Ulster Unionist minister said. “Pathways to Work is clearly providing the support that will help many, who have manageable health conditions and disabilities, to move into suitable work and away from welfare dependency.”

Sir Reg said his department had secured resources to ensure the scheme was rolled out across Northern Ireland. “By April of next year it will be available to everyone whether they are making a new claim to an incapacity benefit or whether they are an existing claimant and wish to volunteer for the help on offer,” he confirmed.

“This initiative has already proved that it can improve the lives of many people and their families. I believe that it also has wider benefits for society and the economy as a whole.”

Under the programme claimants have their Incapacity Benefit claims processed quicker to allow them to concentrate on the work-focused elements of the service.

Specially trained personal advisers provide:

  • Up to six work-focused interviews for all new claimants
  • Improved referrals to Disablement Employment Programmes
  • New work-focused rehabilitation programmes in partnership with the Health Service
  • Clearer incentives to work, offering a new Return to Work Credit of £40 per week
  • Better support for those moving off incapacity benefits onto Jobseeker`s Allowance.

The scheme was first piloted in Ballymoney, Magherafelt and Lurgan. It has since been rolled out to Enniskillen, Newry, Newtownabbey, Lisburn, Limavady, Foyle and Lisnagelvin in Derry, the Falls, Shankill, Knockbreda and Shaftesbury Square in Belfast.

Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie praised staff in the three different government departments involved in the scheme. “My department is determined to reduce poverty and social exclusion,” the SDLP minister said. “Helping people to move from benefits into work is one of the best ways to achieve this.

“Of course, it is important to remember that for some people, particularly those with more severe conditions, a return to work will not be an option. The Social Security Agency will, of course, ensure that those people get all the financial support to which they are entitled.”

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey said his department was involved in developing and delivering the Condition Management Programme in the scheme which helped people with mild to moderate health conditions or disabilities better understand their condition and to develop strategies for managing that condition in the context of work.

“Early indications are that it is having considerable success in changing people`s thinking about what they can and cannot do in the context of work,” he said.