40 jobs saved in community work scheme

Plans to cut $50,000 of funding from a Dunedin employment programme have been scrapped, saving 40 jobs.

The Ministry of Social Development intended to stop funding the Activity in the Community (AIC) scheme, for sickness and invalid beneficiaries, run as part of the Dunedin City Council's Taskforce Green.

Taskforce Green organiser Alex Griffen was made aware of the change late last month, but a well-timed visit to Wellington by Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull and lobbying by council staff convinced the ministry to retain it.

Mr Cull met ministry officials last month and an announcement early this month revealed its review of plans.

The scheme, which costs $50,000 a year to run, would now be incorporated under the ministry's job streams employment package.

Mr Griffen said common sense had prevailed.

"We were told we were going to be finishing, then it was extended for two weeks, then two months.

There were one or two people who were very concerned," he said.

The decision was "quite a surprise, because we are dealing with central government", but he did not believe there were any "fish-hooks" in the deal.

"It means a continuation of all the good work we've been doing."

Taskforce Green had been running for about 20 years and covered two groups.

About 40 people worked under the AIC branch, while two worked as supervisors of them under Taskforce Green.

Unemployed people were referred to the scheme through Winz. Activity in the Community workers remained on their benefit and received $21 as a participation allowance to work three days a week.

Supervisors were taken off the benefit and the council received a subsidy to employ them.

When he was first told the scheme would be scrapped, Mr Griffen's concern was for the people and those who relied on the service.

"They all want to be here.

"There is not one of them who comes with a grudge.

"It gives them a purpose," he said.

The workers carried out such activities as bundling council rubbish bags for sale, planting for the Dunedin Rhododendron Trust, trapping for the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust, and clearing graffiti.

"Over the years we've developed a system. We've got all these community organisations that depend on us."

Mr Cull was "very pleased the ministry has listened to our representations".

"Its change of stance means 40 Activity In The Community workers will continue to make their valuable contribution to the city's wellbeing through meaningful and satisfying employment."

The council noted the purpose of the scheme was to move those not work-tested into better life opportunities, he said.

"We are pleased the scheme can continue fostering people through the programme and give them the opportunity to gain valuable work experience," he said.

Council events and community development manager Rebecca Williams was "thrilled by the decision".

"The work that the Activity in the Community team do in our city is significant and this decision goes some way towards recognising that."


Background 
• The Dunedin City Council Taskforce Green scheme, funded by the Ministry of Social Development, is in two categories, Taskforce Green and Activity in the Community.
• The Dunedin City Council uses the Taskforce Green subsidy to allow a person to participate in project-based work to develop work habits and on-the-job skills.The aim is for the person to move into unsubsidised work within eight weeks, or to have a significant increase in willingness and capacity to work.
• To be eligible for Taskforce Green, a person must be disadvantaged in the local labour market and at risk of long-term benefit dependency, and be receiving some form of government financial assistance.
• Activity in the Community provides voluntary, unpaid work experience to help people, including those with ill health or a disability, to develop more skills, gain confidence and participate in a community. Participants receiving a benefit could also receive $21 a week to cover participation-related costs, and up to $20 a week for other relevant costs. AIC is designed to last no more than 26 weeks in a 52-week period.


-ellie.constantine@odt.co.nz

 

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