Northern Ireland charity jobs and services at risk as EU funds dry up

A charity working with young people with learning disabilities and autism has warned that a loss of EU funding could jeopardize jobs and services.

arnes Access Employment Learning (AEL) will lose £190,000 in European Social Fund (ESF) cash from March next year after the UK leaves the EU.

AEL funds its on-the-job training program with ESF money, with matching funding also provided by the Department for Communities and the Northern Health and Social Care Trust.

Lorraine Black, the charity’s head of services, said jobs were at risk and 40 people who used her services would be lost.

She also warned that unless alternative funding was found, other charities and social enterprises would perish.

“The worst case scenario is we can’t find a replacement for the £190,000,” she added.

“That program will not exist and that will have a major impact on the services in this community. There will be layoffs. It will affect the economy because trainees cannot get this work experience.

“The worst thing is that they have suffered enough with Covid. We have seen trainees decline. They lost time because of Covid and it affected their progress.

“Since Covid, there has been an increase in the number of trainees with anxiety and mental health issues.

“They are then further removed from the labor market, have to contend with additional needs, poverty and social isolation.”

Since its first hands-on ESF training program in 2015, the organization has supported 165 apprentices, of whom 27 have gone into paid employment, 12 into long-term volunteering and 10 into continuing education.

“The organization offers opportunities for our trainees. It’s a recreation center and allows those individuals to gain work experience, but it’s also a respite for families,” Ms Black said.

AEL employs more than 30 people and works with dozens of people every week.

Ms Black said while there have been talks with the executive about securing money from Westminster’s Shared Prosperity Fund, she doesn’t think a plan is in place.

“[It’s not yet clear] what they fund, how they bring it to what they are interested in, or [what] their priorities [are],” she added.

“We don’t know what that process will look like. That that would happen by March would be a miracle.

“The best case scenario is that the funding is replaced and [the programme] continues. I can’t see this coming [in time].”

The Business Department said the central government has made it clear that all decisions surrounding the Shared Prosperity Fund would be made by Whitehall’s Department for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities.

A spokesman added: “While the department has no formal role in the negotiations for EU replacement funding, it has taken every opportunity to raise the concerns of the sector.” Northern Ireland charity jobs and services at risk as EU funds dry up

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