Dear Minister Gilmore,
Thank you for your reply. There are a number of issues and questions I would like to address in this email.
1. Are you telling me that the training and materials budget of community employment schemes will now not be reduced by 66%?
2. If the Labour Party really believes that Community Employment Schemes carry out an important role within our communities supporting the social fabric, why then would you support measures to undermine these services by reducing their budgets and forcing many of them to close down?
3. If the Labour Party want value for money from CE scheme, why take such a unfair measure of cutting every CE project by the same arbitrary figure of 66%? If you want value for money you will first have to carry out an assessment or evaluation and do this in partnership with the community and voluntary sector. I want value for money and I want better outcomes. I don’t believe your begin honest, fair or just in this budgetary measure.
4. You refer to the Minister Joan Burton seeking value for money, good outcomes, progression and experience for participants. Well I manage Sankalpa (www.sankalpa.ie) and for the last 4 years since starting to work in the service that is what I have been committed to doing. Sankalpa comes under the special CE schemes for drug users seeking support with their recovery, rehabilitation and progression towards life long learning and future employment. The biggest obstacle we face in trying to progress our participants is the overly medicalized treatment they receive for their addiction. They have been overly medicalized on methadone, zimovaine, valium, anti-depressants and other medications. By the time they reach our service, they have been brain washed by psychiatry and medicine – policies supported by Government. It can take up to 3 years to bring someone through the Sankalpa program from being highly medicated to becoming drug free, dealing with the underlying causes of their addiction and embracing education, social change, housing and re-integration into family systems and local communities. During those two to three years, on a small budget we work hard to maximize the value of every euro spend and every hour of the day and day of the week. We face intimidation on a regular basis and work in highly stressed environments and communities. I work 60 hours a week to make Sankalpa an effective service with better outcomes. So before you judge the work of these services and make unfair cuts, please find out the facts and involve us in the process of evaluation, analysis and redevelopment. Please do not leave this to senior officials from FAS or the department of Social Protection. Respect the communities who voted for Roisin Shortall TD and John Lyons TD (Dublin North West).
5. As for asking your FAS regional directors “to analyze the capacity of sponsoring organizations to absorb their budget reductions”. Minister Gilmore you are simply endorsing the culture of ‘the shadow employer’ where by FAS are micro managing CE services in community and voluntary services and ignoring the rights of the employers. FAS officials and no doubt when they become officials of the department of social protection, do not have a commitment to partnership or collaboration in my experience. It seems unfair that you are suggesting such a strategy, one that further disempowers communities and local organizations. I really don’t understand where your are coming from giving that you are a Labour (I assume socialist) TD?
6. Finally, I was in the Public Gallery today during the so called debate on the social welfare budget today, with two participants on Community Employment in Sankalpa. Both of whom have been homeless, heroin dependent users, and now both are drug free, detoxed off their methadone, both doing a progression course linked to Cabra VEC called the ‘explore program’. One of them lost his brother to addiction this year, and yet David still remains drug free and committed to his recovery. Both of these men are fathers and are trying to do their best by their Children. Both of them were shocked at the pantomime that passes for a debate on a bill that will affect the most vulnerable in our society. Only Dessie Ellis TD, Mary Lou McDonald TD and Richard Boyd Barrett TD took the time to speak to us and acknowledge our presence.
Minister Gilmore I believe that you want to respect the needs and rights of all our citizens equally. Please have the courage to be transparent and honest and state clearly that this government is not going to cut the funding to community employment services.
Please ensure a fair and transparent review of community employment takes place and that this review will be done in partnership with the community and voluntary sector, the communities in which they are based and the participants who use these services.
Dr. Tom O Brien
Sankalpa Finglas – Cabra