AQW 33212/11-15

Mr Robin Swann
Ulster Unionist Party
North Antrim

Tabled Date: 01/05/2014
Answered On Date: 19/05/2014
Priority Written: Yes

To ask the Minister for Employment and Learning to detail any (i) scheme or program supported or delivered by his Department which would allow a political party to employ individuals on Job Seekers Allowance to canvas for them during elections; and (ii) political party utilising these schemes or programs.

My Department provides a range of schemes and programmes to support those in receipt of benefit to find work. Steps to Work (StW) is my Departments main adult return to work programme. The programme is available, throughout Northern Ireland, to anyone aged 18 years or over (aged 16 or over in the case of a lone parent) who is unemployed or economically inactive with the aim of assisting them find and remain in employment.
StW guidance specifically excludes programme participants from any activity which is likely to be seen as indoctrinating or as promoting a particular political, religious or other controversial viewpoint. The Department would consider canvassing to be a political activity and as such would not allow the programme to be used for this purpose.
Access to strands of StW provision may be made available to political parties wishing to provide eligible Jobseekers Allowance claimants with appropriate work experience or subsidised employment opportunities for purposes other than those excluded above.
While politicians and political parties utilise StW provision by offering work experience placements and subsidised employment opportunities programme information is not gathered in a format that would facilitate the provision of validated statistical data broken down by political party.
The Youth Employment Scheme (YES) has been introduced to address high levels of unemployment among young people in Northern Ireland. This is a voluntary scheme designed to help young people aged 18 to 24, develop the skills needed to get a job. 
Whilst current staff guidance for this element of the Youth Employment Scheme does not specifically prevent a political party offering individuals on Jobseekers Allowance a placement that involves canvassing during elections, canvassing has not been included in the above placement specifications. 
However, in order both to provide clarity and in line with the Steps to Work programme, staff guidance has been revised to ensure that future YES placements must not include canvassing for elections as part of the placement activity. This revised guidance issued on 8 May 2015.