When €1.7m is not enough

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When €1.7m is not enough

Twenty-seven areas in Co Wexford are designated ‘very disadvantaged’. A social inclusion fund is only one of many measures needed to improve the communities and a county which needs massive investment. David Looby reports


March, 2018: The signing of the 2018-2022 SICAP contract with Wexford County Council and Wexford Local Development (from left) back – Ann Marie Laffan, Padraig O’Gorman, Ger Mackey and Michael Sweeney, all Wexford County Council; front – Brian Kehoe and Michael Wall, WLD; Cllr Kathleen Codd, and Tom Enright, CE Wexford County Council
March, 2018: The signing of the 2018-2022 SICAP contract with Wexford County Council and Wexford Local Development (from left) back – Ann Marie Laffan, Padraig O’Gorman, Ger Mackey and Michael Sweeney, all Wexford County Council; front – Brian Kehoe and Michael Wall, WLD; Cllr Kathleen Codd, and Tom Enright, CE Wexford County Council

The facilitators of a €7m programme to deliver improvements in 27 very disadvantaged areas across the county have an ‘impossible’ job on their hands.

This was the view of some councillors at the monthly meeting of Wexford County Council who said the Social Inclusion and Community Activation (SICAP) programme funding, which amounts of €1.7m per year in LEADER funding, would not be enough to transform the lives of people living in one of the 27 areas.

A stark picture emerged of people living in the very disadvantaged areas of Co Wexford who do not even have second level education and some can’t read or write.

There are 30,000 people living in disadvantaged areas within the county, and 6,650 people are living in what has been designated as a very disadvantaged area.

CEO of Wexford Local Development Brian Kehoe said: ‘We have been asked to work with them in particular. County Wexford is the fifth most disadvantaged local authority area nationally. People (from outside the county) are quite surprised when you mention it to them because the county looks prosperous and well. Maybe we haven’t put that message out there well enough.’

Mr Kehoe said the statistics don’t solely take into account the county’s unemployment rate, but also factor in education and health levels.

Wexford County Council has been allocated funding, as have all local authorities, but the programme is only one of several funding injections required to improve the county’s statistics.

‘It was awarded to this Wexford County Council last April after a tendering process,’ Mr Kehoe said, adding that its purpose is to tackle poverty and disadvantage by providing supports to marginalised individuals.

As part of the strategy Wexford Local Development devised a five-year strategy, part of which involves the drafting of annual plans.

He said community groups are the main beneficiaries of the programme, whose officers worked with over 1,000 people last year.

Among the supports SICAP programmes provide include teaching interview skills, providing pathways into a second chance at education, training, youth programmes including Head Start, Next Step and Archway and people who are starting their own business through a Back to Work scheme.

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Working under five thematic headlines: community development, training, social enterprise, SICAP staff are allocated to communities who are successful with their applications. ‘In each of the four districts we have a staff member who works with community groups and individuals. It doesn’t exist in isolation. It’s based within a council that has a lot of other programmes.’

The voluntary programme has no compulsory referrals.

‘There would be a lot of referrals into and from the Cornmarket Project, Tús, LES, Ability. We work with a huge number of children and families. We have 13 target groups including people with disabilities and disadvantaged children.’

Mr Kehoe said many community projects in disadvantaged areas have benefited. He said: ‘We have exceeded our targets. 429 children and 350 parents have been involved.’

He said there are myriad issues involved and the SICAP group only have a budget of €1.7m, half of what was allocated for a similar programme a decade ago. ‘The figure reflects the cuts that have been made to the community sector. The national budget is down €43.2m while poverty rate have doubled in that period. On its own SICAP can’t really solve these problems. There are a lot of issues that affect deprived areas. They are structural issues really.’

Mr Kehoe said Peter Bacon released a report in 1999 on the county’s economy.

‘A task-force was set up by Mary Harney after a number of company closures including Wexford Electronix in Wexford. A report called Wexford: A Legacy of Social Neglect was produced. Our own company did this report two years ago and I’m not sure how much has changed. Disadvantaged areas are still a huge challenge and issue in the county.’

Councillors were told the county has the third lowest third level education attainment rate.

‘We need additional resources into the county from Government. We have had some (including through the urban and rural regeneration fund), To tackle the scale of disadvantage serious funding is needed.’

Cllr Michael Sheehan said he was concerned about the level of collaboration taking place within communities.

He said some community groups have benefited greatly from SICAP, while others haven’t at all ‘as they wouldn’t have the capacity or the collaborative talent needed’.

Calling for a root and branch investigation into the 27 areas, Cllr Sheehan expressed concern that little or no progress will be made in some of the areas.

Cllr Fionntáin Ó’Suilleabháin said the statistics outlined by Mr Kehoe make for grim reading, adding that: ‘it makes us out to be far less than a model county’.

‘While €1.6m is delivering fantastic projects to local level, can it make much of a difference at county level?’

Cllr David Hynes said the RAPID programme was very beneficial to its target disadvantaged areas in New Ross and Wexford.

He said the county’s suicide and drugs problems have not improved. ‘This council needs a massive amount of money to be put back into communities after all the industries we have lost.’

Mr Kehoe conceded that the most the programme can do is to help individuals. ‘At the end of the day there are 150,000 people in Co Wexford. We are working with 1,000 people every year. I am not going to sit here and say that €1.7m in funding isn’t significant but in the context of what is needed and what we are trying to do, where you are into areas like housing and health services and access to third level, SICAP can’t do that.’

Claire Ryan of SICAP said poverty concerns people’s income levels and people having access to a certain standard of living. Ms Ryan said: ‘We all need to be working towards improving that situation,’ adding that around 35 per cent of the people living in the 27 areas have primary school education levels or lower. The lack of affordable childcare is preventing single mothers from advancing themselves through training and further education.

‘It’s a big barrier to lone parents. There are a lot of areas that our programme is not going to impact on but we can and do influence labour market participation. At the end of the day the SICAP programme will not make any difference to the deprivation index. Only a whole government approach will see an impact on disadvantaged areas.’

He said Travellers and members of the county’s Roma community need supports.

Cllr Sheehan said: ‘I fail to understand how €8.5m will not make a material difference in the lives of people in this county. We have had meetings with youth groups in New Ross and in the north of the county and we are meeting with groups dealing with disabilities.’

He said SICAP is not getting groups to collaborate within communities, adding ‘it’s not inclusive’.

‘If we are focussing on 27 areas it needs to work for 27 areas.’

Ms Ryan disputed the claim that SICAP wasn’t helping people, saying 1,055 individuals have been supported by the programme in Co Wexford to date. She said many people have progressed into full-time work and have started their own businesses. She said SICAP is not going to materially change statistics about the labour market in any dramatic way.

Cllr George Lawlor said €1.7m to cover 27 very disadvantaged areas and 13 target groups means the SICAP team have been asked to do the impossible.

‘Wexford Area partnership had €1.2m just to deal with issues within the ring roads of Wexford. You are being asked to cover 27 areas with €1.7m, that’s €60,000 per annum per area. How can you target social inclusion and disadvantage in areas. You cannot tackle anything with the resources you have at the minute.’

He said the most savage cuts to community funding was by the government in power in 2009.

‘We are the fifth worst county nationally according to deprivation statistics. We have had decades of total exclusion and we’ve no proper third level campus. There are issues with poor accessibility which are being addressed and a lack of IDA visits.’

Cllr Lawlor said community and sporting groups can help to improve disadvantaged areas like Maudlintown in Wexford. ‘You are literally being asked to perform miracles. Until the correct resources are allocated I would not be demanding anything because as councillors we would laugh at that (funding) if we were asked to do anything with it.’

Cllr Tony Walsh praised the SICAP committee for the work they have done and for exceeding their targets. He called for a serious sociological study to be carried out into the 27 areas. Cllr John Hegarty said: ‘It’s an impossible job and a very difficult task but that is what we are faced with regularly. We are trying to do the best we can with what we have where we are. These workers have left the communities slightly better off and we should be looking at doing a lot more development capacity within these communities as that is how progress will grow. At the end of the day if there is a slight improvement over time that is all we can do as the progress the county makes relates to how much progress we make in these areas.’

Mr Kehoe said the SICAP team work with individuals on average six to seven times. ‘We are seeing improvements in the capacity. It’s a long running battle and people leave community groups after nine or ten years saying: “I have had enough of this”.

Ms Ryan said SICAP staff work to improve individual’s personal development, communication skills, literacy rates, numeracy rates, substance misuse, mental health, CV preparation, interview skills and return to education programmes. Cllr Barbara Anne Murphy said the 27 areas designated ‘very disadvantaged’ haven’t improved for the better.

She said there are people who can’t read or write living in the 27 areas, adding that they are certainly not going on to sit their Junior Cert or Leaving Cert. ‘These are children in one income families who are on Social Welfare. Many ask if it’s worthwhile to get out of Social Welfare as you are giving up all the secondary payments and benefits like a medical card, Back to School Allowance etc.’

She quoted the definition of madness, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. ‘You don’t seem to be doing anything differently,’ she said, criticising SICAP’s policy of cold calling to houses. ‘I don’t think that is a good way to get into an area. If we are not making any difference then we shouldn’t be doing it. If we are not going to move any of these areas out of disadvantage to advantage, obviously what we are doing isn’t right. Individuals being worked with is wonderful but it’s a difficulty you have and if you don’t have capacity building. People are moving forward in communities where they are developing men’s sheds and women’s community groups.

‘They may not have finished primary school but they have skills for their community. Are they getting a job so they can start a career for themselves? My fear is that we’re going to have even more disadvantaged areas in Co Wexford.’

Cllr Robbie Ireton said: ‘They are giving chicken money to feed emus.’

Cllr Willie Fitzharris said its a big ask to get volunteers to devote the time necessary to filling out forms for programmes like SICAP. He suggested a mentoring programme to help committee in the very disadvantaged areas to fill out forms.

‘While your staff are extremely helpful and courteous I suspect lots of community groups would be in difficulty with their paperwork. I think you are doing tremendous work. Obviously we need more money; that goes without saying.’

Ms Ryan said SICAP is for individuals who don’t normally engage with the mainstream support services, defending the policy of knocking on people’s doors.

‘We are of the view that it’s a first step. When we speak to people we do invite them to social events or to First Step training programmes, but it has been extremely effective.’

Ms Ryan said there have been improvements recorded in the very disadvantaged communities in recent years.

Supporting her assertion, Cllr Mick Roche said: ‘We have seen big benefits in my community and major changes. This is about empowering an individual who, in turn, empower communities.’

Cllr Malcolm Byrne said the county is improving its higher education attainment statistics and is on par with the national average. ‘The concern is among our most deprived communities. These figures are not changing. I entirely agree that this is a broader issue. It’s about the question of social inclusion.’

He said Census figures for 2011-2016 show that there has been an increase in very disadvantaged areas.

‘We still have areas of high deprivation and poverty. This council can’t expect one small programme to be transformative. This programme will help but it won’t make any overall difference. Wexford Local Development and the local authority have failed to meet our objectives if we are not tackling the issue of social exclusion. I would ask the question of other Wexford Local Development programme. LEADER funding was not invested in these communities where there were high levels of disadvantage.’

Cllr Byrne intimated that funding went to community committees who knew how to access it and still does.

‘It has to be (invested) around areas of capacity building.’

Seeking a breakdown of how the €1.7m is spent, Cllr Byrne said there are a limited number of training places for people.

Ms Ryan said around 21 per cent of the money goes on administration and staffing costs.

Cllr Tony Dempsey said: ‘I can sense Brian’s frustration. Obviously if we had a lot of money the local community development committee would be working with Wexford Local Development. As public representatives we should engage more with our colleagues.’

Cllr Dempsey attributed the county’s poverty issue to some of its citizens’ lack of education, calling for more financial supports for families.

Cllr Marie Doyle said New Ross has benefited from the great work SICAP has done.

‘It can really be seen in individuals you have been working with. We need a strategy to deal with these targeted areas; areas that mightn’t have been engaged with. For community groups and especially socially isolated people, I think knocking on doors is the only way as they might have mental health issues.’

Cllr Johnny Mythen called on the county’s five TDs to highlight the lack of investment in health and education within the county over decades.

‘€1.7m is not a lot considering the scale of the problem. These are not figures we would like to see.’

Chairperson of the council’s Local Community Development Committee Cllr Kathleen Codd Nolan said: ‘Collaboration is the name of the game. Everyone on the committee has certain budgets and if we work together we can achieve a lot.’

She said it will be evident over time what is and what is not working.

Cllr Keith Doyle said it is much easier to monitor the progress of SICAP in rural communities where there are fewer people to target than in the country’s towns.

‘I know in the Enniscorthy area there is a place that is classed as disadvantaged because it has an older demographic and the majority of people living there are retired. It’s not an area I would class as being disadvantaged.’

Ms Ryan said Co Wexford is at an extreme disadvantage in terms of government funding compared to other counties, adding that more investment is needed.

New Ross Standard



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