Page last updated at 12:58 GMT, Thursday, 1 December 2011

Social Development Committee

Sinn Fein MLA Fra McCann criticised a government work experience scheme which he said resulted in young people being put into "meaningless" work such as filling shelves in supermarkets, on 1 December 2011.

The committee was being briefed by departmental officials about the Jobseekers Allowance work experience scheme, which is aimed at 16 to 24 year-old first time jobseekers

Although the scheme is voluntary, Mr McCann said young people believed they would lose their benefits if they did not take part.

He added that people should be trained to take up high tech, better paid jobs.

Anne McCleary from the DSD said she thought there was always advantage in getting people into work.

Mark Durkan of the SDLP and Ulster Unionist Michael Copeland expressed concerns about the effect of work experience placements on the wider labour market.

Colm McLaughlin of the DSD explained that work experience places were not intended to replace permanent posts.

The committee was briefed by representatives of the community and voluntary sector on the regional infrastructure support programme.

Una McKernan of the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action said they had made a plea that the sector should not be made a target for government cuts.

John McMullan of the Bryson Charitable Group warned against the dangers of "rationalisation" which he said could have absurd results.

Mr McMullan said it could result in the proposal of a "ministry of silly walks" for the voluntary sector.

Brian Doherty and Margaret Boyle of the DSD briefed the committee on the arrangements for work capability assessment.

Much of this session centred on the work of ATOS Healthcare, a private sector company that carries out medical assessments of benefit applicants for the government.

Fra McCann expressed concern about what he saw as a lack of medical training among the assessors.

Ulster Unionist Michael Copeland was concerned that a substantial number of people would now "by some miracle" become available for work despite not having undergone any changes in themselves.

Brian Doherty said that so far the number of people transferring to jobseekers allowance was in two figures.

Social development committee membership

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