A CASTLEROCK grandmother has branded the Sure Start scheme as operating a “postcode lottery” due to funding constraints.
The woman, who asked not to be named, said that people living in supposedly affluent areas such as Portrush, Portstewart and Castlerock are being “discriminated” against because they are deemed ineligible for help from the scheme.
And Independent Unionist Assembly candidate David McClarty has also called for a change in the parameters in which Sure Start operates.
Coleraine Sure Start is a government initiative established to work with expectant parents and families with children up to four years of age. It aims to promote the physical, intellectual and social development of pre-school children to ensure they are ready to flourish when they get to school. They provide a wide range of activities and services to people living in the Ballysally, Millburn, Harpur’s Hill, The Heights, Killowen, Coleraine Town Centre and Windyhall areas.
The Castlerock grandmother told the Times: “My son was made redundant from his job and, thankfully, got another but lower paid job.
“I went to the Sure Start office in Coleraine for advice on how we could get help for our grandson.
“The girls in the office were lovely and very helpful but the scheme only allows them to help people in certain areas.
“Areas like Castlerock, Portrush and Portstewart are not eligible for help because they are not included in the scheme.
“This is just a postcode lottery. I am not begrudging anyone whatever help they can avail of but there are a lot of people living in those Sure Start areas who are earning good wages and are availing of their schemes.
“There are lots of people who need help but can’t get it because of where they live. It can’t be means tested so surely there is a better way. This is so unfair.
“I had no idea this was the case until we were put in the position of having to seek help and it was because circumstances dictated it. This is not because of my son’s lack of responsibility or lack of enthusiasm to get a job.
“It is very unfair and the staff at Sure Start were obviously frustrated by it as well.
“The funding comes from the Department of Education so I have written to the Minister Caitriona Ruane and told her that the way the scheme is administered is discrimination.”
David McClarty agreed that the scheme was flawed in that there are areas which are labelled as being affluent but which still have “pockets of deprivation”.
“In the borough there are people who qualify and people who don’t but both come from the same socio-economic background.”
Praising the work of Sure Start in Coleraine, Mr McClarty said that he recognised the staff were forced to work under constraints set down by the Department of Education.
“Equality is the by-word these days so we definitely need to lobby for change when the Assembly is up and running again.”
The Coleraine Times contacted Coleraine Sure Start Partnership who stated that the areas in which they work are “designated as the most deprived areas in the borough and are not based on income or individual circumstances.”
The Times also contacted the Department of Education for a response who would only say: “Coleraine Sure Start covers the ward areas of Ballysally, Central, Churchlands, Cross Glebe, Knocklyn, University, and Windyhall and Millburn estates. The budget for Coleraine Sure Start for 2010/11 was £850,925. As of the Child Health Records at 31 March 2010 there were 1,021 0-4 year olds within Coleraine Sure Start area.”