Unemployment, A Problem Un-tackled:

Being unemployed, is something that strikes at the heart of who you are as a human being in society.  The term conjures up negative thoughts when mentioned in any arena.  When you think of the word unemployed some words spring to mind.  Spongers, lazy no good nothing…, milking of the state, dole cheats and the wrongs go on.  Yes wrongs are what I said.  For being unemployed is nothing like many perceive.  It’s not merely about, as some see it, “sitting on our behind and doing nothing”.  Our full time job is to find and attain a job.  It is wrong to tar everyone with the same brush, but society as it is, generalises almost everyone in this group in the same vain.

If we do as we are told, do our schooling, earn our papers and qualifications and work then loose our job is it our fault?  I’ll address this more clearly later.  Back to the negativity surrounding being ‘unemployed’.  People, I believe, don’t choose to be unemployed.  If asked in a national school as we all were ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ have you ever heard ‘I want to be on the dole…’ NO, I don’t believe that you would hear this, for if you did warning lights would appear.  Nor do you ever see someone aspire to receiving benefits.  If it was, as people suggest, then there would no doubt be a course or 3rd level institution training people to get their benefits and remain unemployed.  So this argument that people choose, is incorrect and frankly somewhat absurd to suggest otherwise.

I know of people who don’t want to work, not because work itself will harm them but the financial imperatives in loss of benefits are too great.  Now this is not “I don’t want to work” but more ‘I fear what I will loose as a consequence of working’.  So a simple plan would be cut the benefits and they will all work.  Again no.  For this approach could cut those who cannot genuinely get employment and what happens then is the cycle of poverty is perpetuated even more.

Society does little to embrace people who are unemployed as viable people.  If an opinion is given, society frowns as if to say what would we know.  Society accepts the voices of other sections such as ‘voice of older people, voice of stay at home parents’ as viable voices.  Yet if unemployed, our opinion is taken of little value.  This is inherently wrong. 

The problems when unemployed are perpetuated by this negativity continually.  The self fulfilling prophecy of unemployment is ever growing.  In short “if you’re told long enough that you are stupid, then you will end up believing that you are”.  However the problems of the person who is unemployed are greater than just this.  Feelings of a lack of self worth, no self confidence, poorer physical health, increased mental health issues such as depression, higher possibility to have an addiction, significantly decreased social network (feeling alone even if others are around or experiencing the same), lower literacy levels as less opportunity to use learned skills in everyday environment.  Oh, lastly a comment of “…we are all in the same boat…” does nothing to make us feel better so please don’t mention this by way of comforting us.  This list is by no means exhaustive.  There are more difficulties facing those in unemployment.  Those already mentioned are none financial.  The basic needs of heat, light (both fuel poverty), food, servicing mortgage rents etc make being unemployed even worse.  Where you live also adds to this difficulty.  If you live in Donegal, you are more likely to become long term unemployed as opposed to if you lived in Dublin.

These are all legitimate elements in the life of a person unemployed.  Elements that society fails to or simply do not want to believe.  If you are in employment, you can nearly delete many of the above elements.  I would love to get into greater detail about the full myriad of issues, but the truth is you’d most likely not read to the finish, another societal reality.  With approximately 450,000 unemployed and some 75-80,000 emigrating in 2010, that’s over half a million; things do not show an economy turning.  I would argue that this figure doesn’t reflect the truer picture.  How people are recognised on the ‘live register’ figures is something that has never been effective measurement.  The live register does not include people on schemes or education courses such as a FAS course or a community employment scheme or indeed those who are unwaged.  I would put the figure closer between 750,000 and 1 million that are ‘really unemployed’.  As a person who is unemployed, I am annoyed at hearing the various legislators saying “we must invest in jobs…we will help those most vulnerable…we have increased activation measures…”  This is not, will not, and ca not work. Why, primarily as they are measures that have no flexibility in delivery, i.e. you must be 6months unemployed or on a specific payment to get onto a course etc.  Nor do they result in attaining actual full time employment, which most people either want to train for or enter into.

 

For me to be part of society I need to feel valued, currently I don’t.  When policy is made in the heart of departments in Dublin, there measures are based on misinformed theory.  The theory of “non involvement of people who are unemployed” If I were a Health Professional, most likely I would be consulted in some manner if changes were to happen within the health sector, if not the uproar would begin.  But, being unemployed, I’m viewed as having little or indeed nothing to offer to policy makers as “they know best”.  Simply put, this is Rubbish. 

If I had the expertise, personnel and budget at my disposal that government has then I’m sure I would make an impact.  Firstly, by involving those who these problems affect, yes the unemployed, would be at the heart of my policy making.  Not to throw money at us. Not to implement silly inconsequential measures, but to register their value as integral parts of our society.  To open up opportunities that really can make a consequential difference.  As I have mentioned before, rolling our real courses targeted at aspiring market needs, not thousand upon thousand of ECDL a very basic computer course.  This was the response when large industries left Donegal in the 80’s / 90’s to throw FAS at everyone to complete a computer course.  Ridiculous it seemed, and it turned out to be just that, ridiculous. 

Targeted approaches, with regional variations are a firm measurer.  E.G. I wouldn’t be overly promoting farming courses in Killybegs where fishing is the main source of income.  Not to suggest that some might not benefit, but target the people and not a blanket approach which is and has been the method to-date?  There is no “one size fits all” approach for people who are unemployed.  To get this message alone through to the policy makers would in itself be a measure, but alone it would have no impact.

Policy has focused on “Active Labour Market Programmes” i.e. Community Employment.  These have benefited huge amount of people in many ways, again, their value is undermined within the policy context as its FAS who oversee this and included in their overall budget.  FAS are a spent entity in my books and have added little to creating an employment sector. I won’t even mention the misappropriation scandals or the fact that the same level of personnel are present during the boom as the downturn!  The National Anti Poverty Strategy, a document hailed as something that would add real value to this discussion which placed obligations on department and the likes of FAS to actively tackle the problem, failed.  Why?  Implementation was sporadic at best, and for the most part ineffective as it needed the full buy in of department personnel.  It didn’t get this, as more problems internally were found that it proved to highlight more inadequacies than anything else.  The poor reflection of agencies inaction further compounded the problem.  A problem, that the powers that be, have failed, and failed miserably to tackle with any vigour.  Could I or others such as the INOU (Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed) do any better?  YES, we could have.  EU funding was primarily focused on peace building and infrastructural project.  All necessary and valued programmes.  The EU offered nothing to tackle the unemployment issue.  National Government itself paid scant regard to those on the fringes, only to cut payments to valued social schemes or payments.  Hardly a ringing endorsement of their intent when they do this.

Whilst on the over sea’s nature of many peoples argument, such as in Northern Ireland they get less in benefits than if living in the south.  Well, lets dispel some of this once and for all.  If commentators want to analyse this, they should do so by providing like for like scenario.  You wouldn’t liken Ireland’s economy to the USA, would you?  Nor would you say Irelands Health system should be compared to the Iraq system to give plausible arguments for or against.  Nevertheless, lets take some practical elements.

  1. If on a waiting list in NI (single male unemployed & on benefit), you will get housed in approx 6months.  In Ireland you could be waiting anything up to 10-15 years (if ever).
  2.  You get less actual payment on benefit in NI.  Yes, however they do not have the same cost of living e.g. utilities.  Many utilities (phone/equivalent ESB etc cost 21% less & they have more exemptions than I Ireland e.g. refuse collection etc)
  3. Winter payments such as fuel allowance are not available in NI.  Yes, however they get a yearly once off (annual) payment for heating oil. Last year during the winter benefit recipients in NI also got a ‘once off payment’ of £110 (adjusted based on means)
  4. The means test is more stringent in NI to get benefits.  No, the actual means equivalent in NI is much easier to qualify.
  5. Payments in Ireland are made weekly unlike NI.  Yes, NI get paid bi-weekly, however there are intervening payments that can be obtained if very necessary.
  6. Irelands unemployed get more allowance than those in NI.  No, on an actual like for like benefit, NI have extensively more assistance payment & methods.
  7. Ireland have a better level & amount of FREE training than NI.  No.  The waiting lists in NI for any course of comparison to our are approx weeks as opposed to qualifying periods in Ireland, such as you must be unemployed for 6months or 12 months to participate in the Tus Programme.

These are just a few instances of many that I can give.  So if we are to be compared to another country / jurisdiction then we should at least compare like with like to afford wider society of the REAL PICTURE and not a lop sided version.  Comparisons with similar systems in larger countries, even if different systems is ok for analysis purposes if we seek change, but as for like for like, then the authorities need to be a little more prudent.

This comment was not intended to be doom an gloom.  It does however highlight that the system itself needs an overhaul.  Overhaul in terms of who makes the decisions, how they operate, how they target, and importantly measured against the real figures of unemployment.  If this is not a benchmark then we do it again differently.  We must not just say this project isn’t working, as this is no longer a reasonable option. It must work.

 

To expand slightly on some of the options that could really encourage a decrease in unemployment.

  1. Decrease employers PRSI on a sliding scale for each new employee hired.
  2. Entrants into the employment market pay a similar sliding scale tax rate until full time employment is assured
  3. Benefit recipients can retain a sliding scale of welfare (as was with BTWA) for two years.
  4. Medical card entitlements remain for approx 13 months, and then reduced to a Doctor only GP visit card. 
  5. JobsBridge and Internship scraped.  Replaced with Trainee Scheme where employer pays Part Time minimum wage to employee.  After a qualifying period of one year employer must either higher or release.  If released, employer will not be able to apply to the scheme for another year minimum. If hired, employer can avail of additional PRSI exemption, but they must employ person on full time above minimum wage as per market conditions.
  6. Qualifying conditions for participation on any FAS scheme will be 4 weeks unemployed and same for any initiative.
  7. Long Term unemployed to be considered for government initiatives before new clients. E.G. if someone unemployed for 6months plus, he/she get first opportunity for course before someone 6weeks unemployed if a competition should exist.  If not the above Qualifying method should apply.
  8. Employers who hire personnel will receive reduced commercial rates.

 

The above propositions have not been costed by any department.  Common sense would suggest that these measures would not cost the state huge amounts, well nothing like saving the banks expenses.

Positively, we must as not just as society but as an entire nation, change our attitude towards those experiencing unemployment.  Attitudinal change costs nothing, actual change would cost to implement and deliver. We are valued members and have much to offer in these harsh times.  We can be a positive movement of change.  We can be utilised, if only given the chance too.

 Left un-tackled, unemployment may become insurmountable, but will remain a legacy of all administrations and maybe the question posed to children in school would be “…WHERE do you want to go when you grow up…”

Tackle this and Tackle this issue NOW.

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