‘Sharing in the recovery’ was the big theme in the work of the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed (INOU) in 2015. Our members and affiliates, the users of our services, and participants in our regional Discussion Forums and training events were all clear that this recovery had yet to be experienced by many people dealing with unemployment. There was a strong sense that the job recovery is urban-based and not evident in rural areas. Still, people living in disadvantaged urban areas noted the lack of visibility for any recovery in their communities.
We need a Government that is serious about supporting unemployed people, their families and their communities. Any such commitment will only be credible if it is seen in action. The INOU have identified four key issues to be addressed.
Firstly, they must strive to create an equitable and inclusive society.
The second highest rate of discrimination was reported by people who are unemployed, at 23%, in the Central Statistics Office August 2015 ‘Equality Module’. This discrimination festers the absence of any protection. There is no ground in the equality legislation related to employment status and, therefore, no way for these people to challenge or change this experience.
This first step for the new Government must be to commit to an equitable and inclusive society. The incoming Government should add socio-economic status as one of the grounds protected under the Employment Equality Acts and the Equal Status Acts so that unemployed people receive the full protection of this legislation. Linked to this, the Government must hold a referendum to enshrine economic, social and cultural rights into the Constitution, as already recommended by the Constitutional Convention.
Secondly, the Government must support unemployed people to achieve a minimum essential standard of living.
Given the impact of unemployment on people’s lives, it is critical that unemployed people receive social welfare payments that ensure they can meet their needs. ‘Jobseekers’’ payments must be restored to their 2009 levels. The age segregation applied to ‘Jobseekers Allowance’ payments in 2009 must be reversed.
Further steps must be taken to protect unemployed people’s incomes. People whose primary source of income is their social welfare payment should be exempt from the additional charges introduced during the economic crisis. Rent Supplement and Housing Assistance Payments should be increased to more realistic levels that would support people to access accommodation.
The third step that must be taken is to deliver better services for unemployed people.
It is critical that these services enable them to make informed choices. Good career guidance, the provision of which would support unemployed people to access appropriate education and training and ultimately get a decent job, is a critical element. Frontline staff must be adequately trained to provide a top class service.
A service that is built around the needs of the unemployed person is required: a service that provide additional supports to enhance unemployed people’s participation in education, training and employment programmes and ensures that this participation is by choice. This would lead to the more efficient and effective use of the resources. It would create services for which both providers and users would have a high regard.
Community organisations play important roles in the delivery of services to unemployed people and others experiencing social exclusion. During the crisis, a lot of their funding was withdrawn, at a time when the demand for their supports was increasing. The new Government needs to acknowledge this work and re-invest in these community organisations to support the growth and development of their work on tackling inequality, poverty and social exclusion.
Fourthly, the new Government must ensure that unemployed people can get decent and sustainable jobs.
The creation of decent and sustainable jobs, jobs that pay a decent wage, must be prioritised and maximised. Employment programmes that serve as a stepping stone to such jobs must be developed. Action is needed with participants, providers and employers to secure better outcomes from such programmes.
Part-time work can be a meaningful option for unemployed people and, in some regions, possibly the only option. It should be facilitated through tailored employment and social protection supports. Self-employment can be an important access point to the labour market for unemployed people experiencing exclusion because, for example, of their age, their ethnicity, or their locality. Their access to supports must be improved to make self-employment a more viable option for them. Brid O’Brien is Head of Policy and Media with the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed