At the INOU’s recent Annual Delegate Conference delegates called on the Government to “significantly increase Jobseeker payments – at a minimum to the rates in early 2009 – including reversing the cuts to younger jobseekers”. This call was made in recognition of the financial difficulties facing unemployed people. It reflected that the poverty rates experienced by unemployed people are considerably higher than the national average.
According to the most recent Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) 2014, unemployed people’s at risk of poverty rate was 35.9% in comparison to the national figure of 16.3%. Their deprivation rate was 53.4% in comparison to a national figure of 29%. Their consistent poverty rate was 22.6% in comparison to a national figure of 8%.
One goal of the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2007-2016, related to income support, was to: “Maintain the relative value of the lowest social welfare rate at least at €185.80, in 2007 terms, over the course of this Plan, subject to available resources”.Currently the Basic Social Welfare Allowance is €186. However, if this goal had been adhered to, the Basic Social Welfare Allowance would be €191.77, a gure that would still be below the SILC 2014 ‘at risk of poverty threshold’ by €18.34.
In their report on Minimum Essential Standard of Living, the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice noted: “The data show that working age households without dependant children are also experiencing income inadequacy when dependent on social welfare”. They added that: “The single adult household faces income inadequacy of €63 per week, despite receiving Rent Supplement and the full rate of Jobseekers”. Restoring working-age social welfare payments to 2009 levels would go some way to addressing these issues and would alleviate poverty among the unemployed.
The introduction of age segregation in the Jobseekers Allowance payments was discriminatory. The INOU strongly believes that they should be reversed on equality grounds. The Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice noted that “The cost of a Minimum Essential Standard of Living for an unemployed young adult living in the family home is €154 per week, more than one and a half times the reduced rate of Job Seekers Allowance for adults aged 18 to 24 [of €100]”.
There are strong social inclusion and anti-poverty grounds for this practice of age segregation to be ended and the situation of young job seekers restored. The commitment in the Programme for Government to “develop the process of budget and policy proofing as a means of advancing equality, reducing poverty and strengthening economic and social rights” should drive change in the discrimination against young people in the Job Seekers Allowance.
There are anomalies in the social protection system that cause difficulties for unemployed people and their families. As the economy begins to recover it is important that these anomalies are addressed. This would be in keeping with the Programme for Government’s aspiration that, “at the same time, economic repair must be complemented by social repair”.
A motion at the INOU’s Annual Delegate Conference called on the Government to “fully restore the Christmas bonus and to facilitate access to this payment for people who are unemployed for at least 12 months, i.e. when they are deemed to be long-term unemployed rather than the current access point of 15 months”. There was also a call to restore the duration of Jobseekers Benefit to 12 and 9 months from the current maximum durations of 9 and 6 months depending on the recipient’s PRSI contributions. These are issues that must be addressed in Budget 2017.
The Programme for Government made a commitment to “develop a new Integrated Framework for Social Inclusion, which will outline measures to help eliminate any persisting discrimination on grounds of gender, age, family status, marital status, sexual orientation, race, disability, religion or membership of the Traveller Community”. If this commitment is to be inclusive of unemployed people it is necessary for a new equality ground to be introduced in our equality legislation. Currently the ground of socio-economic status is noticeable by its absence. The current situation of unemployed people makes this urgent.
The INOU has urged the Government to ensure that Budget 2017 plays its part in securing a better future for people who are unemployed, living with a disability, parenting alone, living in communities that rarely experience economic growth or facing discrimination because, for example, of their age or their ethnicity.; and for communities that are living on the margins of Irish society. This would be a practical expression of the stated ambition of the Government when launching the Programme for Government, in stating that “at its core is a simple objective: to make people’s lives better in every part of Ireland”.
Brid O’Brien is Head of Policy and Media with the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed.