The experience of unemployment
by Barry Healy
It was hardly unexpected when reports emerged that the government is implementing cuts of close to €1 billion in social welfare, through clampdowns on welfare ‘fraud’ and a substantial cut in rent supplements.
Fine Gael and Labour have been buttering up the public since their election with tales of widespread welfare fraud, and ridiculous claims of welfare being a ‘lifestyle choice’. Such claims have been debunked not only by the left but also by The Economic and Social Research Institute (ERSI), who published a report in mid-October exposing this falsehood. They found only 3% of unemployed people would have more money if they remained claiming social welfare rather than rejoining the workforce.
The fact remains the jobs are not out there and no amount of witch-hunting will change this. What is needed is the creation of real and meaningful jobs not cuts punishing those who find themselves on social welfare. Nor is the solution to force people to do meaningless courses, retraining or internship programmes without real employment at the end of it.
Also bucking this trend are researchers at UCD’s Geary Institute who released a working paper in August entitled The Experience of Unemployment in Ireland. The experiences documented are harrowing, to say the least, but will come as little surprise to those of us living in the real world, far away from the bubble that is career politics.
The paper charts a wide range of psychologically adverse experiences associated with unemployment. From feelings of powerlessness, financial strains, depression to loss of identity and social approval, unsurprisingly unemployment has a negative effect on people’s financial, social and family life with subsequent consequences for people’s mental and physical health..
Anyone who thinks that slashing social welfare is the way forward would do well to read this paper to maybe understand there is a very real and human effect to such cuts. Below is but one extract from the paper, which is not untypical of the overall tone:
“Participants expressed a generalised sense of dread and foreboding: ‘the pressure is getting deeper and deeper and deeper’. Another saw, ‘no improvement in this going on’. One participant felt that his psychological health was in jeopardy as he did not know when he would get work again, ‘It starts to rot, to eat away at you. You start to believe that this is the way it’s going to be for the rest of your days’. This sentiment was echoed by another participant, ‘What am I going to do? It’s just never going to change. So you don’t know when it’s going to turn around’. Another participant echoed this, ‘It’s every bit as stressful as it was working, except it’s stress without an end. At least you’ve an end to get to in a job. You got to the end and that was it’. Others worry about what will happen to their employment prospects, ‘fear of how long it is going to be before I find work again and what is happening to my skills?'”
The Experience of Unemployment in Ireland can be read in full here.