August 2011        

Unemployment a “life-style choice”
—You must be joking!

It didn’t take long for the Fine Gael-Labour Government to lose its grip on reality, Walter Mitty style. If all else fails, the world of comedy beckons. In particular the minister for finance, Michael Noonan, has been in jocular mood recently.
     The man charged with finding a solution to Ireland’s grave economic situation has been joking about commissioning a range of T-shirts reading “Ireland is not Greece.” That’s not all. By his reckoning, if we were all to go on a national shopping spree it would boost Ireland’s recovery and help him to beat the recession.
     Mr Noonan seems unable to grasp the reality that people just don’t have the cash for frivolous spending sprees. After all, we don’t all have a personal investment in German government debt.
     It is ironic that the man who is planning another savage budget of cuts in public services and spending is choosing to encourage a spending splurge. A pity he wouldn’t heed his own advice!
     Meanwhile the biggest clown of them all, Joan Burton, seems to believe that school-leavers in particular are claiming social welfare as a “life-style choice.” Speaking to the Sunday Times, she stated: “What we are getting at the moment is people who come into the system straight after school as a life-style choice. This is not acceptable. Everyone should be expected to contribute and work.” She also said that those who refuse to take up job or training opportunities would have their payments cut by as much as €44 per week.
     Unemployment is not a “life-style choice” for the young or anyone else. We have somewhere in the region of 439,200 on the live register, and young school-leavers are forced onto social welfare because the jobs are not there.
     This is yet another attempt to shift the blame from the powerful and wealthy, from the failures of this political system and failed policies of cuts and austerity, onto an easy scapegoat. The unemployed are not to blame for our jobs and economic “crisis.” The spectre of cutting welfare as an incentive to find work has been with us for some time now; both the IMF and the economic think-tank of the OECD have been vocal supporters of it. Again, the jobs are not there.
     The only way to lower the social welfare bill is to create real and meaningful jobs—not punishing those who find themselves on social welfare. Nor is the solution to force people to do meaningless courses or retraining without having meaningful jobs at the end of it.
     The same must be said for the national “internship” scheme, whereby five thousand participants receive an extra €50 a week on their social welfare entitlements to gain work experience in the private, voluntary and community sectors. Nine months’ work experience is all well and good, but if there are no jobs at the end, what is the point? One must wonder how many of these five thousand positions would have been actual jobs with real wages before the state decided to be so generous, essentially paying wages to people to work for private companies.
     Perhaps Fine Gael and the Labour Party should put the same energy and enthusiasm into securing all those lovely Lisbon jobs they promised us.

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