November 2011        

The unemployment experience

It was hardly unexpected when reports emerged that the Government is considering cuts of close to €1 billion in the social welfare budget for next year through clamping down on “welfare fraud” and from a substantial cut in rent supplements.
     Fine Gael and the Labour Party 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 in previous issues of Socialist Voice but also by the Economic and Social Research Institute, which published a report in mid-October exposing this falsehood. It found that only 3 per cent of unemployed people would have more money if they continued to claim social welfare rather than rejoining the work force.
     The fact remains that the jobs are not there, and no amount of witch-hunting will change this. What is needed is the creation of real and meaningful jobs, not cuts that punish those who find themselves on social welfare.
     Nor is the solution to force people to do meaningless courses, retraining or “internship” schemes, without real employment at the end of them. The only way to lower the social welfare bill and improve this state’s dire outlook is to get people back to work.
     Also bucking this trend are researchers at the Geary Institute in UCD, who published 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 and financial strains to depression and loss of identity, unemployment, not surprisingly, has an adverse effect on people’s financial, social and family life, with subsequent consequences for mental and physical health.
     Those wishing to further slash social welfare would do well to read this paper to perhaps understand that there is a very real and human consequence of their actions.
     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.” 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 at http://

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