Budget 2021: what it must deliver for unemployed people
At the start of the year no-one envisaged the arrival and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the health and well-being of people living in Ireland. There was talk of an election; full employment; environmental, health and housing crises. Then the pandemic struck in late February, the country was in lock-down by late March, and the word ‘normal’ took on a whole new meaning.
Now, as the country moves on from a national lock-down, dealing with the need for and consequences of local and sectoral lock-downs, there are concerns about the viability of many businesses in a socially-distanced world, and the impact this will have on employment / unemployment in the long term. In the meantime, what Brexit will finally look like, the impact of automation and digitalisation on how, where and by whom work will be undertaken raise serious questions. While further waves of the virus and how these will be managed could exacerbate the social, economic and environmental challenges facing the country.
The Government introduced the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme to temper the employment / unemployment crisis that the public health response to COVID-19 pandemic created. Initially they were introduced as short-term measures, but as the scale of the crisis became apparent, their duration increased, and changes were made to both schemes. On September 1st the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme was replaced by the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme.
From mid-March to the end of June, the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) was a flat rate payment of €350, which the INOU felt acknowledged the inadequacy of existing Jobseekers’ and working age payments. Then a two-tiered system was introduced, whereby people who earned less than €200 when they were working would receive a PUP of €203, the equivalent of a full main claim rate on a Jobseeker’s payment, and those who had earned more than €200 would remain on the €350. PUP will now remain open to new applications until the end of the year, but a three-tiered system will apply from September 17th, with no-one receiving more than €300. Further information is available in the July Jobs Stimulus 2020 article.
Many people will argue that the best route out of poverty is a job. However, this only holds true if people can access a decent job: a job where people know what their weekly income will be, and that this income will support them to house, feed and clothe themselves and their families. Through the INOU’s Welfare Rights Information Service and regional Discussion Forums serious concerns have been raised about the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Ireland’s labour market and the terms and conditions of employment people are returning to when their former place of work re-opens.
Ireland must address emerging and existing challenges in an equitable and inclusive manner. To that end, the theme of the INOU Pre-Budget 2021 Submission is ‘Renew, Rebuild, Recover’.
The INOU calls on the Government to take specific action in the following areas:
- Post COVID-19
- Adequate Income
- Supportive Employment Services
- Employment Programmes
- Education & Training
- Access to Decent Work
- Community Based Organisations
- Only change the levels and eligibility of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment on a well-signposted and phased basis.
- Strive to ensure that people are fully informed of all their options in a pro-active manner e.g. a PUP recipient may keep their Working Family Payment, a JB/JA recipient cannot.
- Ensure that PUP recipients gain access the Public Employment Service and so, plan an informed return to the labour market.
- Support PUP recipients whose previous job may be gone or changed to such an extent that it is no longer a viable option, to re-train for better job opportunities.
- Resource community-based organisations in their work supporting people coping with the impact of COVID-19.
- Benchmark all Social Welfare rates at a level which is sufficient to both lift people above the poverty line and provide them with a Minimum Essential Standard of Living.
- To make progress on this issue, increase Social Welfare rates by €10; and adjust related supports so that people do not lose this increase through, for example, an increase in their differential rent.
- Maintain the Christmas Bonus at 100% of the normal weekly payments for Social Welfare recipients; facilitate access to this payment and the Fuel Allowance for people on Jobseekers Allowance for over 12 months.
- End the age segregation still evident in the Jobseeker’s Allowance payment.
Supportive Employment Services
- Resource the provision of good career and employment guidance to support unemployed people to make informed choices.
- Address the remaining barriers to work and further incentivise the take-up of work.
- Support people to address the initial costs of taking up employment, in particular the costs of travel and childcare.
- Ensure that individuals and communities most disadvantaged in the labour market are pro-actively provided with tailor-made supports to address their issues.
- Ensure that unemployed people’s participation in employment programmes is by choice and that they are facilitated to gain good work experience and enhance their skills.
- Acknowledge the cost of participation on employment programmes and support participants to meet these costs by increasing the top-up payment on these programmes by €7.50.
- Properly resource community groups in their work addressing the needs of people distanced from the labour market and people managing the impact of COVID-19 on their labour market participation.
- Open up access-to-employment programmes for unemployed people signing on for credits.
Education & Training
- Provide good career and educational guidance to support people to access the most appropriate course.
- Ensure there is good sign posting within and across the system so people of working age know where they can go to get the most appropriate supports and provision.
- Run clear information campaigns on what is available, who is running what, and where people can access the most appropriate provision.
- Acknowledge the cost of participation in education and training and support adult learners to meet these costs to facilitate their participation.
- Properly resource learning that focuses on personal and community development and presents learners with opportunities to address issues in their own lives.
- In planning for the increased digitalisation of work, ensure that unemployed people and vulnerable workers are supported to adapt and enhance their digital skills.
Access to Decent Work
- Ensure that decent work is at the heart of all employment and jobs policies.
- Automate access to the Working Family Payment and streamline this access to minimise the time gap between the individual taking up employment and gaining access to this support.
- Fully support unemployed people seeking to address their unemployment through self-employment.
- Increase the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance to three years and pay 50% of the participant’s social welfare payment in the third year.
- Actively support the roll-out and attainment of the Living Wage.
- Plan for the full impact of Brexit on the labour market and ensure unemployed people and vulnerable workers gain access to decent jobs.
- Add socio-economic status as a ground into Ireland’s equality legislation.
Community Based Organisations
- Resource the development and maintenance of independent community-based organisations and their work with people experiencing social and economic exclusion.
- Support the community and voluntary sector, an important entry point for people more distanced from the labour market, to play its part in meeting training needs and providing lifelong learning opportunities.
- Properly support ‘Deficient Demand’ social enterprises.