The theme of this year's National Economic Dialogue was Building Economic Resilience to deal with International Challenges. A key issue for the INOU is building the socio-economic resilience of unemployed people – in particular addressing income inadequacy, an issue exacerbated by rising inflation.
The INOU 2023 Pre-Budget Submission covers three key issues of concern for the organisation:
- Adequate Income
- Inclusive Labour Market
- Activation Programmes
According to the Survey of Income and Living Conditions (SILC) 2021, published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) in May, the at-risk-of-poverty rate was 11.6%. However, without the COVID-19 pandemic income supports this figure would have been 19.9%. The at-risk-of-poverty rate for people who identified themselves as unemployed was 23.2%, but without the COVID-19 pandemic income supports this figure would have been much higher at 44.1%.
Amongst the motions presented at the INOU’s 2022 Annual Delegate Conference (ADC) was one which stated that Given the rising cost of living, the poverty experienced by unemployed people and others dependent on a social welfare payment, the INOU urges the Government to benchmark all social welfare rates at a level which is sufficient to lift people above the poverty line and provide them with a Minimum Essential Standard of Living. To start to really move on this issue and to support people reliant on a social welfare to cope in these challenging times, core social welfare rates must be increased by at least €20 per week.
The payment of the Christmas Bonus at 100% has been an important support for many people on a long-term social welfare payment. In Budget 2022 it was announced that the eligibility rules for people on a Jobseeker’s Allowance Payment for the Christmas Bonus and the Fuel Allowance would be brought into line with other social welfare payments. Given the scale of the challenges facing people an earlier bonus will be required, and it will be imperative that people on a Jobseeker’s Allowance payment for at least a year are eligible for this payment and the Fuel Allowance. It would also be important that time spent on a Pandemic Unemployment Payment is included in this assessment. As the coming winter will see energy costs increase even further it will be essential to enhance the Fuel Allowance.
Inclusive Labour Market
It is imperative that Ireland addresses structural inequalities in our labour market. This would be in keeping with the first of the seven high level goals in the Roadmap for Social Inclusion which seeks to Extend employment opportunities to all who can work; whilst amongst the sixty six commitments is one to Improve employment services for long-term unemployed people and marginalised groups. To that end it is critical that Ireland’s Public Employment Service is inclusive, is capable of serving the needs of all people of working age, regardless of the payment they are on, or whether they are a job changer or a job seeker.
The provision of good advice and guidance is critical for anyone seeking to make the welfare to work journey, uncertainty as to what income a person will have, what happens if someone moves from a weekly welfare payment to a monthly wage and they have no income initially, can be daunting. There are some supports in the system and is imperative that people are informed about them on a proactive and ongoing basis so that they can make informed decisions. The fourth strand of Pathways to Work is entitled Working for All – Leaving No one Behind, practical supports are vital to facilitate people to make a positive welfare to work journey.
The INOU’s General Branch have raised concerns about the lack of access to employment programmes for unemployed people who are not in receipt of a social welfare payment. If Pathways to Work is indeed to leave no-one behind, then for people who are on other working age payments, people who are a Qualified Adult on another person’s payment, activation programmes could have an important role to play. However, it will also be critical for the state to undertake focused work on addressing exclusion and discrimination in the labour market, which may arise because of the person’s age, address, socio-economic status, ethnicity, that they have a disability or are parenting alone.
Participation in activation programmes costs money, on some schemes like Community Employment and Tús there is a small top-up. The inadequacy of this top-up was an issue before the current cost of living crisis, so it would be even more important to increase it in this year’s Budget, by €7.50, to better support people to engage in these employment programmes.
According to the Department of Education’s December 2021 report Education Indicators for Ireland the percentage of Irish adults aged 25-64 who participated in formal and/or non-formal learning activities in 2020 was 11%. Ireland has set itself a lifelong learning target of 15% by 2025. It is possible for Ireland to reach this target without those more distant from and vulnerable in the labour market improving their participation in education and training. On many education and training programmes unemployed people receive a payment similar to their social welfare payment, again participation incurs costs for people and given the need for people to enhance their skills in a changing labour market it would be important to adequately support people to undertake lifelong learning.
Click to read the INOU’s full Pre-Budget Submission 2023 linked here.