The theme of this year’s National Economic Dialogue (NED) was: “The economy in 2030: enabling a sustainable future for all”. Throughout NED four Ds were referenced: demography; decarbonisation; digitalisation; and deglobalisation. Each of these will have an impact on the type of labour market Ireland will have in 2030, each presents challenges and opportunities for the type of work people will be able to access, and whether or not it supports them to live their lives to the fullest extent possible. The measures announced in Budget 2024 will lay down the foundation of whether or not a sustainable future is realisable for people living in Ireland by 2030. And to that end it will be absolutely essential that this Budget strives to address social exclusion and economic inequality.
In the Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020-2025 there is a commitment, number 25, to “Consider and prepare a report for Government on the potential application of the benchmarking approach to other welfare payments.” At the INOU’s Annual Delegate Meeting held in May, 2023, the following motion was unanimously passed: “The INOU demands that the Government benchmarks 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: such action is urgently required as the cost of living and the poverty experienced by unemployed people and others dependent on a social welfare payment continues to increase.” It is imperative that this approach is the one used when benchmarking social welfare payments is undertaken.
The INOU 2024 Pre-Budget Submission covers the current context; the issues of adequate income; supportive employment services; employment and programmes; education and training; and social inclusion. This article will look at two of these issues: adequate income and supportive employment services.
Amongst a range of commitments in the Programme for Government, Our Shared Future, the Government says they will “Protect core weekly social welfare rates”. (p74) Given the inadequacy of social welfare payments before the current rise in the cost of living, the impact of this rise on people’s ability to make ends meet, it is absolutely imperative that the Government increase social welfare payments by at least €25 per week.
At the National Economic Dialogue, the INOU was one of twenty-nine NGOs to urge the Government to increase Fuel Allowance rates in line with cost-of-living increases, and expand eligibility by “including those receiving Working Family Payment; removing the waiting period for those recently signed on to Jobseekers Allowance; and covering the living arrangements of Traveller families”. Further information is available (linked here).
Supportive Employment Services
The development of an inclusive labour market and access to decent work are key issues for the INOU. Ireland’s Public Employment Service, employment, educational and social protection policies have key roles to play in making this a reality for people of working age.
Amongst the motions passed at the INOU’s ADC was one calling “on the Government to deliver wrap around employment and support services that really meet the needs of people who are unemployed - regardless of whether or not they are on a social welfare payment - to support them to access decent work and to appropriately address any barriers they experience.” This is a long standing call of the organisation, but is particularly important as an increasing number of people being referred to employment services are particularly distanced from the labour market and require a broader range of supports.
Another motion passed at the ADC, one from the INOU’s General Branch - the mechanism through which unemployed people play an active part in the running of the organisation, and it stated that “Many people when they are or become unemployed are unaware of the different options and supports that might be available to them” and called “on the Department of Social Protection to ensure that unemployed people are properly informed about their options and the range of supports that are available to them.” This is an issue that comes up regularly at the INOU’s Regional Discussion Forums, and one recent proposal presents a potential solution: social welfare health checks that could assess if the person is on the most appropriate payment; ensure they are aware of all the supports they could receive; and pro-actively supports them to improve their own circumstances.
The INOU’s full Pre-Budget Submission is linked here.