23 Feb 2012

Today the Government launched their "Pathways to Work" document which they describe as "a radical new plan to get unemployed people back to work". In the plan the Government talks about engaging with every unemployed person to ensure that their first day unemployed is their first day back to work. They promise to ensure that no-one who loses their job will be allowed to drift into long-term unemployment. These are all laudable aspirations but what about the 177,200 people who are already long-term unemployed? Pathways to Work has very little to say about how the new National Employment and Entitlement Service will engage with people who are already struggling with unemployment and the frustration of not being able to find work.

The Government has set itself a target of getting 75,000 people who are currently long-term unemployed back to work and to reduce the average time spent on the live register from 21 months to less than 12 months by the end of 2015. At one level this target strikes the INOU as ambitious as they are only aiming to have a net 100,000 more people in work by 2016. At another level it is strikingly lacking in ambition: as these targets will still leave very significant numbers of people unemployed as there will be tens of thousands of young people entering the labour market over the coming three to four years.

In his speech, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny, TD noted that 'a job can transform a life', while in his speech Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore noted the Government's responsibility to do a 'better job for our citizens out of work'. The Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton, TD talked about the possibilities of seeing the Live Register as a potential pool of Ireland's greatest asset, its people, its human capital. This type of language is welcome and should underpin any and much badly needed reform of the current system. It is therefore regrettable that the document talks about the tax payers as if unemployed people are not tax payers and by inference are not worthy of respect. Unemployed people are taxpayers; they are fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, relatives and neighbours. To that end it is critical that public discourse on unemployment moves away from a relentless focus on sanctions to one on the development of a modern and flexible system that offers good quality supports and services to unemployed people and acquires the capacity to give them real hope.