Report: welfare payments should be automatic entitlements

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Fr Sean Healy of Social Justice Ireland says The sociology of Unemployment is a powerful book that challenges how we are addressing the issue of unemployment.

Fr Sean Healy of Social Justice Ireland says The sociology of Unemployment is a powerful book that challenges how we are addressing the issue of unemployment.

Government’s Pathways to Work welfare policy introduced in 2012 makes unemployment a more scarring experience and promotes ‘precarious employment’, according to The Condition of Unemployment report which recommends welfare policy reform.

Research from the Waterford Unemployment Experiences Research Collaborative at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) has found that the new welfare policy, Pathways to Work introduced in 2012, has a corrosive psychological effect on jobseekers. Pressuring, monitoring and punitive action has an impact on their long-term health.

The authors of the report are Dr Tom Boland and Dr Ray Griffin. Dr Boland is a lecturer in Sociology in the Department of Applied Arts and Dr Griffin is a lecturer in Strategy in the Department of Management and Organisation at WIT. 

The report follows the publication of The Sociology of Unemployment by Dr Boland and Dr Griffin which examines how the experience of unemployment is shaped by welfare policy. The book, published by Manchester University Press, was launched on Wednesday at WIT by Fr Sean Healy of Social Justice Ireland. A number of lecturers at WIT have also contributed chapters, including Jonathan Culleton, Dr John O'Brien, Aisling Tuite and Dr Jennifer Yeager. 

The Condition of Unemployment – Appraising Ireland’s new welfare policies explains that unemployment is a structural problem in the economy, not the result of the moral failing of unemployed individuals.

Dr Boland and Dr Griffin point out that the Pathways to Work policy does not create jobs. The report found that the state effectively facilitates bad employers by giving workers a choice between destitution or any work whatsoever. They say if it reduces unemployment figures at all, it is by pushing people to emigrate or accept precarious employment ie low paid, insecure, poor quality work. This has already occurred in the UK, where ‘zero-hours’ contracts have risen steadily.

Under Pathways to Work jobseekers are subjected to increased monitoring and direction, with sanctions of a cut to their welfare payments, or even a complete withdrawal of support for up to nine weeks. Jobseekers must now sign a “contract” and can be sanctioned for non-compliance with this.

“Jobseekers are directed to seek and accept any sort of work whatsoever, including internships, which are often free labour for employers with no guarantee of a job,” says Dr Tom Boland. “But more damaging still is the constant threat that support can be withdrawn at any moment. Most of us could lose our job, and, so, the quality of the social safety net should be of concern to all of us.”

“Ireland has followed the international shift from ‘passive’ to ‘active’ welfare policies; the difference between giving financial support and helping people back to work. Our view is that individuals should not be threatened with sanctions, and should be supported rather than coerced into selecting their training,” says Dr Ray Griffin.

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