Thursday, 15 January 2009

Unemployment Figures

I've done a lot of analysis lately of local unemployment figures and it makes for some of the most depressing work I've had to do in this campaign. As some of you will know, I did a degree in Social Policy in UCD and have studied all the major texts on unemployment, increasing labour market access, active labour market programmes, etc. But to know that there is a personal story behind each number - a family who've lost their breadwinner, an early school-leaver now listless, an older worker facing the prospect of never being employed again - gives an emotive and heart-rendering bent to the stats that goes beyond the data.

I put out a shortened press release on this yesterday - it's available here. But when I was doing it up I ended up with too much information for a standard press release. The papers just wouldn't pick it up. So here it is in all it's glory. It forms the basis of my policy on unemployment and the analysis which will inform me as a Councillor.

Dermot Looney, the Labour Party candidate for this year’s local election in Tallaght Central, has called for the strong-arming of youth employment initiatives in light of the latest local increase in local unemployment figures. The release of live register statistics for December saw the national unemployment level creep up towards the 300,000 mark, the highest figure since 1993.

Looney noted that the current employment crisis is threatening the social gains made across South West Dublin in recent years, and will hit working-class communities the hardest.

At the Tallaght Social Welfare Office, the signing on centre for people across the local community, an unprecedented 6,516 signed on for jobseekers allowance and benefit in December. This was 561 higher than in November, which is the biggest monthly increase in unemployment in Tallaght this decade. Extraordinarily, there has been an increase in the Tallaght office alone of more than 2,500 in just 12 months, due in part to the closure of major companies such as Jacobs (February), Microprint (March) and Tesco’s (April).

Looney highlighted the increasing youth unemployment rate as a cause for particular concern. Youth unemployment is defined internationally as those under the age of 25 who are active in the labour force but without a job. There are 1,596 under 25’s signing on in Tallaght in December – a jump of 160 in just a month, and an increase of more than 2/3 on the figure just 12 months before.

“The CSO’s most recent statistics on the proportion of young people out of work, last August’s Quarterly National Household Survey, showed a national youth unemployment rate of 16%,” said Looney.

“A more recent European study showing a youth unemployment rate of 17.7% in Ireland. Given the huge jump in general unemployment since then, it is likely that this rate is now approaching, or indeed beyond, 20% - meaning more than one in five young people who are looking for work can’t get it.”

“Nobody needs reminding that during the 1980’s more than one in four young people were on the dole, that many had to emigrate, and that this part of Dublin became an economic blackspot. Now that those days have returned it’s time for urgent policies which stem the flow.”

“My Labour colleague Proinsias de Rossa has proposed a Europe-wide Youth Employment Pact by using the €14 billion in the European Social Fund for youth retraining, education and increasing mobility between sectors and access to the labour market for young people. Here at home, we need to implement as a matter of urgency the ”

“For more established and older workers, the INOU’s call for an early warning system for redundancies will provide the time to attract other investment or retrain workers before they lose their jobs. Welfare to work initiatives and active labour market programmes must be supported by decent provision of childcare and education places, and Community Employment schemes, particularly for the long-term unemployed, must be maintained. The much-vaunted Government talk about prioritising high-tech cannot be allowed to exacerbate social exclusion in working class communities, meaning that no further cutbacks at any level of education are acceptable.”

“What makes matters worse is that these figures coincide with the introduction of new restrictions to Jobseeker's Benefit as a result of the October Budget. Anyone qualifying for Jobseekers' Benefit will receive payment for three months less than before the Budget cutbacks. In some cases, depending on credits, this will mean a maximum duration of 9 months on the benefit and in others it will mean 12 months. It will also mean that less people will now meet the criteria for Back to Education Allowance and for Community Employment schemes because qualification depends on the length of time a person is receiving a social welfare payment. These qualification periods affect young and temporary workers and their families hardest, and this supposed ‘unintended consequence’ of the Budget, which is already causing great pain for those struggling hardest, should be reversed by the Minister for Social & Family Affairs.”