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Dublin: 9 °C Monday 21 April, 2014

Column: Here’s what it’s like to be one of the long-term unemployed

Losing friends and juggling bills as your confidence ebbs away – politicians don’t understand the reality of joblessness, writes Alan McMenamin.

Alan McMenamin

POLITICIANS HAVEN’T GOT the first clue what it is really like in this current downturn.

Some will say they were once unemployed, but I wonder if they have a clue what it really is like to be long-term unemployed, possibly lose your home, be unable to pay bills and have no real possibility of getting a job anywhere near where you live, or even in this country.

The current thinking is too harsh. It shouldn’t be about a competition about who gets what. It should be about supporting everyone in a fair way. That’s not happening currently.

The Government are concerned with cutting the lowest waged or those on low social welfare payments only because they can and will get away with it.  They wouldn’t take on the seriously wealthy as they know they’d be tied up in courts for years. But we can’t afford to pay anyone to fight for us. We are the easy target.

People think you get everything on the dole. They don’t see that not everyone gets full dole and getting the medical card is almost impossible. I didn’t qualify for fuel allowance as I “wasn’t receiving enough benefits from the Department”.  If we say that the basic standard of living is having light-heat-home-fuel-food-clothing then yes, I have these – but only just. When I applied for mortgage assistance the community welfare office said “It’s not much and you probably will get cut off when the Budget kicks in.” Needless to say I didn’t get it.

I am a confident person, but when not working, your conversation skills and general skills slowly ebb away. There is little to feel confident about regarding the future, the home you have, the loans you owe, the social circle you were or are in. It’s a natural feeling when you can’t contribute to society in terms of work. Few I know would choose to be unemployed and comments such as ‘It’s a lifestyle choice’ are wrong – ‘lifestyle’ implies that it’s better for us, and in the vast majority of cases it is far worse.

‘People look at you differently’

Psychologically you feel inferior. People – whether they mean it or not – look at you differently. This makes you feel insignificant. Getting up in the morning having to constantly look for work, and worrying about bills and which to pay and which not to pay – it always plays on your mind. It takes over your life. Even meeting people, your usual chat is about finding work.

Your social scene changes as you no longer have work colleagues to meet or talk to. If they all still work, chances are you just cant afford to socialise with them anymore. Those in work are talking about their options for holidays, when I’m thinking ‘how can I afford the last ESB bill.’

Financial issues for me are the main concern. If I could afford to pay the bills on time and know that I don’t have to continually worry about who will cut me off or take me to court then this would be the majority of the burden off. Even if I get a job it will take a minimum of a year to get back onto a level playing field with bills. Then possibly I could afford to save a small amount. I know, as this has happened to me before.

The reality for me is that I probably won’t get permanent work ever where I live in Donegal. That is just a pipe dream now. Negative outlook maybe, but the reality tells me differently. Courses available are limited and those available are too basic to help me get work. The next number of years will be scrimping and avoiding problems where ever I can. My passport is out of date and I won’t be paying to get a new one as I couldn’t afford to look for work in Australia or any other country.

Authorities should get rid of useless programmes such as the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL). They won’t get you a job. Internships are free labour for some employers to exploit – take you on for nine months, get rid of you and take someone else on. I know of people this happened to and it only serves to deepen the troubles we face.

If policy makers really want to help, then a discussion forum with the unemployed on an individual and regional basis needs to be carried out. Political parties and government employ consultants regularly to stage consultations on various topics, yet they don’t consult us directly.

If the ministers and politicians lived in our shoes for six months, I bet there would be some different policy initiatives to those which are on offer at the minute. And I would love to see how they would pay their bills and live normal lives on the basic or lowest social welfare payments. Wonder would they consider swapping with me?

Alan McMenamin lives in Donegal and is currently looking for work. He writes at alanmcmenamin.wordpress.com.

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