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Saturday 9 December 2023 Dublin: 8°C
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Column Cutting unemployment benefit to the under-26s is unjust and unacceptable

The plan is a further step towards the political disillusionment of young people, a drastic slash in living standards, and an even more polarised society, write Dan O’Neill and Fiona Dunkin.

‘THERE ARE PLENTY of jobs out there for young people that they are simply unwilling to take.’

‘We have no option but to cut the dole for those under 26 years of age or cut services for older people who badly need them.’

‘Young people want to emigrate these days anyway and travel the world.’

‘We all did it in the 70s and 80s and it never did us any harm.’

Such are the myths of the high priests of austerity. Today it was announced that, as part of Budget 2014, the Fine Gael – Labour coalition plan to impose dole cuts upon those under the age of 26. What will be the outcome of such a move?

One can imagine. Perhaps, a further step towards complete disillusionment amongst a sector of society already cynical of political engagement, certainly, a drastic slash in living standards, and most likely, an increased propagation of the concept of division and derision, as with public and private sector workers, between the young and the rest of society.

Growing inequality

The fact is, however, that such a concept of rivalry is wholly unacceptable. Neither generation should be pitched against each other. Sweeping generalisations regarding young or old people are unhelpful, divide us in what should be a common struggle, and vitally – they miss the point.

Our real confrontation here lies in the growing inequality in Irish society – the burden we have inherited from years of bad government and a fetish for free market; casino capitalism at the expense of all else. It is this approach that has burdened a generation of people, young and old, with unjust cuts. Unjust cuts that do nothing to help anyone in our society.

But what induces such rivalry among young and old? Surely, based on truth, it would not exist. Skewed visions of reality are essential to such rivalry. Young people are, supposedly, caught in a ‘welfare trap’. Work is unattractive to young people, and thus, they should have their dole cut.

The reality, however, is very different. According to the National Youth Council of Ireland, 177,000 young people have left Ireland to seek work since 2008. The departure lounge is filling up fast, and shows no signs of emptying.

Falling living standards among young people

It’s not difficult to understand why so many are leaving. To be a young person in Ireland today is to be among some of those at highest risk of suffering falling living standards. Youth services around the country have been cut by 30% since 2008, despite the fact that it has been estimated that, in the long run, €1 invested in youth work saves State €2.20. Economic sense it does not make. Youth unemployment is now at 30.8% (13.3% in 2008) – this figure climbing up to almost 50% in some parts of the country.

Such unemployment, however, has not, as some may think, given us an opportunity to ‘go back to college’. On the contrary – Ireland has the 4th highest rate of young people ‘not in education, employment or training’ in the EU. With the annual student contribution levy now clambering up to €2,500 per annum, the reality is quite simple – young people cannot afford it.

Those young people who are in employment are not always ‘lucky to have a job’ however – they are often faring marginally better than the unemployed. Indeed, the days of fixed hours and contracts appear to have all but ended. There is no more ‘job for life’. Young people, as a result of reasons outlined above, often with little experience or little education, are indeed over four times more likely to end up in precarious employment.

What is the Government’s solution to all of this? To invest in areas that contribute to the allocation of jobs for young people? To redistribute money and capital so that young entrepreneurs and community groups can invest in ideas that could perhaps create paid employment? To halt the dispersion and consolidation of the once perhaps solely American, and now decidedly Irish notion of unpaid internships, or working-for-free, in its tracks?

Not in the slightest.

Seizing the independence of an entire group

With today’s announcement, the government are seizing the independence of an entire group, increasing their dependence on their already hard-pressed parents and forcing many into poverty.

The considerably widely-held notion of ‘getting on your bike’ and finding a job is utterly ridiculous. With one report from European Commission declaring there to be over 50 jobseekers in Ireland to every one vacant job, it is quite clear – we cannot cycle along a route to nowhere.

The time has come for young people to take a stand both for their own sake and for the sake of the country. We need an Ireland of new ideas, of true alternatives to the monotony of stale, failed dogma. The dogma which insists we continue to swallow the medicine that, if not killing, is, at the very least, paralysing the patient.

Real alternatives

Rather than lofty rhetoric, however, young people today are demanding that any movement they associate with provides real alternatives. Such an option is beginning to materialise.

Rather than simply constituting protest groups, groups such as ‘1913 Unfinished Business’ and ‘The Young Workers’ Network’, amongst others, seek to provide a new generation with a strong voice.

Such groups see the merit in debating economic alternatives produced by groups like TASC, The Nevin Insitute for Economic Research and Social Justice Ireland. We see the merit in learning from economists and sociologists such as Krugman, Stieglitz, Wilson and Pickett or Marx, Benn and Gramsci. We see the merit in running workshops for young people on the development of the skills needed to make their voices heard. We see the merit in building alliances with community groups, trade unions, students’ unions, environmental groups and, together, envisioning an Ireland that works in the interest of ordinary people. And when needed – we see the merit in taking action.

There is something in the air and young people are beginning to wake up. Join them.

The ‘Young Workers’ Network’ and ‘1913 Unfinished Business’ will be holding a demonstration to protest against dole cuts to people under 26 at 5:00pm this Wednesday on Kildare Street, Dublin.

Now is your opportunity to join with us in articulating a vision of a better way of doing things. Youth comes but once in a lifetime – grasp the opportunity to have your voice heard.

Dan O’ Neill (@activedan) is a human rights activist and a member of The Young Workers’ Network. Fiona Dunkin is a member of 1913 Unfinished Business.

LIVEBLOG: Budget 2014 as it happened

Read: 10 things to remind you that people are actually generous

Dan O'Neill and Fiona Dunkin
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