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Dublin: 15°C Saturday 24 July 2021

'I never thought I would be unemployed aged 53. I feel I have to beg for social welfare'

An anonymous contributor writes about what it’s like to find yourself jobless with no money after working for over 33 years.


ALMOST FOUR YEARS ago my marriage broke up. Times were hard and the main reason for the breakup was financial. We were struggling with our mortgage repayments, the ESB would have been cut off if it wasn’t winter time.

It was approximately one year after Fine Gael and Labour started out as our government. Last January I became unemployed for the first time. I had been working for 33 years without fail.

I didn’t even know where the local unemployment office was. I didn’t know how to apply for benefits. The education I have received in the last 14 months is far more valuable that the years I spent in school.

Did you know that there are different levels of unemployed? Because of the fact that most of my working life was spent either in the public service or as a self employed individual it meant that I wasn’t entitled to unemployment benefit.

Three long months with no money

Eventually, after about three months I was ‘granted’ jobseekers benefit. €188 per week. You try and pay a mortgage and the rest of your bills on that. You tell me how to survive for three months with absolutely no income. You receive your benefit on a Tuesday, but by Friday it is gone. You hope that you have paid enough for your ESB to last the week; you hope that you have bought enough food to feed yourself and your son.

I have eaten chips for fourteen months. The only reason I know what a steak looks like is because I see them on the shelf that I pass by every week in the local Aldi. What is a vegetable? When I get to eat proper vegetables it has been in my parent’s house or in my sisters on Christmas day.

As winter approached, I went to social welfare to apply for the winter heating allowance. Guess what? I wasn’t unemployed enough.

Apparently you need to be unemployed for at least 15 months. Now can someone explain to me why someone who is unemployed for less than 15 months is less likely to be affected by the cold during the winter months? Why were my son and I supposed to suffer in the cold months because I wasn’t unemployed enough?

Why did my local government TD tell me that “he wouldn’t waste his biro’s ink” on appealing the decision to social welfare? Am I not as susceptible to the cold as someone who has been unemployed for more than 15 months?

The outgoing government did absolutely nothing for the likes of me. While they reduced the tax liabilities of all workers, they failed to give any increase to those like me on benefits. I never thought I would be in the situation I have found myself in for the past number of months, and I have to say that I never thought about the unemployed in the same way as I do today, but my eyes have been opened.

Starting a new job 

I am fortunate in that I have just been told that I can start a new job in the next week or two. But in the last few months I have sent out so many CV’s without any reply that I have become disheartened. Why should the fact that I am 53 years of age mean that I don’t deserve a reply? Why do government and employers appear to treat the unemployed with such disdain?

The number of times I have asked the social welfare to place me on a course without success is beyond belief. Prior to the past year, I had never begged in my life. But that is exactly how I have been made to feel every time I have had to go to social welfare.

It is only through the help of my parents and brother and sisters that I have been able to survive the past 14  months. And I am well aware that there are many people out there who are worse off than I am, but that doesn’t enter you head when you are trying to heat yourself during winter.

I have often asked myself the question, like many others, “what would I do if I won the Lotto?” I now know the answer. I would emigrate. I do not want to stay in a country where the poorest are treated like this. Only last week we witnessed a situation whereby some forty families are being told to vacate their homes due to the fact that the buildings have been sold to a hedge fund at a loss.

What happened to the Proclamation promise to cherish all of Ireland’s children equally? Is it more important to protect the profits of foreign companies than the interests of Irish citizens? And what of the unemployed? Why did the last government ignore them? Only they can answer that question. And they won’t.

This author of this article wishes to remain anonymous.

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