Poverty in Ireland-The unemployed
The contributory benefit in January 1970 for a single person is 75/- and an extra 62/6 for a spouse. There is a severe means test for the dole. An unemployed person cannot earn more than 61/6 in an urban area and 55/6 in rural areas. . *The inadequacy of this can be ameliorated at the discretion of the local authority with Home Assistance. By John Feeney, Dan Ruddy and Vincent Browne. Published in Nusight, November 1969.
People on the dole suffer not only from poverty but from a severe drop in standard of living.
SINCE THE industrial revolution unemployment in Western countries has been a grave problem and a source of political discontent and change. In Ireland, however, due to the outlet of emigration the consequences of failing to provide jobs have not been felt politically. Agricultural collapse in Ireland has been offset by a simultaneous boom in British industry.
The extent to which emigration has been availed of is staggering. In the middle of the 18th century the size of the population of Ireland-approximately 3 millions-was only slightly less than half that of the population of England and Wales. By 1841, at 8 millions, it was more than half. Within a hundred years it had dwindled to just over 4 millions, a mere tenth of the population of England and Wales. Since the 1920s the population of the country has continued to diminish, but at a much reduced rate. This is a unique situation by comparison to every other European country, both industrial and rural. The number of people engaged in agricultural employment in the twenty-six counties has fallen from about 650,000 in the 1920s to about 300,000, a drop of about 54%. To offset this drop the increase in industrial and other non-agricultural employment has served to absorb only about half of those who leff the land.
Despite continuing emigration there are some 55,000 people registered as being out of work at the present time. This figure represents 6!% of the insured work force-a higher percentage than those for any depressed areas, such as Devon or the Scottish Highlands, in these islands. Among agricultural workers there are nearly 21,000 unemployed. This indirectly affects approximately 100,000, includ* The non - contributory unemployed assistance is 61/6 in an urban area, 55/6 elsewhere, with 56/- for a dependent adult and afurther 12/6for a child.
The manufacturing industries leave over 10,000 unemployed, while building and construction account for some 9,500. There are 5,000 unemployed in the commercial sector, 4,000 from among services such as gas and electricity, as well as 6,000 from various other walks of life such as professions, public administration etc.
The highest percentages of unemployed, usually agricultural or construction labourers, are to be found in the chronically depressed regions, such as North Connaught and the part of
Ulster within the Twenty-six counties. In March 1968, for example, 16'2% of the work force of Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan combined were unemployed. The average percentages for 1968 were Cork 4.8%, Dublin 5'7%, Limerick 7'4%, with Drogheda at 11'7%.
Our prime objective
While the achievement of fullemployment (usually estimated as 98%) has allegedly been a prime objective of Irish economic policy there has been little recognition that, whatever method is adopted to achieve it, self-sacrifice is involved on the part of the community as a whole. The inability or reluctance of successive governments to provide radical policies has resulted in a bland acceptance that emigration and unemployment will disappear of their own accord.
While the numbers emigrating each year have dropped from about 40,000 a year in the Fifties to about 16,000 a year in the Sixties, our unemployment figures have shown no great willingness to follow suit. Indeed in recent years, though there has been fluctuation, there have been definite signs that unemployment is on the increase. Since 1965 this increase has been in the region of 1!% or 10,000 people.
A survey carried out in Drogheda in 1967 revealed the social complexity which lay behind these figures. A great percentage of those registered as unemployed were, in fact, using the unemployment assistance in place of adequate social welfare structures.
Nearly half were mothers of very young children who needed the dole to compensate for the paltriness of the lowest children's allowances in Europe. Many of these and 35% of the men who were registered were working part-time and were consequently using the dole to compensate for the inadequate wages and job opportunities being offered them. Often they worked in outdated small factories which survived by under-employing and under-paying their staff.
About 13% were physically or mentally handicapped, although many of these were capable of unskilled manual labour. Such a high percentage points to Ireland's deficiency in rehabilitation facilities for mentally handicapped and state-subsidised employment for physically disabled.
The most serious implication of thereport was that about two-thirds of the males unemployed in Drogheda were available for full-time, continuous employment while only a very small number of women were available. Evidently employers refused to take on men for work where less costly women could do the job. This reluctance to employ men caused serious social problems in Drogheda when unemployed men emigrated.Then were soon followed by the women, who in turn left jobs to be refilled.
The results of the Drogheda survey are borne out in the agricultural sector, where the dole is also used to supplement inadequate incomes.In this context unemployment assistance is used as a form of agricultural subsidy. The dole system as a means of welfare encourages people to remain underemployed in order to survive. Rural and urban Ireland frequently testify to the demoralising effect of this sham welfare.
Few employers interested
By failing to provide adequate social welfare and adequate machinery to deal with various kinds of social problems the authorities have allowed the Employment Exchanges to become centres for the distribution of miscellaneous benefits under the guise of unemployment assistance. The effect of this has been a widespread scepticism concerning the ability and efficiency of the Exchanges in providing labour for industry or in finding work for the unemployed. The Drogheda Survey revealed that only seven of the town's 57 employers used the Employment Exchangs regularly when seeking workers, while less than 30% of the male unemployed considered the Exchange the best method of seeking employment.
The National Industrial Economic Council's "Report on Full Employment" pointed out that if emigration were to be reduced to a stable and voluntary 5,000 and if the percentage of workers unemployed were to be brought down to 2% by 1968, the percentage for 1971 would need to be 4t%. This projection was based on the 1966 percentage of 6'1%. By 1968, however, the figure had risen to 6.7%, which indicates the extreme remoteness of prospects for full employment.