Duffy on Budget 2010: Targeting the Lost Generation
This is our third guest post from Deirdre Duffy. You can read about Deirdre on our Guest Contributors page.
At present, young people, particularly young men under 24 are the biggest losers in the economic downturn. The generation who entered the workforce in a period of unprecedented growth now make up the largest proportion of Ireland’s unemployed. Like their predecessors in the 1970s and 1980s, they will not only suffer the brunt of the economic downturn but it is likely that the career pathways and prospects of many members of this group will never recover. Already Ireland is experiencing a new wave of economically-driven emigration, many of whom will never return. At the sake of being accused of alarmism, Ireland is steadily allowing a generation of young people to be pushed to the sidelines and facing a return to the culture of exit, of emigration, endemic to Irish society until the 1990s.
However, despite the growing recognition of the existence of a ‘lost generation’ in Irish society, as yesterday’s budget demonstrates, little has changed in Ireland’s attitude to services to young people and little credence is being paid to the damage the current economic crisis is causing to the health, welfare and future prospects of this group. Notwithstanding calls from organisations such as the National Youth Council of Ireland to protect the welfare support structures for young people – and Minister Lenihan’s rhetoric on the need for a financial plan which would provide a sustainable future for Irish citizens – young people have, once again, become the easy targets of the Irish welfare system. Facing cuts of up to 40% of Jobseekers Allowance payments for first-time claimants without dependents aged 20 and 21 and 25% for those between 22 and 24, young people are witnessing the willingness of the government to support them steadily slip away.
On one level, this is partly due to how this age group are perceived. The generation who had never had it so good and never experienced economic hardship are, to some, the villains of the story. During the economic boom, spending by young people increased exponentially and, like the swallow that spent money all summer, they are often considered partly culpable in the economic downturn. Though not entirely to blame, they are not entirely blameless. Added to this, the effects of unemployment are seen by many to matter less to young people without dependents who do not have the same commitments of their elders. Young people thus find themselves portrayed as feckless, immune to the negative effects associated with unemployment and easy targets for public sector spending cuts.
What is most troubling about this trend is that it allows for an over-simplification of an issue of great importance to Minister Lenihan’s pledge to provide the country with a sustainable secure economy. Far from being a short-term problem with a simple solution, youth unemployment can have severe prolonged social and economic impacts. One only needs to look at the North of England – and ex-mining towns in particular – to see how lack of foresight within welfare support for young people can contribute to the development of ‘poverty pockets’ characterised by low educational attainment, cycles of low pay/no pay employment, low political participation, and sustained migration out of the area. Evidence from previous recessions in the UK indicate that young people – particularly those with low qualifications – who become unemployed before the age of 23 are significantly more likely to remain unemployed for 6 months or more and are significantly less likely to enter high-skilled/high-paid employment in the future. These experiences of sustained, long-term unemployment can also have serious ramifications for mental health and emotional well-being – two areas which were noticeable absent from Minister Lenihan’s welfare support plan.
In this it would appear that Ireland has either quickly forgotten or learned little from the experiences of previous economic downturns – even those within living memory. Much like the current generation of 16-24 year olds who have little or no experience of sustained, national-level economic hardship and the ‘emigration culture’ of previous generations, the current government appear to have little consideration for the fact that economics is not just a financial matter. Without investing in the future of young people in Ireland and providing adequate financial and psychological support to this group, the government are not only ignoring the needs of a very vulnerable group but are also laying the foundations for problems which will impact both the Irish economy and Irish society for years to come and ensuring that the current cohort of 18-24 year olds becomes well and truly lost.
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