Life in a dole blackspot
Unemployment in Limerick city is almost double the national average, and the entire city is involved in a grim daily struggle to survive the crisis
IT’S TUESDAY MORNING and a man wearing a Munster rugby shirt is walking through a door on Dominic Street in Limerick city. The motto on his Munster T-shirt is “To the brave and the faithful, nothing is impossible”, words that have a particular resonance if you are, as he is, one of 15,194 unemployed people currently registered at the Dominic Street social-welfare office.
“After a while you become shell-like. You’re a shell,” says Paul O’Leary, who is trying to explain how being unemployed for more than three years makes him feel. Now 49, he lost his job as a radio controller at a taxi company in February 2009 and has not worked since.
Tuesday is signing-on day for O’Leary at this office, in a city that has the highest level of unemployment anywhere in the State, at 28.6 per cent. The national percentage is 14.7 per cent.
To stand here on a signing-on day, even for a short time, is to witness a stark cross section of society. People arrive in BMWs and in two-decade-old Ford Fiestas, on bicycles and on foot. Some are smartly dressed. Others are not. They are every age, and they look variously determined, hurried, vacant, grim, resigned and purposeful.
Ger Moran, who is 54, started working as a carpenter when he was 16. “I lost my job three years ago, and I can’t see myself getting a full-time job ever again.” he says. “I had a car and a van, and I had to sell them both. But the only good thing about working in the construction industry is that we could see the crash coming. I sold my house, bought an apartment and only have a small mortgage now. Otherwise . . . I don’t want to think about how things would be.”
“It’s extremely depressing to wake up every day and feel your life is going by. That you are getting older and you are useless,” says a 40-year-old woman who gives only her first name, Lily; she worked on a production line at Dell until she lost her job in June 2009.
“I don’t go out because I don’t have money. I socialise through Facebook. I read. I’m stuck. I don’t have money to move somewhere else, where I might have a better chance of a life and a job. After being unemployed so long, I can’t think too much into the future, because so many years have already gone by and nothing has changed.”
“Social welfare was never designed for you to have any kind of lifestyle, so now anyone who has become unemployed and has debts is inevitably going to suffer,” says Yvonne Bogdanovic, the co-ordinator of the Limerick branch of the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (Mabs).
“Without doubt we have people coming to us now who would have been managing their debt before but now can’t, due to unemployment, especially if one partner has lost a job. But we are also seeing people now whom we never saw before: public servants, civil servants, nurses, gardaí. These are people who still have jobs but who are finding it difficult to manage their debt.”