Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Cutting dole for under-25s will accelerate youth emigration

Measure is a regressive step which will drive more people out, writes Marie-Claire McAleer of the National Youth Council of Ireland

Wed, Oct 16, 2013, 20:15


Marie-Claire McAleer

The decision to cut jobseekers’ allowance for those under 25 in Budget 2014 is a regressive measure which will create great hardship for young jobseekers and accelerate the numbers of young people emigrating from Ireland.

It is estimated that over the last five years, 177,000 young people aged 15-24 have left this country. Most of those emigrating are in the 15-24 and 25-44 age cohorts. Over the past two years, over a quarter of our population has been affected by the emigration of a close family member and one in two of our 18-24-year-olds would consider emigrating themselves, according to a poll carried out for the National Youth Council of Ireland.

At a time of high youth unemployment, poor labour market prospects, inadequate quality education and training options, and increasing youth emigration, Budget 2014 has delivered another devastating blow to young jobseekers, which will undoubtedly lead to greater hardship for young people who remain here and a rise in social problems.

The consequences of youth unemployment on the individual are significant. We know how devastating unemployment, particularly youth unemployment is to the individual. President Michael D Higgins has said “there is nothing more corrosive to society and more crushing to an individual than endemic unemployment, particularly among the young”.

Not only does it have a negative impact on mental and physical health, research shows that unemployment while young, particularly long-term unemployment, “causes permanent scars rather than temporary blemishes”.

Research published by NYCI in 2011 entitled ‘Forgotten Generation‘, highlights the challenges experienced by all young jobseekers. The participants in the research included jobseekers aged 18-25, including early school leavers, those with Leaving Certificate or apprenticeship or vocational training qualifications, and third level graduates. Many highlighted the desire to work and to contribute.

They also talked about how difficult it was to access quality education and training opportunities, and how the process of job searching was a job in itself. They described the financial hardship they incurred as young jobseekers. Many felt the experience of unemployment left them “scarred” and demoralised, and resulted in negative feelings such as low self-esteem, hopelessness, despair, lack of choice and in some instances depression and stress.

One of the most striking findings of the research was that of the 90 young interviewees, 70 per cent agreed that it was more likely rather than less likely that they would emigrate within the next 12 months in response to their status of being unemployed.

The announcement in Budget 2014 to target young jobseekers through cuts in Jobseekers’ Allowance for those under 25, and the further €2 million cut to youth work services, sends out a very negative message to young people. These policy decisions will accelerate the numbers of young people emigrating.

While emigration may be considered by Government a panacea to address youth unemployment and reduce the cost of social welfare expenditure, the long-term consequences of sustained youth emigration are devastating.

Prior to the economic crisis, Ireland had one of the largest youth cohorts in the OECD accounting for 16 per cent of the population. As a result of rising emigration this figure currently stands at 12 per cent (OECD, 2013). This alteration in the age structure combined with an aging population has profound and long-term consequences for many aspects of social policy. In the case of pensions, the ratio of people of working age to people of pension age is expected to fall from 5.6 in 2006, to 1.8 in 2061.

Rather than investing in Ireland’s future, the message conveyed is that emigration is the only option for young people. It is a further insult to injury to suggest that the cuts to jobseekers’ allowance for those under 25 will incentivise young people to participate in education and training, internships or apprenticeships when in reality the number of quality programmes currently available to meet the demand is inadequate.

Since 2011, NYCI have advocated for the design and implementation of a youth guarantee which would offer a young person further education, traineeship, apprenticeship or a job within four months of leaving school or becoming unemployed. We believe the youth guarantee if properly implemented and funded can offer young people hope and a path from unemployment to work. Despite a Government endorsement of the Youth Guarantee, Budget 2014 only invested a €14 million, which does not come close to what is required.

NYCI’s research on youth emigration entitled Time to Go? published in May 2013 explores the experience of the current wave of young Irish emigrants who have left Ireland in last two years. The study found that limited employment options and lack of opportunities at home were cited as a determining factor prompting emigrants’ decision to leave Ireland.

Notwithstanding the significant social costs of emigration, the prevalence of large-scale emigration in Ireland produces a significant loss to the state in terms of the public funds invested in the education system and the brain drain of highly-skilled and highly educated young people. Recent data from the UCC Emigre study reveals that 62 per cent of recent Irish emigrants are graduates. Any future upturn in the economy requires a pool of well educated young people to attract investment and stimulate and sustain economic growth.

Overall the decisions taken in this budget will contribute to further austerity for Ireland’s youth, and far from preventing youth disengagement, is likely to further marginalise young jobseekers living in Ireland and encourage more young people to emigrate.

Marie-Claire McAleer is senior research and policy officer at the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI), and author of ‘Time to Go?’, and ‘Creating a Future for Young Jobseekers’.

For a young emigrant’s take, read David Burns’s article ‘With this budget, Government policy changes from Gathering to Scattering’.