Unpaid carers should receive ‘participation income’, NESC says

Report includes number of suggestions to modernise the State’s social welfare system

A “participation income” for voluntary or unpaid care work is among a series of measures being proposed in a new report on radically modernising the State’s social welfare system.

Other ideas put forward by the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) include the "activation" of adults dependent on welfare recipients and a new entitlement for working-parents of young children to part-time leave.

While the Covid-19 crisis has underlined the importance of a strong welfare system, over the longer term there is a need to modernise it in a number of areas, says Dr Helen Johnston, co-author of the report, The Future of the Irish Social Welfare System: Participation and Protection.

The three objectives of modernisation should be ensuring income adequacy, modernising family supports to reflect gender and care needs and supporting high participation in education and employment - while ensuring financial sustainability.


A “novel idea” would be a pilot participation income scheme.

“Such an income could take the shape of a person receiving an income for making a societal contribution, such as voluntary work, caring, or other work of societal value,” it says.

“The pilot should be targeted at people not currently in the labour force but who could make a contribution to their local community or society.”

Universal basic income

Amid ongoing discussion internationally about the concept of a universal basic income, a participation income would be similar in guaranteeing an income beyond basic social welfare rates, but could be presented as a remuneration for a contribution to society.

The report says there should be “further individualisation of social welfare” to greater reflect changing family forms and gender roles. There should be a requirement that ‘qualified adults’ (partners of people in receipt of social welfare), who are on means-tested payments and whose children are older than seven, participate in education, training and job-seeking, says the report.

“To better support balancing work and family commitments, consideration should be given to parents being entitled to take part-time leave when they have young children, and to flexible work patterns to support those looking after older people.”

Co-author Dr Anne-Marie McGauran said “a stronger social insurance system, along with better recognition of atypical work,” was now needed.

“For example, the report argues for reconsideration of ‘flexicurity’, which combines a high level of mobility between jobs with a comprehensive income safety net for the unemployed, plus strong supports for job search and retraining.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times