Study highlights frustration, collapse in morale and desperation at being jobless

BEHIND the statistics on the unemployment crisis and lengthening nationwide dole queues, a sorry tale of frustration, collapsed morale and desperation has emerged.

But research has also given a voice to those voiceless people relying on social welfare, giving an insight into their determination, coping mechanisms and anger as they try to get back onto the work ladder.

Researchers in UCD spoke to people out of work in Dublin, Waterford, Cork, Limerick, Kildare, Galway and Donegal, in both rural and urban areas.

Aside from the expected knock-on effects of unemployment on a person’s mental and physical health, participants also revealed the small, unspoken tragedies among families that play out behind closed doors around the country.

The interviews reveal a snapshot of Ireland’s half a million unrepresented citizens, who are daily struggling to pay bills and keep families together, and of many who have been thrown into near-poverty for the first time in their lives following the excesses of the boom.

Participants in the research speak of sacrifices, which while seemingly simple, make a big difference to whether there is enough food to put on their table or not.

Participants described how events like going for coffee had become rare luxuries: “I sit down for a cup of coffee if I can afford it. I have to work that out and it’s €4.20 in and out on the DART”.

One unemployed mother said she felt guilt that her children could no longer go to the cinema.

Another participant felt her relationship with her husband had become tense: “There are arguments over it... the main cause is money and me deciding not to pay a bill this week and him being really furious about it... I prefer to eat”.

Domestic rows involving unemployed partners was summed up by another participant, who explained: “When poverty comes in, love flies out the window... you might be madly in love with your partner but when you’ve no money, you can’t do anything... the worst comes out... that ruins relationships and families.”

More senior unemployed people who had experienced the worst of the 1980s recession felt they had better coping mechanisms. Some distinguished the current recession from previous hardship by noting the global nature of this recession and the resulting inability to escape it, even by emigrating.

“I literally had to get on a boat and go,” one said. “But they can’t do that.”

Unemployed people described the “shock” of the recession, while others were nostalgic about the boom, saying “we all went mad when times were good”.

Not surprisingly, some believed Ireland had been misgoverned and there was a considerable degree of resentment towards specific Government ministers.

Blame was attributed to that “sort of gombeen man, rural political class that has ruled the country since the foundation of the state” and public servants who had “screwed this country inside out”.

Those out of work also tried to avoid the news, partly because hearing of further job losses was distressing.

Report lead author Dr Liam Delaney with UCD’s School of Economics said much of what participants spoke about was “the struggle to keep morale up, maintain relationships and stay positive and focused on getting back to work”.

“I think the main follow-up from this research is to do more detailed profiling of people on the live register in terms of their particular needs and expectations,” he said.

Jobless participants also talked about coping with daily life without work, stressing the need for routine, exercise and positivity.

Some, surprisingly, revealed minor benefits to unemployment, including having closer relationships with their siblings or children and carrying out more exercise.

Much criticism by those out of work was also levelled at Fás, whose courses were seen as of “little value”.

The Government has decided to abolish the agency and replace it with Solas, a new authority which will oversee the further education and training sector.

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