A MIDDLE-AGED woman stands alone at the kitchen sink, preparing a meal for one, anxiously waiting for her phone to beep; a message from one of her loved ones, letting her know they are OK or that they miss her or that they hope she is well.
Rewind six years, the same woman was all hustle and bustle, running to the shops after work because her two kids, partner, and her younger brothers and sisters were calling over for a meal and a chat later.
That middle-aged woman is my mother. The missing partner is my father, a 60-year-old man who after working for over 40 years in this country had to emigrate in the hope that he could put some money aside for himself and my mother’s “golden years”. Maybe even think about buying their rented council house.
A combination of pension cuts, chronic unemployment and overall increase in the cost of living meant they could no longer rely on my mother’s wage to support the entire family and most definitely could not make any plans for the future, neither theirs nor ours.
The missing kids — my younger sister has to work every spare hour she has in order to earn and save enough money to attend college, due to huge cuts in third-level grants, hikes in registration fees, the cost of petrol, and day to day living.
I am a returned emigrant. I’ve been back in Ireland for almost two years and am considering taking the leap once again.
I look at my opportunities here. I look to my mother who has just said goodbye to her partner. I look to my sister who is struggling to motivate herself in college as she watches me, her older sister, the “crowning glory” of our family’s education tree (I am the only person in the history of my family to gain a third-level qualification) struggle to find a job.
Out of my mother’s six younger siblings, one is living in the UK, one is in Australia, and two are contemplating moving to the land down under with their families in tow.
This is my austerity family portrait.
In 2008, the IMF, the ECB, and the European Commission decided that austerity was the best way forward for Ireland. Five years on and the statistics beg to differ, especially in the youth sector.
In 2009, the number of under-25s that had emigrated reached 30,000 but a survey commissioned by the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) has found more than 300,000 people have emigrated since then.
The same poll shows:
- 43% of young people emigrate because there are better opportunities abroad;
- 41% because they have no work in Ireland;
- Only 10% do so for the pleasure of travelling.
The last statistic busts the myth that all young Irish people just love a good laugh abroad. Ask Stephen Fitzpatrick, Eamon Gilmore’s former assistant and past member of Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council who is moving to New Zealand because “there are better opportunities abroad”.
Furthermore, data for the first quarter of this year shows that not only has unemployment and in turn emigration increased, but the economy has actually contracted. The drop in population and income and an increase in outgoings such as property tax, which can hit student tenants as well as homeowners, and increased PRSI payments on ever-declining graduate salaries, have resulted in the lowest level of personal spending since 2009.
When the political elite are running away from the austerity measures, and both time and hard cold fact have proven that austerity is not only ineffective but, in the words of former IMF chief and bailout plan architect Prof Ashoka Mody “austerity is counter-productive”, how can we even consider going forward with the plan?
When targeted with questions about youth unemployment most politicians reply referencing the now fabled youth guarantee scheme. This guarantee promises employment and/or training to 18-24-year-olds within four months of graduating or becoming unemployed.
The EU has agreed to pump €8bn into EU countries with youth unemployment levels above 25% (that means us, guys).
Sounds marvellous until you take into account that youth unemployment costs Europe almost 20 times that every year — an estimated €155bn. Also, it is yet to be confirmed if a certain percentage of that money will be allocated solely to the creation of full-time, paid positions for young people.
While the Government worries about the balance sheet, the rest of us are worried about the people behind the statistics.
If austerity continues, what are our chances for growth, as a nation and a generation? If austerity continues, should I leave my mother and sister behind and join my father in Canada or should I stay here and fight for the meagre career crumbs that will become increasingly difficult to find?