Obsession with cutting €350 Covid-19 payment wrong

04 June 2020

Focus must be on retraining and supporting people back into work

With hundreds of thousands of people out of work through no fault of their own, Labour TD Ged Nash said the Fine Gael obsession with cutting income supports is wrong, and government efforts should focus on supporting people back into work.

Deputy Nash, Labour’s Employment Affairs and Social Protection spokesperson said:

“When independent thinks-tanks like ESRI and even IBEC are calling for the continuation of income supports it is deeply worrying that the Fine Gael obsession with cutting income supports for the lowest paid in our society is dominating the policy debate.

“The Exchequer figures published yesterday weren’t as bad as many feared and show that Ireland has scope in the months ahead to continue the income supports that are essential for both workers and businesses.

“Instead of cutting income supports, we need a plan to support people back into work. Labour has repeatedly called for investment in training and upskilling – including a reformed short-term working scheme – and that the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment must be extended until sectors are reopened.

“The Fine Gael caretaker government is focused solely on cuts to payments rather than a plan to get people back into work.

“The new CSO Covid-19 adjusted measure of unemployment shows an unemployment rate of 51% for 15-24 year olds. IBEC has this morning warned that youth unemployment may become an intractable problem. We cannot sacrifice a whole generation and leave them without the skills they will need to find new sustainable jobs.

“For example the National Training Fund has a surplus of close to €1 billion that should now be deployed in new and innovative ways. The crisis presents us with a once in a generation chance to move away from our ‘low road’ low pay model by providing people with a basic secure income while supporting them into new educational and career opportunities, making people job ready. We can upskill the workforce, increase productivity and position Ireland for future developments in the global economy. 

“What the shutdown has shown is the preponderance of low pay in this country, with 23% of all workers on low pay, but we can address that.”

Deputy Nash continued;

“At a most basic level, the continued suspension of the Safe Pass programme shows how the government has no idea how the government is clueless on getting people back into work, to work in the sectors where there are vacancies.

“I have been receiving calls from trade unions and construction workers who have returned home in the context of the pandemic who need to renew their safe pass to allow them to get back to work but the system is not running.

“This is a quick way of getting younger people in particular back to work and it is something we have been calling on SOLAS and the Department of Education and Skills to do. It is also the season in which contractors hire apprentices and we cannot let it go by without giving apprentices the opportunities they need.             

“There is also €100 billion available from the European Commission through the SURE programme to provide income supports, training and upskilling opportunities, and the caretaker government will need to bring forward new initiatives, including a reformed short-term working scheme. Government seems reluctant to draw down this money.

“What we need is a new deal for a new generation. As was the case with the previous recession, the reality is that younger people will unfortunately be more adversely affected. However, we can change that, as it does not have to be the case if we invest in their training now.”

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