In 2014, the government cut jobseekers allowance for under 25s by 47%. Alexander Glover explores whether this is justified, or even legal.
ACCORDING to the Citizens Information website, in Ireland “if you lose your job, are made redundant, laid off or if your working hours are reduced you may qualify for a social welfare payment, either Jobseeker’s Allowance or Jobseeker’s Benefit”.
To qualify for Jobseekers’ Benefit you must have made enough PRSI contributions whilst working. This means that young people who find themselves out of work are more likely to qualify for Jobseekers’ Allowance, which is granted based on a means test.
Since Budget 2014, Jobseeker’s Allowance for people aged between 18 and 24 years is €100 per week; those aged 25 receive €144 a week. The amount paid rises to €188 when claimants reach 26 years of age. At the time of the announcement, these cuts were seen as an injustice to young jobseekers, a demographic traditionally faced with a greater risk of unemployment or insecure employment.
“This assumption has led to a generalised measure, not specific to the circumstances or realities of each young person”
The Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar, has stated that the rationale for these measures is to protect young people from welfare dependency by incentivising them to avail of education and training opportunities.
However, Ciarán Finlay, the legal and policy officer at the Free Legal Advice Centre, believes there is an assumption by the government that people below the age of 26 can live with and be supported by parents or family members. Finlay says “this assumption has led to a generalised measure, not specific to the circumstances or realities of each young person in receipt of social welfare”. The FLAC fear that “age-related social welfare cuts increase the vulnerability of people under the age of 26 to homelessness”.
When asked if the practice of capping the amount paid to 18-24-year-olds at €100 is legal, Finlay says: “Social welfare legislation provides for reduced rates of social welfare payments for young people under the age of 26. Therefore, there is a legislative underpinning to these reduced payments. However, it is to be questioned whether these legislative provisions comply with the constitutional guarantee of equality pursuant to Article 40.1”. Article 40.1 of the Irish constitution stipulates that “all citizens shall… be held equal before the law”.
However, Finlay raises another issue that “under international human rights law, the State is obliged to ensure minimum essential levels of rights, including the right to an adequate standard of living and the right to social security”. Finlay argues that “These lower payments fall significantly below the basic minimum weekly income standard of €186 set by the Government. Therefore, there is also an arguable claim that the State is failing to discharge its obligations under international human rights law”.
The hardship felt by the unemployed youth may also be a form of discrimination. Finlay says “FLAC’s view is that this measure does constitute discrimination on the grounds of age as it clearly targets young people aged 18 to 25 years old. However, while domestic equality legislation prohibits age discrimination, legislative provisions cannot be challenged under the Equal Status Acts. Therefore an action cannot be taken against these payments under domestic equality legislation”.
“Age-related social welfare cuts increase the vulnerability of people under the age of 26 to homelessness”
While the issue has been raised by FLAC and other groups such as the National Youth Council of Ireland, it shows no signs of being corrected. Following Budget 2017, it was announced by Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe that ‘all’ weekly social welfare payments will increase by €5 per week (effective March 8th). However, Donohoe failed to note that the increase seen by young people would be proportionate.
As of March 8th 2017, Jobseekers’ allowance will increase to €193 per week. Keeping in line with this, 25-year-olds will receive €147.80 per week and people aged 18-24 will receive €102.70. This new figure for 18-24-year-olds is an increase of just €2.70.
This has been seen by many spectators as creating further age-based separation. Paul Murphy of the Anti-Austerity Alliance–People Before Profit party says it adds to the ‘discrimination’ against young people. With opposition from within and beyond the Dáil, why don’t the government abolish the age-based division?
“There is also an arguable claim that the State is failing to discharge its obligations under international human rights law”
Finlay says it’s because “in 2016, the Department of Social Protection estimated that the cost of increasing the rate of Jobseeker’s Allowance paid to those under 26 years of age to €188 per week would be €148.4 million per year”.
With fiscal goals in place, any immediate changes seem unlikely. However, there are ways for young jobseekers to increase their allowance received. Finlay says “following Budget 2017, it was announced that young people under the age of 26 who are participating in education, training and work programmes will receive €193 per week – the full rate of Jobseekers Allowance”.
Although this can see more support, it puts pressure on young people to attend certain training programmes, potentially cutting them out of other opportunities. This furthers the discrimination towards young people, with the assumption that there are only some programmes that they can attend.