Writing in the week of the referendum to repeal the 8thReferendum, the cervical check debacle and the shocking violent deaths of two women it seems uncontroversial that Ireland is still a patriarchal state with strong undertones of misogyny. Underpinning a paternalistic welfare state is a male breadwinner regime and a tax and welfare system that was built on gendered assumptions that men should work full time and women should care full time, a clear legacy is Ireland’s still underdeveloped child and elder care infrastructure.
In male breadwinner regimes, social welfare regulations require claimants to be available for full-time work to be eligible for job seekers payments, while eligibility to job seekers payments is the primary gateway to rationed employment services and supports. In Ireland, the welfare system has never been adapted to new gendered patterns of employment or to reflect Ireland’s 21st century economic and social realities, with two primary consequences. Most women with care obligations (for example lone parents whose youngest child is over 13, and all qualified adults) when registering as unemployed are required to declare availability for full-time employment. There are considerable consequences for women, children and society when policy disregards care obligations and forces people into work, parenting and life decisions that are not only inconsistent and impractical but also disregard deeply held values and gendered moral rationalities about care.
2012 changes to the One Parent Family Payment require some lone parents to be available for full time, in effect ‘to work like a man, but to care like a woman’ (Rubery 2015). At the same time partnered, unemployed women with care obligations (spouses and cohabitants) are in practice unable to pass full-time availability criteria, to qualify for job seekers payments and consequently to be eligible for activation supports under the PTW 2016-20. The linking of eligibility to activation supports and Active Labour Market Programmes (ALMPs) to the live register embeds a gendered pattern in access to ALMPs where men are three times more likely to access ALMPs. There are also gendered patterns in which ALMP’s men and women access, with consequent impacts on employment outcomes.
Analysis of gendered numbers accessing ALMPs
Work placement - Graduate/Open
Source DEASP Statistical Report 2015Excel Sheet No D
This is not historical, a gendered analysis of otherwise welcome investment in ALMPs in Budget 2018 shows on average women will only access one quarter of this investment, and investment in apprenticeships (the ALMP with the best employment outcomes) showing extreme gendered patterns.
Gendered analysis of Budget 2018 Investment in AMLP
Source Murphy and Cullen 2018
Much has been said about the 2012 changes to the OPFP. A 2017 Indecon review found reforms increased employment participation but on balance impacted negatively on risk of poverty. This is consistent with international evidence that measures that enable or force lone parents into low paid employment do not alleviate poverty. While Budget 2018 increased OFP and JST income disregard by €20pw for OFP and Job Seekers Transition recipients up to 15,000 other lone parents forced from OFP to other welfare payments like job seekers payments do not benefit from income disregard restorations. To add insult to injury only20 percent of those who lost entitlement to OFPhad been offered activation supports while only 3.3 percent had accessed training.
The patriarchal welfare state has not applied activation to qualified adults (spouses and partners of welfare claimants, over 90% women). The different treatment of qualified adults and lone parents suggests a paternalistic welfare state that values wifely labour more than care. Research in recent years highlighted higher poverty risks for low work intensity families and pointed to the need to invest in employment supports for qualified adults and Pathways to Work (2016-20) commits to a number of measures and a pro-active engagement with qualified adults in job-seeker households. Other measures, incorporating time spent as a qualified adult when assessing eligibility for access to employment supports and enabling former recipients of Carer’s Allowance to access activation services have been implemented. However, a Q2 2017 target to promote registration of qualified spouses/ partners as jobseekers in their own right is delayed and the launch of 5 pilots with Jobless households announced in Budget 2018 appears to have run into legal obstacles. Such minor, piecemeal and slow to progress reforms might be better replaced with a more a comprehensive reform to enable the Job Seeker Transition Payment as a voluntary mechanism for qualified adults to individualise entitlement. There is a strong case and it may well be cost neutral, in the context of skills and labour shortages (and a housing supply deficit which requires us to maximise domestic employment participation rate) to abolish the limitation rule and move towards a fully individualised modernised social protection system. Investment in more child and elder care might also enable some of the 370,000 part-time women workers to take more hours or full-time work. Of course, this would mean less wifely labour – and the Irish patriarchy might not like that.
Given the average age of the 46.6% of OFP recipients who lost entitlement over the 2013-2016 period is 40.5 years it is likely training and reskilling will be an important strategy for employability.