Employment & Poverty

EAPN Ireland actively promotes the idea that everyone of working age should have access to a quality job. We are also concern ourselves at a policy level with (1) unemployment in a comparative European context, (2) comparative European responses to unemployment and the welfare state and (3) the strong and deeply damaging link between poverty and unemployment.

EAPN Ireland convenes an Employment Working Group of mainly national community organisations which engages with a number of areas related to employment policy at national and European level. This section of the site is under under development to take into account a constantly evolving employment context at national and European level. Each section below includes an ‘explainer’ and further reading.

Contents: Employment Policy

  1. Links between poverty and unemployment
  2. Activation policy
  3. Active inclusion
  4. Developmental welfare state
  5. European employment strategy
  6. Flexicurity

1. Links Between Poverty and Unemployment

There is a well documented correlation between poverty and unemployment. Nearly 33% of households where no-one is at work are at risk of poverty while the rate for households where two people are working is just 5%. In 2010, the Economic and Social Research Institute identified increased unemployment as a factor that is likely to drive poverty levels up, if the appropriate policy responses are not taken.

The ESRI report – Monitoring Poverty Trends in Ireland 2004-2007 – also states that ‘the risk of income poverty among children is strongly related to the employment status of the adults in the household in which they live.’ Significantly, the report also found that ‘amongst the unemployed, those unemployed for one year or less had an “at risk of poverty” rate of 14 per cent, while the rate for the long‐term unemployed stood at 54 per cent.’

Back to contents

2. Activation Policy

‘Activation’ is the term applied broadly to ‘welfare to work’ policy. It has been in place in Ireland since 1998 when the National Employment Action Plan (NEAP) process, when Social Welfare officers started referring people registered as unemployed to FAS for training and up skilling with a view to entering or re-entering employment. However, since 2006 the term ‘activation’ has taken on a broader policy meaning and it is used to refer to policies that are being developed and implemented to support access to employment, education and training for all those distant from the labour market and receiving social welfare payment including lone parents, people with disabilities, Travellers and older people.

Activation policies are being implemented throughout the European Union but those policies take different forms in each Member State.

Activation should always aim to achieve greater social inclusion, rather than promoting the notion of a job at any cost. Successful activation policies should address the barriers that exist for people seeking to re-enter the labour market, while also putting in place the necessary support systems (e.g. childcare) to facilitate the transition back to the workplace. Issues related to adequate income and access to appropriate services for everyone – whether employed or unemployed – should be a core philosophy of activation policy.


Back to contents

3. Active Inclusion

Active Inclusion policy refers to the inclusion of those most distant from the labour market. The aim of the active inclusion approach is to address the issues of adequate income, quality services and inclusive training and employment in an integrated manner within the context of social justice. This process is still being developed and the outcomes will be judged over time.

Between 2006 and 2008 the European Commission carried out a consultation on the Active inclusion of people furthest from the labour market. Details are available on the European Commission’s EU Active inclusion Web-page. The result of this consultation was the crucial Recommendation Active Inclusion on 3rd October 2008.This Recommendation presents common principles for an integrated approach to income, services and employment in the context of addressing poverty and social inclusion.

EAPN at national and European level engaged actively in the consultation process and are working to ensure that this Recommendation is implemented in a way which addresses the needs of those experiencing poverty in Ireland and the EU.


Back to contents

4. Developmental Welfare State

The 2005 National Economic and Social Council Report on the Developmental Welfare State is an ambitious attempt to lay out the framework of the Irish welfare state of the future. It served initially as the starting point for negotiating the national social partnership agreement ‘Towards 2016’.

The central argument of the report is that the welfare state should be seen as consisting of three overlapping spheres of activity: (1) service, (2) income supports and (3) activist or innovative measures. The report argues that these three spheres of activity should be integrated to form a ‘developmental welfare state’. It argues that a radical development of services is the single most important route to improving social protection. It identifies ways in which welfare payments could be redefined and combined with services to create ‘participation packages’. Ireland must build on its strong record of active labour market policies and local partnerships in order to streamline successful innovations and policy experiments. Reform along these lines will pose major challenges for governance and leadership within Ireland’s system of government and social partnership – particularly in the context of the current economic crisis. It will also require new systems for defining and monitoring rights and standards.

In April 2006, EAPN Ireland held a roundtable on the Developmental Welfare State and considered the following questions:

  • What the NESC means by the ‘Developmental Welfare State’?
  • What opportunities and threats it presents for groups experiencing poverty and social exclusion?
  • How best organisations working with these groups can best engage with it?

This brief Report summarises the outcomes and conversations that took place at the roundtable meeting. The following is a list of presentations from the roundtable:

Back to contents

5. EU Employment Strategy

European Employment Strategy and the National Reform Programme

The European Employment Strategy is based on an agreement by EU member states in 1997 to co-ordinate employment policies on agreed Employment Guidelines. From 2005, the European Employment Strategy has had a leading role in implementing the employment objectives of the revised Lisbon Strategy. The Integrated Guidelines for Growth and Jobs, which includes Economic as well as Employment Guidelines were first developed for the 2005-2008 period and revised slightly for the 2008-2010 period. Based on these Guidelines, each Member State is required to draw up a three year National Reform Programme. The employment section of the National Reform Programme replaced the previous process of annual National Employment Action Plans (NEAP), however the process is broadly the same. The employment section is to be based on 3 common priorities and eight Employment Guidelines agreed at EU level. All actions aim to satisfy the overarching objectives of:

  • achieving full employment
  • improving quality and productivity at work
  • strengthening social and territorial cohesion

In October 2008 Ireland submitted its second National Reform Programme 2008-2010 to the EU. EAPN Ireland and Community Platform made a joint Submission to this NRP. The first NRP 2006-2008 was submitted in October 2006 to the EU Commission. EAPN Ireland and the Community Platform also made a Joint Submission to this Programme.

Each National Reform Programme of the EU Member States is examined by the European Commission. The EC then issues an Annual Progress Report on Jobs and Growth for the EU. This includes their analysis of all the Programmes and country specific assessments. Depending on progress these may include recommendations for improvement.

In November 2008, due to the economic crisis, the EU Produced an Economic Recovery Package and in March, the European Council produced specific country recommendations in relation reforms to address the economic crisis.

National Progress Reports are submitted by Member States by 15th October  each year followed by the EU Commission’s Annual Progress Report in January the following year. The Commission produced an outline for these Progress Reports in a Working Paper in May 2006. EAPN Ireland Employment Working Group and the Community Platform made a Joint Submission to Irish NRP Progress Report 2007.

The key EU criticisms of Ireland’s National Reform Programme 2005-2008 in the Commission’s Annual Progress Report in January 2006 related to lack of detail on how Ireland is to address ongoing issues including: the provision of affordable, high quality childcare services; quality of work and poverty among employed people; measures to address their position of the low skilled especially with respect to older workers; labour market inactivity and the enhancement of adult participation in learning. It did however highlight as strength the emphasis on the need to integrate inactive people into the labour market, to increase female participation and to address skills development.

The Commission’s 2006/7 Report on Ireland’s implementation of their NRP, while generally positive, shows that many of the issues raised in the previous year’s report still need to be addressed. The key issues were childcare, migration, the needs of older and low skilled workers as well as the need to develop proper and appropriate services if groups are to be encouraged to access employment and training.

As a follow up to the EU Commissions Annual Progress Report in 2006 the EAPN Ireland Employment Working Group made a presentation to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise and Small Business in March 2006 and a further Presentation to the new Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment in April 2008.


Back to contents

6. Flexicurity

The “Flexicurity” model for the labour market is often proposed as a “miracle cure” for Europe’s employment/growth problems. The model is perceived to offerthe potential for creating the “best of all worlds”, by combining in one single strategy the seemingly divergent needs of companies and workers/unemployed.

This package is promoted as offering, on the one hand greater flexibility for businesses to hire and fire, seen to be essential to support growth in a globalised economy, and on the other hand, providing “employment” although not “job security” for workers or aspiring workers, and a safety net of income support for those in between jobs.

Considerable attention has focused on the Danish labour market model, which appears to have achieved new jobs and low unemployment rates, combined with guaranteeing an effective safety net during unemployment, backed by dynamic and high quality activate labour market policies.

The key elements of this strategy are described as the “Golden Triangle: (P. K Madsen.)
1. High labour market mobility and easy hiring and firing.
2. Generous social protection (including unemployment benefit and social security for those without adequate contributions).
3. Active labour market policy, involving counseling, training/education and support for re-skilling and upgrading competences as well as active support for getting a job.

The European Commission’s Joint Employment Report in 2006, reflected in the June Council decision, emphasizes a separate specific element of life-long learning.

There is great concern among anti-poverty organisations that EU approaches will result in greater flexibility and weaker social protection for employees and the unemployed.


Back to contents