Have you heard people saying “Sure I’m lucky to have a job”? It’s something that I have even said myself over the years but especially since 2009 when everything went belly-up. It’s certainly two very different worlds. The world of the working and world of unemployment.
This has an even deeper meaning for me because while I have managed to hold onto my own job by the skin of my teeth, a dear friend of mine has struggled to keep body and soul together since both she and her partner lost their jobs in 2009. At the moment she looks like she is slipping away in front of my eyes. She can’t even pretend that she is ok, within minutes of our chat she is falling apart.
The other day it was about the family coming over to visit. She was hoping to have her in- laws to dinner on Sunday. They haven’t been to the house to visit since Christmas when they brought presents for the kids. It was a very short visit she says, they hate coming.
In turns out that she and her partner are feeling terrible shame about the poverty they are living in and when people come to visit she says she can see in their eyes, the pity and the sadness. “ It’s impossible for us to be happy or to enjoy other people’s company. They want to tell us all about their holidays or some film they went to. What do we have to say to that. We never go anywhere?”
The in-laws never came because my friends had an awful row. It was about what they could afford to spend on a Sunday roast and how they might cover their tracks and try to be upbeat for once. Socialising is one of the worst parts of it she says and she has lost her confidence to face people. The fake “sure we are grand”, just won’t wash anymore. They couldn’t do it this time.
They were waiting for something in the budget to give them a bit of hope. Maybe some relief for tenants stuck in the rut of paying out most of their small income to a landlord. They sold their house, paid off the mortgage and have been renting ever since. Instead their landlord got an increase in mortgage relief, while their situation remained the same. At least we are not homeless and living in a hotel room she says.
Even with a job, 50% of Irish people earn less than €18,000 per annum. Compare that to a TDs salary of €87,258, or a Minister who earns approximately €150,000. My friend was telling me all this through gritted teeth. Now she says the TDs are going to give themselves a wage increase? “Does anyone even care about what’s happening to ordinary people like us in this country!!”
The other night things came to head in my friend’s estate. Six men with cleavers and hammers broke down her neighbour’s door because he hadn’t handed over his drugs money that week. This man is a small time drug dealer, working for some gang. Yes, it happened in broad daylight on a street where young mothers and children were going about their daily lives.
On top of long term unemployment, housing issues and poverty she now has street violence to deal with. She has a Government who support her landlord but not her family. She has no opportunity for a return to work. She has the expense and stress of supporting two kids in college. She has years of shrinking self esteem and confidence which heaps shame upon shame.
Today she told me that they are going to go to the UK to find work. Does anyone care she says again? Her bitterness is palpable. For most of my life I have experienced the goodbyes of emigration. Now there is another one looming.
I love the way there are new initiatives being set up in Waterford. People are making such an effort to be creative and entrepreneurial. There are even great supports out there for unemployed people, for young people, for parents. But still there are far too many people falling through the cracks.
Our country is not a fair or equal one. If 50% of people earn 18,000 or less, way below the average industrial wage, then we can hardly celebrate that we have made any kind of recovery? Can we?
But why don’t we simply vote for a more equal society? Is it because we don’t know who to trust and ultimately who to vote for? And because as long as the majority of us feel “lucky to have a job” we are fearful of rocking the boat in case we end up getting a taste of having NO job. And joblessness is in Ireland is another planet, one we would prefer to turn a blind eye to……..