NERI Seminar Dublin: Welfare and Activation for Partners: Challenges for Irish Policy

12 July 2017, 3:50pm - 5:30pm

Topic:  Welfare and Activation for Partners: Challenges for Irish Policy  

Speaker: Dr Mary P Murphy, Maynooth University & Dr Anne-Marie McGauran (NESC) 

Date: 12 July, 2017

Time: Tea and coffee from 15:50. The seminar will commence at 16:00

Venue: ICTU offices, 31/32 Parnell Square, Dublin 1


Over the last decade of crisis Ireland pursued significant welfare and activation policy reforms. Pathways to Work 2011-15 and 2016-2020 oversaw the merging of income supports and public employment services through the development of Intreo along with a new pay-by-results private sector activation delivery mechanism JobPath . This activation reform mirrored the male breadwinner nature of the welfare system with activation focused primarily on the live register.  While controversial reforms to lone parent social security payments experienced some roll back,  qualified adults, the partners of coupled social welfare claimants remain ignored by activation policy. 

The paper proceeds with a brief overview of the  historical and contemporary Irish gender regime in particular revisiting pre-crisis reform proposals; a P2000 working group report on Women’s Labour Market Participation (Ireland, 2000) and a 2006 proposal “Supporting Lone Parents’ (DSFA 2006). Our empirical investigation then analyses the reality of Irish welfare and  activation policy and practice  for partners of welfare claimants and how they are impacted by a lack of individualisation;  unequal access to activation;  and inadequate childcare.  We highlight the variegated experience of partners whose options and choices are mediated by the contingent nature of welfare payments.  

We problematise the social politics behind the slow decline of the Irish male breadwinner regime, suggesting the strong policy inertia in relation to this largely invisible group is related to fear of political backlash in the context of patriarchical norms about women’s role in the labour market as well as a lack of practical capacity, know-how  and resources.  Examining  the present policy architecture  we offer proposals to progress an enabling form of activation for Irish ‘partners’, male and female.  Stressing the importance of individualisation as a principle of welfare reform we identify a number of information and cultural changes to enable partners exercise their right to individual payments and we explore how the Job Seekers Transition payment might offer a creative mechanism to extend activation on a voluntary basis.  We conclude that policy avoidance cannot continue indefinitely, reform of family based welfare payments is central to resolving key policy problems including gender inequality,  low economic participation rates and high rates of child poverty. 

Dr. McGauran has a PhD in Gender and Women's Studies from Trinity College Dublin. Her thesis compared the impact of the impact of government policies on women’s employment in France and Ireland

Dr Murphy lectures in Irish Politics and Society in the Department of Sociology, Maynooth University  Recent publications include (co-edited with Fiona Dukelow), The Irish Welfare state in the 21 st Century Challenges and Changes (Basingstoke, Palgrave, 2016).  

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