Working-aged people and welfare policy
Murphy, Mary (2007) Working-aged people and welfare policy. In: Welfare Policy and Poverty. Combat Poverty Agency, Ireland, pp. 101-137. ISBN 1904541631
The maxim ‘a job is the best route out of poverty’ and the language of ‘working-aged’ are now firmly rooted in antipoverty and social inclusion discourse. Elsewhere, however, this concept of ‘working-aged’ has been ideologically contested. To suggest that someone of working age can work may also be interpreted as suggesting they should work. As Levitas observes, the language of working age constructs social exclusion as ‘non-participation in the labour market’ (2001, p. 451). She concludes there are anti-poverty implications when a priority focus on labour market attachment exists without parallel strategies to enhance welfare generosity for those who remain without employment or to examine wider ethnic and gender structural inequalities in that labour market and implications for care and other unpaid work. A policy that aspires to all working-aged social welfare claimants having an attachment to the labour market has therefore very important anti-poverty, rights and gender implications. These will be discussed throughout this chapter. The chapter is divided into two parts. The first examines how the concept and definition of ‘working-aged’ has evolved and then explores recent key changes, continuities and challenges for particular subgroups of the 18 to 66 (or working) age group: the traditional ‘unemployed’, people with disabilities and different groups of women including lone parents, qualified adults (wives and partners of social welfare claimants) and carers. This part concludes by defining the working-aged population and examining the changing composition of the working-aged at risk of poverty. The second part of the chapter examines the policy responses to joblessness. The focus is on five distinct but overlapping policy areas: welfare adequacy, making work pay, improving the quality of employment, enhancing family-friendly employment and activation strategies. The chapter concludes by considering the institutional reforms necessary to achieve the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2007–2016 (Ireland, 2007) targets and whether such targets offer hope to people of working age.
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