In today's economic climate, with low paying, zero hour contract jobs, there is a phrase that is thrown at many of us who are considered to be the working class; "Be grateful you have a job."
Usually this is casually uttered by someone who has no idea what is to have a minimum or slightly above minimum wage job. Now I don't entirely blame these people or would be too quick to call them ignorant, misled, perhaps. After all, with the Central Statistic Office claiming that the average annual income in this country to be aprox €35,000, you can't exactly hold those who believe this to be true to be entirely accountable for being blasé towards those of us who are struggling
Because we are under the impression that most of us earn at least €35,000 a year, banks aren't willing to hand out mortgages to any individual who earns less than the "average" wage. Doing the maths, I would be in my eighties by the time that I would have my mortgage paid for, that is, if someone was willing to lend me the cost of my home of course. And its not the case that I am in my early twenties, starting out on 21K, with potential to make it to 35K over the next five to ten years. I have twelve years of experience and an outstanding work ethic behind me and I'm quickly approaching my thirties, yet I have absolutely no prospect of earning anything more than my current wage; and I would be considered one of the "lucky ones", who earns a few euro more than minimum. Then there are those of us who have tried to make it on our own and tried to start a business, it just isn't feasible. We lack initial funds, support and the time; as we spend most of it working a 40 hour week to earn our meager wages. And as I've already pointed out, over half of the work force in this country earns less than €28,500. Where is this going to leave future generations? Without either affordable homes to accommodate our emerging population or a fair and decent income, surely this is already leading to a very serious housing and social crisis yet to come.
Without the hope of some sort of secure future, many of my generation are putting a hold on raising new families. As hard as I work, I don't have the means to support myself, never mind taking care of an other life for the next eighteen years. My low income means that I will not start my family until I can afford it and with cost of living on the rise and the real average income at a stagnant standstill, I don't ever see myself being able to afford to care for my own family, as much as I long to settle down with the man I love. Is this not a right of every citizen of this country, the choice to raise a family?
It's almost like a very slow genocide carried out by the wealthy elites and the pompous in power. They are clawing onto that wealth and killing us off, one generation at a time; without a home, we will not procreate. If my generation does not procreate, our population will dwindle. You may think I'm getting excited or exaggerating but without stability and security, why would any of us want to bring to a child into the world? We cannot provide a better future for them; I wouldn't want my baby to become a victim of my hardship and anxiety.
Perhaps when I was unemployed for six month about four years ago, which might I add was the only time that I have been out of work since I turned sixteen, perhaps if I had known then that in budget 2016 social welfare would raise by €5.00 a week, whereas the minimum wage would be raised only by aprox €4.00 a week, maybe I would have opted to stay on welfare. I would have been entitled to a medical card, rent/housing support, child allowance and free further education, on top of a weekly income. With rent and medical expenses taken care of for the rest of my life and with my potential children being paid for by the state, I would then only have to worry about feeding myself and paying my bills. Whereas now, no matter how hard I work, I can't pay for a roof over my head, I cannot afford to be sick and I'm not able to support another living being.
Let's not forget the widespread emotional and psychological ramifications of working for pittance. We are a nation riddled with a very preventable and treatable disease, yet we are ranked to have the second highest death rate in Europe due to this illness. The CSO reports deaths of over 400 people per year, however the true number is believed to be over 600. Admittance to A&E because of the illness is at about 9,500 people per year, with 60,000 suspected unreported cases. It isn't bound to any specific gender, race or age and it can fester, undetected by others for years, for years until it is too late. I am talking of course of depression. Depression, anxiety and suicide are rampant in our society and a huge source of depression can stem from the feelings that come with living an unfulfilling life. At one point it was an accepted fact; you work hard five days a week and you will be rewarded. In my father's time it was common for only one parent to have to work in order to provide for the family. As time progressed, it became necessary for both parents to have to work. Today, starting out in life is impossibility. Working a job has become nothing more than Slavery with extra steps - Dan Harmon. No matter how many hours or how hard we work, we are trapped with no hope of a fulfilling future. It is extremely demoralising to have to slave away from one end of the week to the other and to come out with nothing more than "pocket money".
I can't help but be reminded of the roadworks during the Irish famine. These jobs were not created with any true intent for people to earn a living. These were created to merely keep the masses silent. Pointless busy work to keep people occupied and to give them a false sense of purpose.
It has gone better than we expected, Lord Trevelyan,
Sedition, idleness, cured in one.
From parish to parish, field to field;
The wretches work til they are quite worn,
Then fester by their work - Eavan Boland
One huge factor as to why we are simply left to fester is that as workers, we have no rights or support anymore; gone are the days of trade unions. Striking now, is frowned upon and is reported negatively by the press; where a protest is portrayed as an inconvenience to commuters. We must come to realise that somebody practicing their constitutional right to protest pay or working conditions should be revered and supported. Just imagine, for one moment, if every worker who earned less than €28,500 a year united and went on strike in the morning. Imagine the impact a single day would have, an inconvenience perhaps?
Tragically, according to former phycologist and author Lucy Costigan, we, as a nation are trapped in a "suicide box".
Suicide is the result of intolerable emotional and physiological pain inflicted on ordinary people by a complex mix of factors rooted in a sick society or "suicide box" in which they live... Irish society is ruled by an obsession with social media, appearance, status, wealth and marketing - but also one which lacks any real emotional education or moral and spiritual guidance... despite so-called freedoms of our society, the system in which we live in is more inflexible, pervasive and unforgiving than before.
Through her research, she has concluded that the strain of 2008's recession is believed to be a factor in the rise of suicide in Ireland and across Europe.
Since realising the hard facts of life, suicide has become a far more common fantasy for me, than I care to admit. Yes it is a daunting topic to talk about but we as a nation must speak frankly about it; I must admit that the relief that would come with suicide is an appealing thought. No more worry, no more pain, no more feelings of inadequacy. If it weren't for the love and support from my family and partner, I would have met that end a long time before now. But for those who don't have some support behind them, or for those who are so consumed and overwhelmed by the vicious disease, that they truly believe that they don't have the support, for these people, suicide is their release.
The bottom line is, we aren't looking for handouts, we aren't looking for welfare or benefits. We are only asking for fairness and equality so we can find some sort of joy and fulfillment in our lives. We are willing to work, and work hard, all we want is some support and security. I'm not looking for a solid gold house and rocket car, you know; just a modest roof which I am more than willing to work and pay for, somewhere I can begin to live as a fully functioning adult. My date of birth may place me at twenty-eight but my circumstances have firmly held me at eighteen; no future, no security and living at home with mom and dad.
© Sarah O’Regan