Spaces of austerity: experiences of youth in Dublin and Cork

Photo by Piet den Blanken

The 2008 economic crisis and subsequent austerity undoubtedly affected everyday life for people living in Ireland. From the bailout of the so-called Troika of the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission, the foundation of the National Asset Management Association to the attempted implementation of water charges, the aftershocks of a homegrown property bubble combined with an international financial crisis left no one untouched.

Although Ireland successfully left the Troika programme and an economic recovery is underway, the lives of many did not return to ‘normal’; in 2015, 25.5% of the population was living in deprivation – compared to 11.8% in 2007, precarious working conditions expanded, take-home pay fell or stagnated for many, and homelessness is still rising sharply. It is therefore critical to move beyond economic figures to investigate the lived realities of austerity and recession as experienced by those affected.

Austerity particularly ‘bites’ in disadvantaged urban neighbourhoods harbouring those most vulnerable to layoffs, most dependent on state supports and thus vulnerable to retracting and reforming state practices. Youth is particularly vulnerable to recession and austerity. Young people are often the first to lose employment, lack the experience to regain employment and do not possess financial reserves to fall back on. Furthermore, several austerity measures specifically addressed youth, such as the age-specific reductions of Jobseeker’s Allowance and certain activation programmes. My investigation engaged youth aged 18 to 25 from Knocknaheeny in Cork and Ballymun in Dublin to illuminate the experiences of austerity by disadvantaged urban youth.

As a geographer, I investigated the role of place and the neighbourhood in shaping the localised emergence of austerity. Indeed, nationally implemented austerity did not arrive equally in both neighbourhoods; its arrival was shaped by local histories of regeneration, the embeddedness of neighbourhoods within their city, and their level of institutional and governmental penetration. Such deeper institutional penetration in Ballymun, for example, channelled austerity experience to spheres of training and social services, while in Knocknaheeny it was often experienced in the income-related spheres of work and social welfare.

Furthermore, the interactions of reduced social welfare, falling income through work and minimised access to affordable housing restricted opportunities for disadvantaged urban youth, excluding them from social networks, employment, support and leisure options that the city traditionally offered. Not only did inhabitants have less money themselves, facilities and services left their neighbourhoods through processes of austerity. This increased costs of access and thus reduced availability. This was most visible in housing; youth cannot leave the parental house and becomes trapped in unfavourable living conditions in an urban landscape without possibilities.

Austerity, thus, has differential effects beyond the socio-economic characteristics of individuals and groups, it is also spatially variegated. Austerity and recession create new urban spaces. Understanding the socio-spatial variations of austerity’s impacts is essential to create a more inclusive society. Dedicated policy and support in these urban spaces is required, especially now that the economy is recovering, to prevent the consolidation of such spaces of exclusion as a permanent legacy of the financial crisis.

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