'I never dreamt I'd spend the next four years on the dole'
Avril Clarke (25) is from Cavan but living in Dublin
"When I was younger I thought my early 20s would be spent in college, and then I would magically get a job as soon as I got my degree. I thought I would have travelled the world, bought my own house and car, popped out a few kids and maybe even owned a youth club and bakery on the side.
"But I never got the degree and haven't travelled anywhere apart from a family wedding in Prague four years ago.
"I've been claiming a social welfare payment in various forms the last four years and only recently got a part-time job as a sales assistant.
"I've a good Leaving Cert and started an Arts degree at UCD but I decided to drop out for a number of reasons. During that year out I realised I'd never have the money to go back to university. Instead I gained qualifications in Youth Work and Community Development at Cavan Institute but I'm laughably underqualified for a job in youth affairs.
"When I signed on to Jobseekers Allowance in January 2009, it didn't feel like a big deal. I'd worked since I was 16 and had always been been able to find a job. Perhaps I was naïve, but I really didn't think I'd be spending the next four years on the Live Register. There have been weeks when I've sent out three or four job applications a day – it's just extremely difficult to get work. It's the age-old problem of 'need experience to get a job, need a job to get experience'.
"Before my part-time job, I was receiving €188 a week. Now I work flexi-time and on average, earn between €100 and €150. I love my job and my boss is very understanding of my financial situation and the fact that I claim Part-Time Allowance. The most difficult thing is not feeling accomplished. It's hard to stay positive and hopeful.
"The Youth organisation SpunOut (spunout.ie) has been really helpful, particularly in making me feel that my unemployment wasn't my 'fault' but an unfortunate situation. They also helped me realise my passion for cooking and teaching and I've set up my own website, betterthannoodles.com, which is aimed at improving student eating habits. It's helped me hone new skills.
"But I've so many regrets that I find it difficult to let go of. I worry about every cover letter I send, I wonder should I have done more volunteering work when I'd free time – should I have looked into other career options, should I have moved to Dublin, should I have taken more risks, should I have saved and emigrated? I regret that I always looked at the short-term rather than the long term, but I didn't know any better.
"I feel like I'm having a quarter-life crisis. I'm always worried about money.
"This idea that people my age need 'incentivising' is ridiculous – the incentive is there, to not be on the dole is the incentive."