By Evan Musgrave
The concerns of Ireland’s recent graduates have mirrored those of their UK counterparts, with Irish citizen’s information sites registering record users.
The Irish site citizensinformation.ie had 3.46 million users last year and more than 30 million page downloads. In the first half of 2010 2.3 million users have visited the site with 14.9 million page downloads.
In recognition of this, citizensinformation.ie has been named the Most Useful Website in Ireland at the Realex Irish Web Awards 2010. The site won out against 700 nominees at the annual event, for the provision of “comprehensive information on every aspect of living in Ireland, presented clearly, simply and effectively”.
The website covers a wide range of subjects, including employment rights, family and health issues, moving abroad and education.
In the UK, figures from last year revealed that the number of young people under the age of 25 seeking help from the Citizens Advice charity service reached nearly three quarters of a million (729,825), an increase of 21 percent compared to the year before.
Eighty percent of their problems related to just four issues: debt, benefits, housing and employment. Debt problems made up a third of all enquiries from under-25s in 2009/10, with benefits problems closely behind, making up a quarter. 12 percent of queries were on the issue of unemployment and ten percent related to housing.
The biggest single issue that under-25s sought advice on was personal loans and one of the biggest increases was in advice sought on Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), up 40 percent compared to 2008/09. The numbers of young people having problems with housing benefit and private rented property were also notably high.
In response to this the service has launched a microsite aimed specifically at young people on November 12, www.advice4me.org.uk. The site is directed at young people requiring quick and easy advice and information about pressing problems. The site collates information on debt, benefits, employment and housing from the charity’s existing self-help website.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of the Citizens Advice charity admitted “it can be scary and daunting to seek advice” but highlighted the new service’s ease of use and commented, “if you have a problem, more often than not, the sooner you tackle it, the easier it is to put right”. Guy also added, “Under-25s often have specific issues, so we’ve now pulled together lots of information you might find useful in one place”. The UK site has also pioneered the compatibility of mobile phones with this advice service.
In Ireland, the economic downturn has seen an increased demand for Citizens Information Services (CISs), Citizens Information Phone Service (CIPS) and the Money Advice and Bugeting Service (MABS) which are funded and supported by the Citizens Information Board.
Over half a million queries were received from members of the public to CISs in the first half of 2010, an increase of 8 percent on 2009. The majority of these queries relate to the economic downturn, job loss and the concomitant increase in demand for information in relation to social welfare entitlements and State supports.
MABS has also seen an increased demand for its services. By the end of June 2010 the service had approximately 24,000 active cases and the MABS helpline had dealt with over 14,000 callers. In 2009 CIPS dealt with 154,823 queries, as the challenges faced by newly welfare dependent and low-income households continued to rise.
The Citizens Information Board have produced a number of Entitlements publications available at citizensinformationboard.ie. The publications and online resources are targeted at those who are experiencing particular difficulties.
Several auxiliary sites have been launched: losingyourjob.ie gives information on rights and entitlements for the unemployed or those on reduced working hours. Since its launch in 2009 the website has attracted 92,000 users and more than half a million pages have been downloaded. The site keepingyourhome.ie is aimed at people with rent or mortgage arrears, and over 21,000 people have visited the site since January, with more than a 100,000 page downloads.
As the Government prepares to unveil possibly its most controversial Budget next week, use of these sites is set to increase. Charity information sites now play an important role in addressing the concerns of those affected by the economic crisis.