From top: Independent TD Paul Murphy and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
During Leaders’ Questions in the Dail.
Solidarity–People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy recalled the “Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All” campaign previously launched by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
Readers will recall how at the launch of the campaign, Mr Varadkar – then Minister for Social Protection and not leader of Fine Gael – stated a range of anti-fraud and control measures in the Department of Social Protection saved taxpayers more than €500million in 2016.
The campaign was later referred to as a ‘mistake’ by the Secretary General of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection John McKeon.
Mr Murphy also spoke about JobPath.
Following on from this, Mr Varadkar spoke about welfare fraud and criticised the “hard left”, again.
Paul Murphy: “‘Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All’ you said, Taoiseach, in a campaign now universally recognised as being based on false figures which your own department questioned. You cynically used public money to enhance your appeal to Fine Gael members.
“That campaign may now be largely forgotten but the agenda behind it remains. It was more than just a dog whistle campaign for votes. It was part of an ideological assault on social welfare…”
“140,000 unemployed people have been turned into opportunities for profit for private companies. In the process without significant debate the provision of social welfare has been partially privatised. I’ve spoken to a number of people who’ve been through JobPath, they say they’re not given any real training, they’re just supervised while looking for jobs on a computer meaning that it’s pointless travel for many, they describe it as demeaning, as patronising, as infantalising.
“And what hangs over all of their interactions with private companies is the threat of having their social welfare cut by more than €40, leaving people to try to survive on €150, or less, a week.
“Since JobPath has been introduced, the number of people who have had these so-called penalty rates applied has increased from 5,000 in 2015 to 16,000 last year. That is in one year alone. Some 6,500 JobPath participants have had their dole cut.
“On the other hand, €84 million of public money has been paid to just two companies, SeeTec and Turas Nua. They get money each time someone signs a personal progression plan and they get paid job sustainment fees.
“Both SeeTec and Working Links, which is one of two companies behind Turas Nua, have been accused of fraud in the operation of similar schemes in Britain. Last October in the Dáil, Deputy Catherine Murphy raised a very serious case of fraud by SeeTec in Ireland.
“All of that has been justified up until now on the false basis that the system works and gets people into employment. That has now been completely exposed by the Government’s own figures which came out three weeks ago. Only 18% of those who engage in JobPath end up in full-time employment.
“Some €84 million has been given to these private companies to get people jobs which they would have got themselves. Will the Taoiseach now read the writing on the wall for JobPath? Will he agree that the scheme needs to be scrapped and that instead of handing money over to private companies, he should invest in proper education and training and in real jobs for unemployed people?”
Leo Varadkar: “Welfare fraud is very real. And it is a real problem in this country and in every western society. Even if we take the lowest estimate of the scale of welfare fraud in this country, it is about €40 million a year. That is a lot of money in my view. Let us not forget that people who engage in welfare fraud are not the poor and vulnerable. They are people who are pretending to be poor and vulnerable. They are people who are working and claiming.
“They are people who are working, not paying their taxes on that work, and also claiming welfare at the same time. I do not believe that is defensible or acceptable. There are people who are pretending to have a disability they do not have or pretending to care for someone for whom they are not caring.
“People are claiming to be somebody they are not to claim pensions for people who are long dead. It really disappoints me to hear left-wing politicians in this country constantly defending fraudsters as though they are entitled to the benefits that they are stealing. They are not — to prevent and crack down on welfare fraud in any way we can.
“One only needs to look at the court reports every other day to see the detail of some of those cases and what people have been doing to defraud our system. The reason we cracked down on welfare fraud is not ideological. The reason is that fraud is wrong, whether it is tax fraud or welfare fraud, and we act against it.
“In doing so, we ensure that the welfare budget is protected for those who are entitled to it, including our pensioners, people with disabilities, carers, the unemployed, lone parents, blind people, widows and others. As a result we have been able to increase in two budgets in a row the State pension, payments to carers, payments to people with disabilities and payments to people who are unemployed. It is Government policy to crack down on welfare fraud in order to protect the welfare budget for those who need and deserve it, particularly pensioners, the disabled, carers and people who are unemployed.
“I am very disappointed to hear politicians on the left continuously equivocating on this issue and not condemning welfare fraud. I note that the Deputy did not do so on this occasion. Tackling unemployment is one of the areas in which everyone acknowledges we have seen a real turnaround in recent years.
“Unemployment peaked at 15% and is now down at approximately 6%. Long-term unemployment is down to 3%. That is not just because of a recovering economy. Unlike many recoveries, we saw unemployment fall rapidly once our recovery started. That is not the norm in recoveries. There is usually a lag. The reason unemployment fell very rapidly in Ireland once the recovery started is the kind of active policies in which the Government engaged both on the enterprise and welfare sides.
“Had we listened to the Deputy and had we pursued the policies which he advocated, which have been attempted in Greece, Zimbabwe, Venezuela and other countries, not only would we have mass unemployment, but we would have a mass refugee exodus from this country similar to the current exodus from Venezuela to Colombia.”
Murphy: “It is like Deputy Enda Kenny is back. The Taoiseach managed not to answer the question at all. Instead he attacked something which I did not say and then went on an ideological attack about Venezuela. I think he might have even referenced Colombia and Greece.
Varadkar: “Colombia is where the refugees are.”
Murphy: “Let us go back to the question. The question is on the Government’s JobPath scheme, which has failed in its stated aim of getting jobs for people. That is what the facts now demonstrate. Only 18% of participants get jobs, which is no higher than the rate for people who do not have access to JobPath. These companies have been accused of fraud in Britain. What is the Taoiseach doing to make sure that they are not engaged in fraud here? To deal with the curveball which the Taoiseach has thrown, which is that he will stand over and double down on his rhetoric about welfare fraud, the Taoiseach gave the figure of €40 million two minutes ago, but his advertising campaign said €500 million. Which is it? Who is engaged in fraud here?
Mattie McGrath: “It is the spin machine.”
Murphy: “The Taoiseach is engaged in fraud against unemployed people and is using public money to demonise them in order to drive precarious employment. He is continuing in that same Thatcherite vein here. Will he please answer the question asked in respect of JobPath?”
Varadkar: “I said that even the lowest estimate is €40 million. I note the Deputy has not refuted that.”
Eoin Ó Broin: “What is the actual figure?”
Varadkar: “The figure of €500 million was what it said on the tin, that is fraud and control. Fraud and control. They are two different things.”
Pearse Doherty: “It was the Department’s Brexit bus.”
Varadkar: “On the whole issue of JobPath, we must look at the counterfactual analysis. People who are long-term unemployed can be referred down a number of different routes. They can have assistance through the Intreo service provided by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection; they can be assisted through JobPath, which is outsourced to two companies; or they can be referred to bodies such as local employment schemes, for example. It is interesting to compare counterfactually how people perform under those different headings. There is a complaints procedure in place. If participants feel that they are not getting a proper service from JobPath, they can make a complaint directly to the company. If they are not satisfied with the response, they can go to the Department and make a complaint through its procedures.”
McGrath: “They would be wasting their time.”
Varadkar: “It is important to note how the companies are paid. They get a registration fee per client referred to them but after that they only get paid if the person gets a full-time job and sustains it. The incentive is there for the companies not just to get people into any old job, but to get them into full-time jobs which they can sustain for more than 13 weeks. The longer the person keeps that job, the more the company gets paid. Its strength is in its results. Unemployment is now falling below 6% and long-term unemployment is now below 3%.
Murphy: “The Government’s own figures dispute that.”
Varadkar: “Where would we be today if the policies of the hard left had been followed in this country?”
Murphy: “We would not have vulture funds dealing with public banks.”
Varadkar: “There would be mass unemployment and mass emigration.”
Previously: Populist Chancer Cheats Us All