Where is Ireland’s welfare system headed?
A warning from the UK.
It’s clear where the Irish government want it to go. They have been explicit about what it is that they want: something that looks like the UK system. The reforms point to what now exists here: the same multinational companies (G4S, Serco, etc.) are bidding for contracts; similar unwaged work schemes, like the already existing internship programme JobBridge, are set to play a prominent role; and the use of benefit sanctions is set to increase.
The reforms are already underway. The winning contracts for Jobpath, the welfare-to-work scheme for those unemployed over a year, modelled on the UK’s disastrous Work Programme, will be announced shortly for four Contract Package Areas across Ireland. Private employment service providers such as Ingeus are set to create a welfare industry with themselves at the head of supply chains and the taxpayer footing the bill. Below them, they will aim for a host of subcontractors from the voluntary and charity sectors, as well as smaller private providers.
Ireland’s government has ignored the vast evidence of the welfare to work industry’s failure in the UK, and instead are on a path to repeat the same mistakes. We know, for example, that a harsher system of sanctions creates destitution and hunger. We know that forced, unpaid work placements lead not to more jobs but to more misery. We know that companies take advantage of free labour and that workfare fuels the precarious elements of the labour market. We know that big private employment and training companies are good at churning the unemployed through their programmes but not at securing them good, lasting jobs. We also know that workfare schemes mask the real level of unemployment.