“What Has This Guy Been Saying to Other People?”

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A look at the social welfare system in Ireland, from the eyes of Roos Demol, a Belgian writer/blogger resident in the country for eighteen years, as posted in Migrants in Ireland, her blog dedicated to stories of the Irish immigration experience.

The last thing I ever wanted to do was to become dependent on social welfare. But things happen. I had to quit my job a few months ago because I needed to be with my daughter who had several health problems, so money was already scarce, then my estranged husband decided to cut the maintenance in half and I was left penniless.

As any mother would do, I got into protection mode and did everything possible to get some kind of income. While looking for jobs, I also signed on for social welfare in the hope it would keep me going.

Ireland has an extremely outdated signing-on system., the endless paperwork, the old fashioned standing in line, the grumpy people in the social welfare office, it was all very unpleasant to experience, but I took it on and went through it, because I had no choice.

Nothing, however had prepared me for the meeting with the social welfare inspector.

Of course, I do understand why an inspection could be necessary, especially since I noticed that in the social welfare office and the community office every document you produce is considered to be fake, and everything you say is considered a lie, even my birth certificate was looked at with suspicion. ( I had to point out to the lady in the SWO that ‘September’ in Dutch means ‘September’ in English. I keep forgetting that Anglophones find understanding other languages very difficult).

I went to the appointment with the inspector as instructed on a Monday at 12. I was a bit taken aback by the office doors that each had a lock and an entry code. What was going on?

The man, blond with little piercing blue eyes, let me into his office, as always I smiled and said hello. He didn’t smile back.

He took my file and looked through it, then he said ‘So are you going back home?’ I looked puzzled. He repeated ‘why don’t you go back home to your family?’. I then realised that by ‘home’ he meant Belgium.

I looked at him in disbelief. I said ‘I’ve been living here for 18 years, my children are Irish, why on earth would I go back to Belgium?’

Then he said ‘So I guess you’re not then’. ‘Because you are going to get money off the state here’ he shouted out loud with a menacing look on his face.

I was bewildered, from then on I knew this was not just a talk about what happened and about the steps I should take, etc. this was an interrogation. I had to keep telling myself I was in Ireland, land of the thousand welcomes. I have borne children here, I have paid taxes, I pay taxes every time I buy something, I pay road tax, I delivered very intelligent and talented children to this country, I organised charity events for Action Breast Cancer , I am a cultural ambassador for the Irish In Europe Association, promoting Irish businesses in Brussels, I did workshops with teenagers from disadvantaged backgrounds, I fundraised money for the local school, brought choirs to small churches in the country side and many more things. but here was a guy telling me I am taking money off the state and telling me I should go ‘home’.

That meeting lasted around an hour. I was treated like a criminal all the way through, everything I said was either ridiculed or sneered at.

I could only think of one thing. What if I was black? What has this guy been saying to other people?

I did not sleep that night, I was completely traumatised. I made a complaint, we’ll see what happens.

I thought about the movies I saw, the books I read about the Magdalen sisters and the industrial schools, Angela’s Ashes and the way poor people were treated in the old days. It was always just fiction, but now I had experienced it myself, it is still happening.

I used to work in the employment office in Brussels, I met people like me, I also worked in prison for six years as a nurse. Never in my entire life have I treated anyone with such disrespect. I am totally disgusted.

I am in bad luck and working hard to get out of it. I am not taking social welfare because in the end I am not yet reaching the (very low) threshold for job seekers allowance, and the thought of ever having to see this man again, makes me sick. I think I’d rather go ‘home’ indeed.

Migrants in Ireland

86 thoughts on ““What Has This Guy Been Saying to Other People?”

  1. Rob_G

    ‘Because you are going to get money off the state here’ he shouted out loud with a menacing look on his face.

    I don’t doubt that the staff in social welfare offices can be brusque, even rude at times, but this part doesn’t really ring true…

          1. Steph Pinker

            I’m aware anecdotal evidence doesn’t sit well with many, but I know someone who moved back to Ireland to do a PhD a few years’ ago, having previously lived abroad. In the interim she signed on, and, similar to the author above, she was subjected to nasty and obtuse behaviour by the person who interviewed her; it was also suggested that she go back to where she had lived ‘rather than being a drain on the system because Ireland’s in a recession.’

            I’m not saying that this attitude is typical, but obviously it does exist in the minds of some.

    1. Anomanomanom

      Iv told a similar story on here many times about my partner’s mother. She was born in england, was moved here as a baby to live with her grandparents. Randomly went back to england as a teenager for work, but worked in Ireland basically from 14 years old. Had three kids, all irish. Yet when she lost her job, I need to add she has an English passport at the time the state would not recognise her as irish because her mother basically gave her up and she was actually born in England(different times I suppose, anyway the first question out of the welfare officers mouth was “So your English, how long have you been working over there”. I only know this is a fact because the welfare office, not sure if I can name it, but the Dublin 8 one actually called the garda because the interrogation got so bad my partner’s mother lost it and went mad. So it really does happen.

    2. Karen

      Why would you not believe this person?
      I was shouted at in a SW office even though I was nothing but polite. I saw other people signing on being roared at in the office.

      Have you ever had dealings with a SW office? I’ve never heard of anyone unemployed having a pleasant
      experience in there.

  2. human

    The sense of entitlement is astounding.

    ‘I could only think of one thing. What if I was black? ‘ Ah yea if you were further up the victimhood totem pole you could cry racism.

    ‘The man, blond with little piercing blue eyes’ bit racist to be making assumption’s based on the man’s looks.

          1. Starina

            you give out to other people for assuming things but then you jump to tons of conclusions yourself. desperate. go back to the journal, little troll

    1. Bob

      The sense of entitlement from someone entitled to something? I’m shocked, I tell you! So shocked my monocle fell into my champagne.

      You trolling is getting weaker and weaker.

  3. Ferret McGruber

    I am truly sorry you were put through that ordeal. I’ve certainly met his ilk in the public service. If it’s any comfort, I imagine your man’s colleagues detest the very ground he walks on and he lives a lonely, sociopathic life and goes home to an existence where he’s equally despised.

    1. human

      Your apologising for events you have no way of knowing ever actually happened.

      ‘I imagine your man’s colleagues detest the very ground he walks on and he lives a lonely, sociopathic life and goes home to an existence where he’s equally despised.’

      Your very quick to make assumptions about people you don’t know and have never met, almost like something a bigot would say…..

      Why are you so quick to sacrifice yourself at the alter of guilt?

      1. Holden MaGroin

        ‘The man, blond with little piercing blue eyes’ bit racist to be making assumption’s based on the man’s looks.

        Yeah imagine being quick to make assumptions about people.

          1. Kieran NYC

            I think “human” is his own ABM/trolling character.

            But wouldn’t be surprised if Jonotti is still here

            Of course Broadsheet enables all these multiple username trolls. Clicks, donchaknow

          2. Anne

            While we’re taking guesses..I’d say you’re over in Ballyfermot myself. NYC my hoop.

            Sorry for being nasty..hugs x

          3. Kieran NYC

            It’s ok, Anne. You stick to the one username and be consistent with your vicious attitude.

            You disappeared from here for a while.

            You weren’t missed.

          4. Anne

            Vicious? Ah hugs kieran, in Ballyfermot. Admins..i want it confirmed he’s IP is coming from Ballyfermot. It’s ruining yer credibility letting us believe he’s in NYC. Just messing..couldn’t care less.

  4. Joe Cool

    The social welfare in this country is broke. It has been for a number of years. It’s the usual heavy from the top down. To many execs. 3 years found myself for the first time since i was 18, unemployed at 35. The social welfare treated me like I was a burden, like some sort of criminal. They barely paid me for 5 months. Vertically chastised me into signing off. Don’t get me wrong, I think that’s the way it should be. But there were blokes walking in, getting there money and going straight to the local. They have been doing it for years. There was me, degree in app social studies and couldn’t get a chance.

    They called me for a meeting once and asked would I be willing to do a ce scheme in youth work!!!! I had to calmly tell them to get my cv and read it. (I’ve worked as a youth worker since I was 23) . Inept to say the least

    1. Harry Molloy

      The last bit made me lol. I knew a guy with an IT degree who was advised to do an ECDL to boost his CV a few years back :-)

      1. Starina

        pal of mine just got her PhD and is currently working on visas for her new job overseas that starts in a few weeks – when she went to the welfare office they suggested she do a job training course.

    2. Kevin

      > … treated me like I was a burden, like some sort of criminal. They barely paid me for 5 months. … But there were blokes walking in, getting there money and going straight to the local. They have been doing it for years.

      I had a similar experience years ago. Chatting to a guy about the whole thing, he said he bet I shaved, probably even wore a shirt the day when I went in to talk to the social welfare people which, indeed, I had. This was my mistake, apparently. Looking hopeless is what I should’ve done. When he had last dealt with them, he had lost a front tooth only a few days before, looked a bit scruffy, and they couldn’t have been nicer.

      Now, years later, I’m much more wary of anecdotes, and I reckon a lot of it is down to the luck of the draw – you could get some awful person, or someone who’s just having a bad day/week/year or whatever.

    3. The Real Jane

      Why do you think that people claiming social welfare aren’t entitled to basic courtesy? That’s very depressing.

    4. Cian

      I was made redundant and claimed social welfare for a few months until I got a job back in 2010.
      I was treated fairly, the staff were all courteous. I was scheduled to meet with a guy (from FÁS?) to discuss my options – he suggested I could do a Springboard course, the course covered stuff I had been working in but I took it as it was going to give me a qualification.

      I was lucky and got a new job, but I continued the Springboard course in the evenings, and qualified.

      All-in-all I would rate *all* the various people I met in the social welfare quite highly [BTW this was in Dun Laoire]. My only complaint was having to queue outside (in the rain) for the sign-ons.

  5. Jake38

    “The social welfare in this country is broke.”

    The entire country is broke.

    Perhaps that’s the point.

      1. dav

        Blushirts wouldn’t “sully” themselves dealing with the poor, they prefer to ignore them and suck up to the bankers instead.

  6. francis almond

    From Belgium but when quizzed about their birth cert (I had to point out to the lady in the SWO that ‘September’ in Dutch means ‘September’ in English. I keep forgetting that Anglophones find understanding other languages very difficult).
    CAUGHT! for you see madame if you were indeed from Belgium as YOU CLAIM you would speak Belgian and not Dutch. Case closed. Good day to you

      1. Metropolitan

        Flemish people speak Dutch (in multiple dialects and accents.. but it’s all Dutch)

        I’m hoping Francis almond is a funny troll.

  7. PR Feen

    Sorry to hear of your troubles with the Irish “service” in the social welfare office.

    Good thinking on deciding not to return to Belgium, service not so hot there either.

    I’ve been roared at in a commune in brussels for not speaking the local language while speaking to them in the local language. Documents in English were not acceptable either, had to have them professionally translated at a fine cost.

    1. Rob_G

      +1

      Ireland has an extremely outdated signing-on system., the endless paperwork, the old fashioned standing in line, the grumpy people in the social welfare office

      – as someone who has dealings with both Irish and Belgian bureaucracies, the Belgian is far, far worse.

  8. Eric Cartman

    this all sounds like a farce, but if it is, lets make this guy head of the social welfare dept. He sounds on the ball.

  9. Anne

    I am not taking social welfare because in the end I am not yet reaching the (very low) threshold for job seekers allowance,

    http://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/social_welfare/social_welfare_payments/unemployed_people/jobseekers_benefit.html
    If you’ve been working, you should be applying for Job seekers *benefit*.. and not be applying for jobseekers allowance.

    To qualify for Jobseeker’s Benefit, you must pay Class A, H or P PRSI contributions. Class A is the one paid by most private sector employees. Class H is paid by soldiers, reservists and temporary army nurses, who do not qualify for Jobseeker’s Benefit until they have left the army. To qualify you need:
    •At least 104 weeks PRSI paid since you first started work

    And
    •39 weeks PRSI paid or credited in the relevant tax year (a minimum of 13 weeks must be paid contributions*)

    Or
    •26 weeks PRSI paid in the relevant tax year and 26 weeks PRSI paid in the tax year immediately before the relevant tax year.

    *If you do not have 13 paid contributions in the relevant tax year, you must have paid 13 contributions in any of the following years:
    •The 2 tax years before the relevant tax year
    •The last complete tax year
    •The current tax year.

    •Left work voluntarily and without a reasonable cause (leaving to take care of a family member is reasonable cause I would have thought)

    It’s non means tested.. so savings or assets etc shouldn’t be taken into account.
    You can go to a citizen’s advice office too for advice in person with someone. Hopefully you won’t get a drone.
    We need to send these muppets in welfare offices to charm school training. No one else would hire them, and they looking on with distain to the people keeping them in their job.

  10. Niallo

    Sounds about right, SW staff are disapointed civil servants, so your on a loser there straight away.
    I’d rather starve than give the fuppers the pleasure of my company ever again, but then, thats the point isnt it…

    1. Otis Blue

      Interestingly not all staff in the SW office are civil servants. Some offices are operated on an agency basis by the private sector, much like a Post Office.

  11. Anne

    By the way, this has been going on –
    http://villagemagazine.ie/index.php/2015/01/privatisation-kicks-in-quietly-and-unquestioned/
    ‘Social welfare privatisation kicks in, quietly and unquestioned.’

    They asked me in the welfare office, when I was on job seekers benefit last year if I wanted to apply for a position with one of the private companies our government have engaged to force people into work.
    Seetac were the name of the company from what I recall – A U.K. company.
    Commission based work and all.. It’d be like being a cop and working on commission.. the more people you lock up the more you get paid.

  12. norman bates

    Having made a complaint against a member of staff in my local social welfare office number of years ago, I received a letter telling me that there was insufficient evidence to move forward with an investigation of the member of staff and that I should under no circumstances bring up the matter with anyone in my local office. I have no doubt in my mind every word said to her was true, there are awful, awful people working in social welfare offices and they know that short of slitting your throat in broad daylight they will never see any disciplinary action let alone get fired. Anyway, either by accident or design they motivated me to never, ever set foot in there ever again, the thought of losing my job or having to go back there for any reason turns my stomach.

  13. Linda

    I am very sorry that you experienced that. Friends of mine (Irish) have told me similar stories from their interactions with the staff in the Social Welfare Office. Some people have told me stories of lovely staff there, who were very helpful. But I have often heard bad stories. I know one girl (also Irish) who receives disability benefit due to a very serious mental health illnesses, which has been diagnosed by a psychiatrist. One staff member in the Social Welfare Office treated her as if she was scamming the system. She was asked very inappropriate questions in an accusatory manner. She left the office in tears.

  14. gaz

    Their is no doubt in mind that they have attended group strategy meetings where the gameplan is to resist,demoralise and dissuade applicants.It was under the great champion of the working class Joan Burton that these measures were introduced,penalising people for misfortune and enhancing the falsehood that life on the dole is one big happy scam.

  15. Kolmo

    This rings a bell – I was self employed for a long time, taxes always up to date in pure terror of a revenue audit, 2008 economy puked out it’s own arse, spent a saved deposit for a house purchase on not being homeless until it ran out – had to turn to the state for the first time in my adult life – 2 hour interview with a relatively sypathetic civil servant, every cent I earned for 10 years accounted for and examined, got dole for a few weeks, then a surprise inspection at where I live, snide remarks made in my own home by inspectors about how I’m ‘surviving’…I swear to fupp I was fit to slap, I was dutifully waiting till the end of my lease before vacating my poorly built shit house of an apartment, it was assumed I was a mooching criminal at all times, not an embarrassed and desperate tax payer with 4 languages, university educated out of my own pocket with temporary difficulties. Some of them are way too comfortable c-units.

  16. Richard Elfson

    Disgusting. We need to have a conversation about how we organise ourselves. This kind of bureaucratic overreach is a signal of a bad road.

  17. Bort

    I was on the dole for 14 months about 4 years ago. The staff in Nutgrove were nothing but helpful. Of course there was a mountain of paperwork and stamps, I wouldn’t expect less. I got everything back dated. Rent allowance is a different story, serious hoop jumping. Signing on once a month, is that really a big deal? I never felt like I was being judged. Of course I was offered FAS courses etc that wouldnt suit me but would suit somone reskilling or just entering the work force. I have no children, lived in shared rented accom and I had a car on the road. I actually lived comfortably on €288 a week plus €33 rent allowance. I got a medical card too, a lot of form filling. If I was bothered I couldve got heating allowance. I then got offered the enterprise scheme. There was also a huge list of Spring Board courses I could have done, which are college courses for free, some degree level. On the Enterprise scheme got my dole and worked freelance for 2 years. I never made much money but its a great program. Is there a European country with a better social welfare? Apart from maybe Denmark?

    Here’s the other thing. I wanted to get back to work asap. There was people signing on had no intention of ever working. The same staff that were so courteous to me had to deal with an ungodly amount of piss takers day in day out. The only people I ever saw screamed at were the staff and threatened, even spat at. A few standard things on sign in day. Beligerent people who demanded X or Y when they had turned up on the wrong day, forgot their card, had no ID, had lost some form etc etc. Lads in snickers gear who had clearly just came from site to sign on. Drunk/Strung out people. Women skipping the queue demanding to be seen next because they had a taxi outside. Kids running riot. Every time I was in the social welfare office I witnessed staff get some form of abuse. It is not an easy job, they have to check thouraghly, the form filling seems outdated, it surely is but how much would a new system cost. Personally I found my time on the dole difficult. I was ashamed, I had worked for 15 years. I never felt judged by the staff, I felt judged by my peers as to why someone with a degree and at that stage 5 years in my proffesion couldnt get a job. There was none! Entry level jobs were now zero salary internships. My first job 4 years before started on 24k, now after interning a year people were offered 16-18k. I took a loan did a Post Grad and interned for a year for €75 a week. I only survived that because I could claim dole on the Enterprise scheme. The company didnt hire me, they replaced me with another intern. Now theres a crime! I’m finally in a permanent job I love (not making much money). If I hadnt been able to claim such a frankly generous social welfare I would have been well and truly f**cked!

  18. :-Joe

    My spidey sense is tingling from a lot of bad attitudes bubbling up…

    All towards someone being open and honest about a real problem.

    Just watched, “I Daniel Blake” a couple of weeks back. another important film about real social issues that matter from the always great dynamic duo of Ken Loach and Paul Laverty.

    The social welfare system in Ireland, much like most state managed systems the world over is deeply flawed and badly mismanaged but the problems do not originate from the bottom up. It’s successive governments from the “do what the financial industry recommends or ask the business elite class” who have repeatedly backed away from dealing with the real and serious issues with a long term strategy of progressive improvement and positive change. AND ITS BEEN GOING ON FOR DECADES !!!

    FF/FG have been in charge of all this for far too long and if you turn on the radio recently you’ll have heard the same age old problems of repeatedly treating teachers, nurses, guards (i.e. REAL PEOPLE) like dirt… along with the workers unions(no big surprise there) and just for a cynical fupp you… are you really paying attention folks… all the while giving landlords like the minister for property speculation Simon Coveney himself!, a royal free pass.

    Seriously, wake the fupp up people?… Your government that you keep voting in does not care about real people or real issues and any hope or belief you have that with them this will change is just a foolish notion.

    Real politics no longer exists in this country or most of the world in general. We have countries filled up with middle managers and ugly celebrities who answer to financial markets and unelected financial elites who believe in financial markets and not negotiating fair and equitable agreements between real people that benifit society overall. You are voting for quantative easing, austerity and recession… and not for helping real people with real problems and solving real social issues.

    It’s no wonder other people “them idiots over there” are cabable of voting for populist Trump when you yourself are stupid enough to keep voting for the FF/FG Financial and Business elite party over and over again expecting a different result… or worse… happy to keep the country drowning in inequality and the socially regressive inevitability of governance through the philosophy of market based economics.

    Stop blaming this that and the other, it’s not down to a few bad eggs or the recession, It’s the government you decide to elect that is working against your own self interest and the interest of our society as a whole.

    The problem has always been your government and together both your lack of political will… stupid!

    :-J

  19. RobertasYourLGBTQParentsSibling

    ah jaysus would ye look at yer wan coming over here from belgium stealin our dole

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