A Weapon To “Wage War On An Alleged Army Of ‘Welfare Cheats'”

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Public Services Card; Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty; UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston

This afternoon.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston published a letter which he has written to the Irish Government about the Public Services Card.

Professor Alston has found that the card “discriminates against the marginalised without a clear legal basis” and that while it claims “to wage war on an alleged army of ‘welfare cheats,’ it fails to meet that goal while intruding on privacy rights”.

A statement accompanying the publication of his letter states:

Ireland’s attempt to improve access to welfare benefits and digital government services through its Public Services Card (PSC) is being implemented in ways that gravely prejudice the least well-off, said a UN expert today.

The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, said that the steps required to obtain the card are manageable for most, but “can be a nightmare for the especially disadvantaged because of the bureaucratic obstacle course involved.”

“They have to jump through a number of hoops to prove their identity, including providing documents which many find hard to access and attending an interview which might entail a major disruption,” Alston said.

“Too many of those living in poverty, including people with disabilities and other marginalised groups, are unable to get the support they need as a result of the requirements involved in obtaining the PSC,” he warned.

The Special Rapporteur’s statement comes after the publication of an official communication sent to the Irish Government on  April 14  expressing his concerns about the PSC and asking detailed information about its implications.

Alston welcomed the recent waiver of the PSC requirement for some benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic, but saw this as an acknowledgment that the existing system was unduly burdensome.

“It is not clear whether the Byzantine legal framework actually provides a clear legal basis for requiring welfare claimants to obtain a PSC, despite the government’s claim to the contrary,” according to the Special Rapporteur.

The most consistent justification offered for such a demanding and intrusive system is to reduce fraud and wage war on an alleged army of ‘welfare cheats’.

“In fact, the PSC does relatively little to reduce identity fraud while already costing the Irish taxpayer at least €68million,” he said.

Against this background, the negative impact of the PSC system on the human rights to privacy and data protection of poorer and more marginalised persons is unreasonable and disproportionate.

Apart from the intrusion of being photographed and having that photo run through a facial recognition tool, there is also the need to reveal sensitive personal information to obtain the card, such as whether you are adopted, which in Ireland can raise especially painful concerns, Alston said.

“In a classic example of ‘doublespeak’, government officials have claimed that the PSC is ‘not compulsory, but mandatory’.

“While this might be true for the well-off, those who rely on the government for assistance have no choice but to give up on their privacy and dignity in order to get help,” said the UN expert.

“Despite repeated claims by the Irish government to the contrary, the PSC has many of the characteristics of, and can readily be turned into, a de facto national biometric ID scheme.

“None of this is to imply bad faith on the part of the government, and a card that makes access to government services easier, including digitally, is certainly welcome in principle.”

“The real problem is that the current system, rather than being devised in a carefully thought-through way, is the result of endless adjustments and amendments to legislation adopted long ago.

“Over the past 24 years or so, successive Irish governments have stumbled into a project with potentially huge implications for the citizenry with minimal deliberation by the Dáil, little consideration of alternatives, and constantly moving objectives.

“Such a far-reaching scheme needs to be approached very differently.”

Professors Alston’s 40-page letter to the Government can be read in full here

Meanwhile, in December 2019, the Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon found there is no legal basis for the State demanding the use of the Public Services Card in order to access a range of public services beyond social welfare payments.

Ms Dixon ordered that Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty’s department stop issuing new PSCs, with immediate effect, to people seeking a service outside of her department.

She also ordered that the department delete the supporting documentation – such as utility bills, etc – that the department has retained on the 3.2million card holders.

The DPC issued the department an enforcement notice in order to force the department to comply with the DPC’s findings but the department has since appealed the enforcement notice and this appeal is currently pending before the Circuit Civil Court.

Related: UN human rights body attacks Public Services Card saying it amounts to ‘discrimination’ (Cianan Brennan, The Irish Examiner)

Previously: PSC on Broadsheet

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27 thoughts on “A Weapon To “Wage War On An Alleged Army Of ‘Welfare Cheats'”

  1. Shitferbrains

    Which among the documents that the proff suggests present a difficulty for the poor and marginalised to produce in order to obtain the card will be needed by them to prove their identity should the card be withdrawn ?

    1. Dilbert

      And of course those living off welfare are taken on face value?
      I got my pension last week
      Worked 42 years and because I had a few years missing or did not keep my wage slips because a past employer did not pay my contributions my pension was cut by 50 euro a week
      930 contributions registered

      And someone who will of worked 10 years will have a full one

      To be honest I do not care a rats arse about weaponising my card

      A big thanks for Joan burton who screwed my pension
      I feel sorry for the paper boys who will of entered the workforce at thirteen then realize when they retire these summer jobs will water down what they get

  2. Dr.Fart

    FG drum beaters, Cian and Rob_G to the stage please. Explain how you, presumably, still defend this.

    1. Clampers Outside

      I’ll have a go.

      The PSC card obstacle course referred to should be identified by Mr Alston, and itemised.

      Then these “obstacles” should be reviewed for the “especially disadvantaged” so that they can obtain one more easily.

      Simples init.

      1. Clampers Outside

        As Alston says himself, the idea of the card isn’t bad but… “The real problem is that the current system, rather than being devised in a carefully thought-through way, is the result of endless adjustments and amendments to legislation adopted long ago.”

        1. Cian

          PSC is only mentioned in 10 acts of legislation since it was introduced in 1998 (8 are social welfare acts, one is housing (Landlord may need PSC for HAP) and the last makes it an offence to forge a PSC).

          There have been about 4 ‘adjustments’ in twenty two years.

          Public service card is mentioned in 12 statuary instruments – most of these are lists of acceptable ID (e.g. 6 of them are allowing a PSC to be accepted as ID for voting purposes – local, European, general, etc).

          Not exactly “endless adjustments and amendments”!

    2. Cian

      In December 2019, the Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon found there is legal basis for the State demanding the use of the Public Services Card in order to access social welfare services.

          1. GiggidyGoo

            Cian-o not getting much support from the Concannonbot these days. Poor showing these past few weeks.

        1. Cian

          He “found that the card “discriminates against the marginalised without a clear legal basis” … but the Data Protection Commissioner said it was legal for Social Welfare (i.e. the least well-off).

          If you are getting a drivers licence you aren’t “the least well-off” – different argument.

  3. Ger

    A further example of the malevolent actions of the Permanent Irish state against its citizens.

    1. Joe Small

      The ” the Permanent Irish state”? That’s Trump-speak for utter nonsense.

      Its just a card to make getting social welfare assistance for those accessing it and those processing it. It amazes me that people ascribe any sort of sinister motivation to basic bureaucratic improvements.

      I lived in an EU country where you have to carry your ID card on you at all times and I got stopped by police on occasion and had to produce it. It didn’t feel particularly sinister but it a whole other level to the PSC.

  4. GiggidyGoo

    Bang goes Varadkars dreams of a UN Knighthood. Maybe Bono could write a song about it.

    1. Janet, I ate my avatar

      Indeed, maybe get them to build a folly at the bottom of your garden , a little hard labor to keep the mind healthy, there’s a lovely example in Castletown Grounds, you could model it on that, a folly per poor tax payer

  5. max

    Beginning to think i agree with trump on this. the UN is a waste of space. Lets create a report that says that the card marginalizes the poor and doesnt itemize how its hard for them. This is the sort of swill reporting you would expect from a fox news reporter.

  6. Cian

    He also says “In late March 2020, the Government waived the requirement to obtain a PSC for people applying for the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment (as well as for other welfare benefits it appears). This measure effectively acknowledged that the way in which the identity verification requirements had been applied previously was unduly burdensome and not conducive to facilitating needed access to governmental support. All indications are, however, that this waiver is essentially a temporary crisis-related measure, rather than representing a change in the underlying approach.”

    His conclusion is that the government removed the PSC requirement in the face COVID because it is “unduly burdensome and not conducive to facilitating needed access to governmental support” rather than an unprecedented pandemic which has effectively closed the entire world and channelling 100,000s of people into welfare offices for a photo is not very sensible.

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