From top: Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty; Then Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar at the launch of a new campaign urging the public to ‘blow the whistle in wellfare fraud’ on April 17, 2017
Welfare’s fraud numbers are implausible by any stretch of the imagination – the publication of dodgy figures the day before the PSC report is published is downright dishonest https://t.co/AblMDZiw1u
The ‘anti-fraud’ measures being trumpeted by the Department of Social Protection are primarily concerned with augmenting the Department’s capabilities in surveillance and punishment, not fraud reduction. Fraud reduction is the pretext, not the goal.
I smile at this shite when government lines vultures pockets & presided over worst homeless/housing crisis in our history. Squanders hundreds of millions more on children’s-hospital & possibly a billion more on broadband https://t.co/INe1gl2zCn
A new social insurance benefit scheme for the self-employed from this November.
The Jobseekers Benefit (Self-Employed) will support those who lose their self-employment and are covered by social insurance.
The new benefit will be paid for 9 months for people with 260 or more self-employment PRSI contributions paid…It will be paid for 6 months for people with fewer than 260 self–employment PRSI contributions paid…
‘…While his detractors worked themselves into a frenzy over his comments about Travellers, it was his remarks about Ireland becoming a welfare state and his expression of sympathy for “people who pay for everything and get nothing in return” that really struck a chord with voters.
That message is similar to one we have been preaching for some time. It is why we backed Mr Varadkar as a future leader of Fine Gael as soon as he presented himself as an alternative to the suffocating consensus that was slowly killing robust political debate.
Not any more. Mr Varadkar has become yet another social democrat, and left those on the centre right without a party to represent their interests.
Fine Gael strategists would be unwise to dismiss Mr Casey’s vote as an aberration. The businessman’s campaign was shambolic and his public utterances were often bumbling, incomprehensible even, but by actually speaking his mind he managed to breach the stultifying political correctness that sanitises most statements made by our career politicians.
Sir Anthony O’Reilly used to quip that a gap in the market was not enough to create a business; there had to be a market in the gap. Mr Casey has found the gap. Now, is there a party up to the task of exploiting it?’
Editorial, Sunday Times Ireland edition (behind paywall)
It’s happening too often. We are being pushed into a cashless society yet systems are failing too often and leaving people high and dry. Less than 2 weeks ago @UlsterBank_Help were called before finance committee for same issues
The Department is aware that a widespread bank payments issue is affecting some social welfare payments due into customer accounts today. The Banks are working to resolve the issue and we will continue to monitor the situation & provide updates throughout the day. #paymentupdate
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.
He said since the ’employment activation programme’was introduced in July 2015, €84million has been paid to two companies Seetec and Turas Nua.
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.”
Ombudsman Peter Tyndall launching his annual report for 2016 in Dublin this morning
Ombudsman Peter Tyndall launched his annual report for 2016.
In it, he deals with the matter of complaints to his office from people in receipt of social welfare payments who’ve been notified that they were overpaid and that they owe the Department of Social Protection money.
In his report, Mr Tyndall writes:
During 2015 and 2016, I noticed an increase in the number of complaints to my Office from people who had been, or who were currently, in receipt of social welfare payments and who had received notice from the Department of Social Protection that they had been overpaid. The Department was demanding repayment from them.
The periods during which the overpayments accrued ranged from relatively recently to over 20 years ago. The amounts also ranged from €1,000 to over €100,000.
An examination of these complaints raised significant concerns so I decided to initiate a systemic examination of the Department’s processes in raising and collecting overpayment debts from claimants.
My Office examined local overpayment files held in two Dublin Intreo Offices. In October 2016, I sent a report of our findings to the Department for its consideration and response.
During 2016, my Office examined other individual complaints received from overpaid social welfare claimants. A total of 55 overpayment complaints have been examined. 25 have been finalised and closed. Of those closed, I upheld 15 (60%) and the overpayments were written off by the Department.
In one case study, Mr Tyndall explains how one woman, who was told she owed the Department of Social Protection €19,900, ended up receiving a €700 refund from the department.
Mr Tyndall writes:
A woman complained to the Ombudsman after she wrote to the local office of the Department of Social Protection and failed to receive a response. The woman had received correspondence from her local office saying that an overpayment of €19,900 had been made to her. The woman was unaware of how this debt arose and had written to the Department for an explanation.
The Ombudsman contacted the Department’s local office and asked it to respond to the woman’s correspondence. While responding to the Ombudsman the Department also reviewed the woman’s social welfare payments. It discovered that her application had not been processed correctly. The woman’s income had been recalculated a number of times resulting in different outcomes, while in considering her husband’s income the Department had failed to take account of an illness that reduced his income.
Following the review, Department discovered that not only had there been no overpayment but that the woman was entitled to a refund of approximately €700.
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.
Over the last three working days I’ve received three items of post. One was from my apartment insurer (who I’m 90% certain won’t actually insure me as the setup of the apartment is a fire hazard), a letter I’ve apparently ‘requested’ from Irish Water asking me for my details to sign up.
And then I got this letter from the dole who dutifully told me that I owe them €22.30. This isn’t up for debate – according to their rules, the Department of Welfare’s incredibly just and virtuous rules, I do owe them this money.
However before I get my rant on, let’s look at this keeping in mind Enda’s promise to rescue all those souls who’ve fallen overboard in the past eight years or so.
He wants them all to have jobs by 2018 according to his St Patrick’s Day message. From my experience, I worked in the tax year of 2011, emigrated the same year and came back in October 2013. I received Dole within a record time of 10 days or so.
I started work in February 2014 until November 2014. I went to the dole office and was told I was not due anything because they wanted proof of my cohabiting, self-employed partner’s income (which was hard as it was her first year doing it).
After initial shock at being due nothing (when in doubt always lie to the Welfare, they should’ve taught me in school) having worked almost the entire year, they said my only option was to show them my partner’s receipts and bank statements.
They accumulated it to a yearly average and I was given the princely sum of €66 a week.
Needless to say this was pittance for rent, high season for ESB bill, food, house insurance, and internet. Since my partner works in the arts and the companies she worked for were awaiting grants from The Arts Council who have to wait for the money to be dripfed to them from Enda’s teat, she was constantly owed money but had none or not enough to even pay the rent.
So debts were incurred, family who were estranged for obvious reasons were contacted out of the blue and squeezed. Not the worst or even close to it for a lot of people but I suppose my point lies with those coming back to all those lovely jobs by 2018.
To those coming back by then (a lot of whom were on the dole before they left and not having worked in a while), make sure you’ve a nice bounty with you to feather your nest with, or your family has weathered the storm – coz the welfare employees are only the messengers. If you’ve a complaint/valid point to make about the system prepare to be ignored.