9,162 have had their social welfare payment cut or suspended since the restriction was introduced in 2011. Almost half of these cases occurred in the past year, with around 4,000 payments being cut from last January to September.
Sinn Fein councillor for City North, Maurice Quinlivan, says that people claiming jobseekers payment should be making genuine efforts to seek employment. However, he believes there is also an onus on the State to ensure that education and training programmes meet the real needs of unemployed people and are suitable to their level of existing skills and experience.
“Unemployed people should have some say in the progression options open to them,” he explained.
“There is enough evidence to show that people feel pressured to take up training courses or be penalised and these so-called activation measures are more concerned with reducing the numbers on the Live Register than addressing the real needs of jobseekers”.
The City North councillor insists that many unemployed people now feel that they are being “harassed” by the State in this regard.
“Forcing people on to unsuitable courses or potentially exploitative employment programmes is tantamount to blaming the unemployed for unemployment,” he said.
According to the Department of Social Protection (DSP), jobseekers who refuse to engage with services, refuse an appropriate offer of training or education, or do not attend meetings, can have their payment reduced by up to €44 a week.
Tougher sanctions were introduced in July 2013 to provide for a disqualification from payment for a period of up to nine weeks, for those who has had a penalty rate imposed for 21 days and continue to fail to engage.
The Department also warned that a deciding officer may impose further sanctions/penalties in the form of reduced payments where clients fail to comply with activation measures. These include attendance at group or individual meetings, and/or avail of suitable education, training or development opportunities, or specified employment programmes.
“A person who continues to fail to comply with activation measures, while on a penalty rate, may be disqualified from receiving the personal rate of payment. The normal rate of payment may be reinstated at any time, if the jobseeker complies with the activation measures,” she concluded.