Minister is overstating welfare fraud problem

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar praises rapid growth of Limerick company.
Minister Leo Varadkar

FIANNA Fáil Spokesperson on Social Protection, Willie O’Dea believes that Minister Leo Varadkar is overstating the problem of fraud in relation to Social Protection and that employment activation measures are being used to sanction people.

The Limerick TD claims that, according to figures released to him, there has been a sharp rise in people being penalised for not engaging in employment activation schemes or measures since Minister Varadkar took up office.

“In 2011, the number of people penalised was only 363, but now under Minister Varadkar’s stewardship, the department have penalised 10,800 in 2016 which is a massive increase, particularly when you take into account how many have left the Live Register to take up employment.

“Even in the short period of time from 2014 to 2016 the numbers of people that have been penalised have doubled from 5,325 to 10,867,” Deputy O’Dea told the Limerick Post.

Activation, he said, should not be used as a sanction.

“If somebody refuses employment that would actually leave them financially worse off or education or training that has no relevance to them, they should not be penalised for this.

“In another recent Parliamentary reply to me, Minister Varadkar stated that more than €500 million has been saved in anti-fraud measures employed by his Department, when in fact, most of the money was the result of genuine mistakes made by Department officials or by individual Welfare recipients, with only around 20 per cent of this figure actually fraud.

“Minister Varadkar appears to have made sanctions and hounding supposed fraudsters the main focus in the Department, as part of his ‘hard man’ image as he battles for the Fine Gael leadership.

He has even resorted to spending thousands on a nationwide anti-fraud billboard campaign which is more about promoting Leos’ tough man image than actually tackling fraud,” he claimed.

In response to Deputy O’Dea’s claims, Minister Varadkar said that reduced rates of payment were introduced as a means of encouraging jobseekers to engage with activation measures and to take advantage of the supports offered by the Department to help them secure employment.

“Reduced rates are only applied where a job seeker fails to engage as requested, and following at least two warnings, with the Department’s employment services. However, there are separate unrelated sanctions to deal with failure by a Jobseeker to comply with the conditions relating to the scheme. A range of sanctions including a full-payment suspension or disallowance of the jobseeker claim can be applied in circumstances where the conditions are not met.

“In the interests of natural justice, a jobseeker who fails to participate in the activation process is given both written and verbal warnings and an opportunity to comply before a reduced rate of payment is applied. Furthermore Jobseekers can, through co-operation with the activation service of my Department, benefit from early re-instatement of the full rate of Jobseeker’s payment,” Minister Varadkar concluded.

by Alan Jacques

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