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The unsubtle time machine takes us back… dole payments and how sometimes it’s more about what can be done rather than why… July 21, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Social Policy.
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One small change over the past number of years which diminished the grimness of signing on was the shift towards paying benefits directly into bank accounts. I benefited from this myself four or five years ago. It took some of the sting out of the process, made it seem a little more personalised. And consequently signing on at the social welfare office was only necessary on a monthly basis.

But changes are afoot.

The Department of Social and Family Affairs has suspected for months that significant numbers, particularly workers who have lost construction jobs, have exploited the loophole by claiming benefit here, and then leaving to find work abroad.

So…

Since last September welfare officials have monitored new people signing on to the Live Register to make sure claimants are living in Ireland. Some 2,048 cases were subjected to closer examination.

Of these, 182, or almost 10 per cent, were found “not to be resident at the time they were claiming benefits or were claiming a level of benefits which they were not entitled to”, Social and Family Affairs sources said.

Workers from other EU states are entitled to claim unemployment payments if they have worked here for more than two years, under arrangements made when the EU enlarged by taking in 10 Eastern European and Mediterranean states in 2004.

Now I could argue that 10% is a not unmanageable cohort, that with proper oversight Social Welfare could ensure that those claiming benefit were entitled.

But no, as we speed back, not quite to the 1980s, but certainly to something that is now beginning to feel just a little bit too like say 1993 (without the benefit of a half-way decent soundtrack) what is the instinctive response?

The government is to scrap paying dole payments directly into claimants’ bank accounts in an attempt to curb fraud by foreign and Irish workers who have quit Ireland for jobs abroad after losing their jobs here.

You might think that was bad enough, but it gets worse.

Under the change, which is to be announced officially today by Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Mary Hanafin, claimants will have to sign on at post offices weekly, rather than have the payments made automatically to them.

Okay, so the post office remains the point of contact, but…

If the payment is not collected within the week it will be cancelled and the claimant will have to go to their Social Welfare Office to get it back.

It’s a small thing, perhaps…

Costs of course enter the picture:

The level of monitoring required is significant since, on average, nearly 8,000 people signed on to the Live Register for the first time each week this year, while 5,500 others left it.

Social and Family Affairs officials now intend to “intensify” their search “over coming months” for illegal claims by regular home visits to ensure that claimants are still in Ireland.

But a remarkably low number, in view of the 10%, are actually acted upon.

In 2007, 361 cases were sent to the Chief State Solicitor’s Office.

So far this year, 205 files have been referred for prosecution and 134 people have been dealt with by the courts.

And the savings?

Last year, €63 million was saved after 165,000 illness benefit cases were reviewed, while an examination of 25,000 single-family payment cases saved €78 million more, and a review of Old-Age Pensions saved €22 million more.

Under unemployment benefit rules, claimants must be without work, capable of it, available to do it and genuinely seeking it before they qualify for either jobseekers benefit or allowances.

So, while not quite punitive, a message is sent. And just at the time that unemployment figures bounce upwards. Maybe it’s me, but doesn’t this seem just a little cynical and calculated because it’s hard to see how this change will radically change the situation (and in any case it suggests that the procedures already in place don’t operate terribly well – although terms such as ‘well’ and efficiently have a certain slippery quality in discussions such as this). In other words this is being done, not because it is necessary, or God forbid good, but because it can be done and the optics play ‘well’ to certain prejudices. And suddenly we can all see the direction the wind is blowing.

Comments»

1. Garibaldy - July 21, 2008

“The government is to scrap paying dole payments directly into claimants’ bank accounts in an attempt to curb fraud by foreign and Irish workers who have quit Ireland for jobs abroad after losing their jobs here.”

Michael O’Leary will be relieved as people fly home to get the dole

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2. Dunne and Crescendo - July 21, 2008

Fully concur WBS. Back on the labour after a long period of employment and even with the newer offices, ticket machines and less queues there still is that humiliating aspect to essentially having to beg for what your entitled to. Mind you health centres and rent allowance are even more humiliating and depressing places and experiences.

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3. sonofstan - July 21, 2008

I’d be willing to bet that that the 186 ‘fraudulent’ claims the DSW (or whatever they’re called now – dept. for the family, community and fluffy things or something) have identified would be dwarfed by the numbers not claiming what they’re entitled to as a result of short time working, not to mention those who have being laid off, but are living off savings/ credit rather than suffer the ignominy of signing on.

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4. Garibaldy - July 21, 2008

SoS,

You’ve hit the nail on the head I’d say. In the north, the forms are made as hard as possible to fill in to discourage the most vulnerable people from claiming what they are entitled to. It’s sickening. Praise the lord for the CAB and the political parties.

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5. harpymarx - July 21, 2008

There seems to be a wholesale attack on the unemployed. More conditionality, compulsion and sanctions. The green paper on welfare reform put forward by James Purnell is pretty much that over here. And they always bleat “fraud” when they conveniently forget tax evasion.

The changes you have outlined in your post is about making it harder to be unemployed and to give you that extra bureaucracy and hoop to jump through. It is punishment for being poor or disabled and/or without a job

“And suddenly we can all see the direction the wind is blowing.”

Indeed!!

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6. Garibaldy - July 21, 2008

Do people signing on in the south have to provide evidence they have been actively seeking employment?

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7. CL - July 21, 2008

Clearly an effort is being made to keep the official stats. as low as possible:

“FÁS forecasts that 31,000 net jobs will be lost in Ireland next year, and that by the end of 2009 there will be 170,000 fully unemployed, and 300,000 on the live register.”

Does anyone know why there is such a difference between the number for those ‘fully unemployed’ and the number on the ‘live register’?

300,000 on the ‘liver register’ is 14% of a labour force of 2.1mil.
http://www.rte.ie/news/2008/0718/jobs.html

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8. sonofstan - July 21, 2008

People working up to three days, or portions thereof, in a week are entitled to sign for the rest, so I guess they’re ‘on the live register’ without being ‘fully unemployed’; as I understand it, the process of documenting and certifying this in a particular week will take up all the time you’re not working.

And an interesting suggestion on the property pin that those with business interests here, but claiming tax exile status should be asked to sign as they enter and leave the ountry…..

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9. sonofstan - July 21, 2008

‘ to sign on’ in the last sentence…
and there should have been a URL
http://www.thepropertypin.com/viewtopic.php?t=11921&start=30

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10. WorldbyStorm - July 22, 2008

Humiliation is the word that springs to my mind. It’s like you say D&C, cosmetically, and sometimes that’s important, things have improved, but… this is a retrograde step.

CL, I think that’s absolutely right.

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11. Tomaltach - July 22, 2008

I don’t particularly object to the notion that only those who are entitled should get payments, though in the grand scheme of things, and as pointed out by other comments, more urgent matters could be addressed in terms of saving. The current announcement though illustrates how little we have progressed.

The government and other interests, riding a wave of powerful global forces, strived to make labour more flexible – or jobs less secure – and they succeeded. The mantra was that competitive global capital required more flexible working hours, more adaptable work practices, more movement of labour, basically a more supple, pliable worker. Arguably the global forces could not have been flatly resisted, but the quid pro quo for the insecurity should have been unemployment projection which is humane, free of stigma and viewed as a necessary component of a volatile, uneven system. But none of this happened. Instead we have the old system bolstered by the old prejudices and the old ideology. Rather depressing really.

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12. CL - July 22, 2008

So the ‘live register’ is the number unable to find full-time employment.

Therefore, going on the latest stats., the % of the labour force unable to find full-time employment is 10%… and this reserve army is growing.
.

Attempts at stigmatization is a ploy to distract attention from this failure of orthodox political economy.

The powers-that-be do not have a solution: their failed ideology is the cause of the problem. Their dilemma is an opportunity for the left.

A

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13. WorldbyStorm - July 23, 2008

In a way you and Tomaltach are saying much the same thing… not quite…but similar.

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14. Maman Poulet Nerve Severed Links | Maman Poulet - July 23, 2008

[…] By Storm over at the Cedars ponders the recent changes in payment procedures announced by the Department of Social and Family Affairs […]

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15. Neil Ward : Irish blogs - guiding me through the recession - July 29, 2008

[…] entries than normal analysing downturn-related news items as they arise.  In a similar vein, the Cedar Lounge Revolution, Maman Poulet and Mulley’s Fluffy Links are increasingly featuring analyses of various […]

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