MENTION of the reality that some people are better off on welfare rather than working often provokes a knee-jerk response of denial and challenge to the motivation of those who raise the issue. But again today the Irish Independent shows that, if one parent in a family of four took a minimum-wage job, the household would be €80 per week the poorer for it.
Our family of four on welfare could expect an annual income of €33,185. That calculation is based on jobseeker's allowance with additional payments for a spouse/partner and children, child benefit, fuel allowance, back to school allowances and rent supplement.
However, if one partner took a full-time job at the minimum wage, their yearly income would amount to just €29,164.
The working family would receive a social welfare top-up payment of €8,330 to boost their job earnings of €17,414. But crucially, they would be most unlikely to get rent supplement.
Over 82,000 households are paid rent supplement and at the maximum rate of €823 per month it adds up to almost €10,000 a year. But there are very restrictive conditions under which working families can receive it and in practice it is a welfare recipient's payment. This is just simple, factual arithmetic which speaks of a welfare trap which risks binding people into perpetual poverty.
It is a denial of advancement towards independence for that family unit. It also has social and economic costs for Irish society which have implications for economic recovery and our general well-being as a community.
In plain language this is a crazy situation and we have to face up to it. Firstly, on one side we need to stop knee-jerk denials and questioning the motivation of those who point up the facts.
Secondly, we need to lose any judgmental comments about welfare recipients who make a perfectly reasonable decision not to go to work and lose €80 per week in the process.
Then we have to move on to the welfare system and begin removing disincentives to take a job.
We recognise that our welfare system is a complex behemoth where the law of unintended consequences often hangs over reform efforts. But it is still not beyond the wit of humankind to put in pro-work elements.
We recognise that Social Protection Minister Joan Burton has already publicly recognised the problem and spoken of some efforts to address it. But more needs to be done with greater urgency.
Clearly, the rules on rent supplement require close scrutiny to see how they can cease to be a disincentive to taking low-paid work.
A FEW SIMPLE MEASURES WILL HELP BOTH PARENTS AND CHILDREN ALIKE
IT DOES not require a great leap of imagination to understand the latest tranche of the 'Growing Up in Ireland' study. It shows how the impact of stress on parents undermines parental effectiveness with a knock-on effect on young children up to nine months old. The study 'Parenting and Infant Development' will be launched today.
In sum, parents are pre-occupied, irritable and worried about meeting life's challenges. The child's sense of security and development of social skills suffer accordingly. But it is not all doom and gloom. The study also finds that targeted policies to help parents cope with raising a child can give better results.
In a time when austerity has affected thousands with financial worries many people fret about providing the basics of life. Parents of fussy and irritable children are deemed less likely to have been sensitive to their child's needs. This generates still more irritability in a kind of vicious circle. The study finds that policies supporting expectant mothers, supports for premature children and those with a low birth weight, could help.
Extra visits from community nurses and more information to parents on what to expect in terms of child development – including age-appropriate activities – can help achieve better outcomes. The overall thrust of this ongoing study series is amassing a welcome storehouse of data which will be invaluable to social policy makers who are aiming to make a better environment for children growing up in this country.