Burton fires the first shot in Budget fight with dole crackdown
SOCIAL Protection Minister Joan Burton has launched a pre-emptive strike in her budget battle to reduce social welfare cuts with her dole payments clampdown.
She is taking a tough stance by moving to halt dole payments for over two months for those who repeatedly refuse to take up work or training. The move will ease concerns among the troika, who have been constantly calling for such "activation" measures.
But Ms Burton's bigger strategic goal is to reduce the proposed €440m social welfare cuts in the October Budget. A source pointed out that she had managed to get social welfare cutbacks reduced in the last two budgets.
She has already sent a signal of intent to her cabinet colleagues this week, saying that the ratio of tax measures to spending cuts in the next budget is "still to be determined".
That is set to provoke tensions with Fine Gael TDs, who do not want to see new taxes increased so that social welfare cuts can be reduced.
And there will also be a battle over whether the €1bn in savings from the Anglo promissory notes deal should be used to reduce the €3.1bn adjustment in Budget 2014.
In little-noticed remarks to the Dail last week, Ms Burton set out her stall by describing the current €20.3bn social welfare budget as a "crucial injection of cash into the economy".
"As I have said recently in several forums, the EU needs to shift its approach from austerity only if the union is to recover – and thankfully, I believe that message is now beginning to seep through," she said.
Ms Burton intends to press ahead in the meantime with changes to the rules for claiming the dole on July 1. From then on, it will be possible to suspend a person's dole payments for up to nine weeks if they repeatedly refuse an offer of work or training.
However, Fianna Fail education spokesman Charlie McConalogue warned that it would be unfair to cut dole payments for people who had not been offered suitable training courses.
"The focus needs to be on ensuring that courses are appropriate to the needs of people and give them a chance of gainful employment. That should be the minister's number one focus," he said.
Social welfare officers already have the power to cut the dole payments of those who do not co-operate by up to €44 per week. But this is the first time the payment would be withdrawn entirely.
Those who have their dole payments cut off will still be able to get their rent paid through rent supplement as well as cash payments for children. And they'll be able to get their dole back at any stage if they show a willingness to take up an offer of work or training.