Friday 24 November 2017

Controversial report could be used to drive down social welfare payments – SF

Sarah Stack

Sarah Stack

AN employment report by a state-funded think-tank could be used in a cynical way to drive down social welfare rates in the next budget, it was claimed today.



Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald raised concerns over the working paper by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), which claimed 44% of working families would be better off financially on the dole.



The controversial document was yesterday withdrawn by the ESRI, which said the underlying analysis needs major revision.



ESRI director Frances Ruane and social protection minister Joan Burton both insisted there was no political pressure on the body to withdraw the report.



Taoiseach Enda Kenny also said he would not stand over political involvement.



"This is an independent organisation. I could not stand over, and I would not stand over, any contact from Government to an independent organisation to say you must withdraw or take down any particular documentation," he said.



"This is the important element of what it is what we have as a society, how we follow Government decisions and make Government decisions to create employment and opportunities for our people."



Ms McDonald called on the Taoiseach to reassure struggling families that the report - which she said was a shoddy and misleading piece of work based on outdated figures - would not be used against them in the upcoming budget.



Co-author Professor Richard Tol, who no longer works at the ESRI, said he stands over his findings.



"There are of course serious issues with the data, because unfortunately in Ireland there's no real data set that really goes to the heart of this, so we had to combine two sets of data that were collected for different purposes. But as far as I know, we've done that correctly," he told RTE.



Sinn Fein said the working paper had been spun to create an impression that the "hundreds of thousands of people out of work are living a gilt-edged lifestyle".



"There is no doubt that people at work are struggling to meet their bills, we know that," Ms McDonald said to Mr Kenny in the Dail.



"There's is no doubt people are struggling directly as a consequence of the policies that you are pursuing.



"I want you to take responsibility for your position and for your decision and to acknowledge to the hundreds of thousands of families right across this state, some in work and some on welfare, who struggle to make ends meet, that you are responsible for that."



Mr Kenny said the Government would accept responsibility for the decisions it makes.



"Of course I recognise that many people in this country are struggling, of course I understand the despair that some people feel and I empathise with them in their frustration that the scale of jobs and expectations that they have for themselves and their families are not being delivered as fast as we would like," he added.



There was a lively debate in the Dail as Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin also attacked the Government's action plan for jobs, which had aimed to create 100,000 new posts by 2011.



Unemployment, particularly long-term unemployment, has risen and was a damning indictment of the coalition's initiatives, Mr Martin said during Leaders Questions.



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