Saturday 24 February 2018

ESRI dole report: Joan Burton fails to find figures to contradict research

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton (left) denied
interfering with the politically sensitive paper. Right: ESRI
director Frances Ruane
Social Protection Minister Joan Burton (left) denied interfering with the politically sensitive paper. Right: ESRI director Frances Ruane

Charlie Weston Personal Finance Editor

SOCIAL Protection Minister Joan Burton was at the centre of a fresh row last night over the findings of explosive research that claimed families would be better off on the dole than in work.

It came as Ms Burton took issue with some aspects of the now-withdrawn research sponsored by state-funded thinktank the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

Ms Burton was told by the author of the research, Professor Richard Tol, to come up with factual findings to contradict his conclusions. But her department was unable to produce figures to show what exactly was factually inaccurate about the findings.

Prof Tol, an economist who left the ESRI in January, was the lead author of a paper, which said 44pc of working families would be better off on the dole.

This is because it costs close to €10,000 a year to cover expenses like travel and meals for those in work, Prof Tol found.

Ms Burton denied interfering in any way to force the politically sensitive paper to be withdrawn. But her spokesman questioned some of the assumptions about the cost of going to work, without producing any of their own calculations of the cost of taking up a job.

Prof Tol last night challenged Ms Burton and her staff to produce their own figures to refute his research.

"They should come up with their own figures. They have enough civil servants to do their own analysis," he told the Irish Independent.

The ESRI admitted acting in an "unprecedented" fashion on Tuesday night by withdrawing the controversial paper.

And the row took a new twist last night when the ESRI put out a new statement claiming that Prof Tol had now revised his figures radically.

"We are aware that Prof Tol is now in possession of a revised draft of the paper which indicates that the percentage of people with children who would be better off on social welfare than working is not 44pc but less than 10pc.

"Prof Tol did not follow ESRI procedures when submitting the working paper, which is how it came to be posted on the website."


Prof Tol flatly refuted this when contacted last night.

"I am not aware of that (revising his own conclusions). I have no reason to change the numbers. I am doing additional analysis but so far there is nothing to indicate that I will change my conclusion."

And he hit out at the ESRI for putting out a statement about him without talking to him.

"The ESRI has no business putting things out to the media without consulting with me first," he said.

Prof Tol insisted that he stood by the findings of the research, which was damning of government policy.

"As far I know, the numbers are still correct and I still stand over them," he said.

Asked whether the withdrawal of the paper was an example of his previous criticism of the ESRI -- that he was not allowed to publish true information -- Prof Tol said it could "easily be construed as such".

ESRI director Frances Ruane said the ESRI had become aware of serious, technical, methodological problems with the report relating to data used.

"This was the sole reason for withdrawing the working paper. Any suggestion that the paper was withdrawn because of pressure, of any sort, from the Government, or any other source, is entirely unfounded," she said in a statement.

The report, which has flared up the debate about the generosity of our welfare system, found that work-related expenses were so high that four out of 10 working families would be better off on welfare.

Irish Independent

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