Wednesday 21 February 2018

Half of dole 'lifers' are getting top-ups on welfare benefits

Daniel McConnell and John Drennan

MORE than half of dole recipients who have never worked are also in receipt of additional welfare top-ups and benefits, such as rent and fuel allowance, new figures reveal.

These figures have emerged as welfare recipients who fail to engage with State training schemes are now being threatened with having their dole cut for two months.

The change will come as part of an effort by Social Protection Minister Joan Burton to further toughen sanctions for recipients of unemployment benefit who fail to take up offers of training and re-education.

Recidivist offenders who have had a penalty rate imposed but still refuse to engage in training schemes will be subject to the further sanction of suspension of their jobseekers' payment for up to nine weeks.

It has also emerged that social protection officers have teamed up with customs officers in the setting up of roadblocks in rural areas in order to counter black-market activity.

On foot of such roadblocks, a number of investigations have already been initiated against those who were found to be working but who are also receiving social welfare payments.

The new figures, supplied to the Sunday Independent by Labour chairman Colm Keaveney, reveal that there are 43,375 people who have never paid any PRSI contribution in their working lives.

It has also been revealed that of these, 22,102 are in receipt of at least one other benefit. Many thousands are in receipt of several other welfare benefits, despite never having contributed to the State's social insurance fund.

"When you think of the amount of money needed to be saved in social protection – about €750m, which is enough to pay for two Croke Parks – it shows how important these new measures are," said Mr Keaveney.

Ms Burton's department has said that just because a person has made no contribution to the fund it "does not necessarily mean they have never worked or that they have been entirely dependent on welfare".

The move to axe benefits comes amid ongoing Troika concerns about the effectiveness and speed of Ms Burton's department's pace of reform.

Currently, those refusing to engage with the system can have their benefit cut by €44.

Other new figures obtained show that to date 2,600 people have had their benefits cut.

Penalties are also imposed on those who fail to attend meetings with an employment services officer or drop out of a training programme.

Despite the Troika's unease, the Sunday Independent has learnt that after a slow start, the numbers having their dole cut under the current penalty rate scheme for non-co-operative welfare recipients has accelerated.

The latest departmental figures reveal that since its introduction in April 2011, a total of 2,841 penalty rates have been applied.

And while the average is more than 100 suspensions a month, one source said: ''Our sense is that the numbers have risen swiftly in recent months and the figures may escalate further."

Irish Independent

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