Massive rise in number of people having their dole cut for turning down jobs
There has been a huge increase in the number of unemployed people who had their dole cut for failing to take offers of work or training.
Despite the huge decline in unemployment, the number of penalties for dole claimants failing to take recommended jobs or training courses has increased by more than 2,000pc during the past five years.
The latest figures to the end of March, when almost 3,000 people were penalised, suggest that more than 12,000 unemployed people face welfare cuts in 2017. This compares with just 359 people in 2011, which was the first full year of the scheme's operation.
Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has strongly defended the penalty measures. But Fianna Fáil welfare spokesman Willie O'Dea, who sought the data, warned that the penalties were a "crude implement" and a "sword of Damocles" hanging over unemployed people.
Mr O'Dea said people who were unemployed through no fault of their own were being forced to take low-paid jobs where they were worse off. Some people were also being obliged to join training courses that were unsuitable or of very questionable value.
"While there must be sanctions, there surely must be some controls to ensure that people are not forced, for the benefit of employers, into low-paid jobs or into education and training courses that are not suitable for them. An unemployment activation scheme is very desirable - but it must not become a sanctions scheme," Mr O'Dea told the Irish Independent.
But speaking in the Dáil just before the Easter break, Mr Varadkar defended the scheme as a part of the overall measures to tackle unemployment. He said the scheme was introduced in 2010 by Mr O'Dea's party colleague, Éamon Ó Cuív, and at any given time only affected a very small proportion of the people unemployed.
"Even at a time of relatively low unemployment, there are still 300,000 people who come on and off the live register in a given year. Of those, perhaps 10,000 might be subjected to reduced payments. It is a very small percentage of people who have their payments reduced," Mr Varadkar said.
The minister said there were no plans to expand the numbers affected beyond 12,000 people. He said the increase in numbers of people affected was partly due to greater one-to-one engagement with people by the welfare services.
Mr O'Dea said that in 2011, 359 people were subject to penalties for non-engagement, which trebled to 1,519 in 2012, and it had risen to 10,428 last year. "That is an increase of 2,300pc in five years. All of this has happened while unemployment has been falling," Mr O'Dea said.
The Fianna Fáil welfare spokesman said he had offered detailed changes to the scheme to make it fairer and more humane. He said it was important not to succumb to stereotypes about unemployed people's desire to get meaningful work.
But Mr Varadkar said there were already a number of safeguards. Payments were temporarily reduced, not stopped, and payments for dependants were never touched.