John Drennan: A third of Government's expenditure now goes on social welfare
Figures obtained by the Sunday Independent on social welfare spending during 2010 reveal the astonishing scale of Ireland's expenditure on State benefits.
The figures contained in the Department of Social Protection's Statistical Information on Social Welfare Services 2010 document show that, in spite of an ongoing series of bitterly contested cutbacks, social welfare payments continue to be one of the few growth industries.
The document, which is currently being read with great interest by the troika -- European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund -- reveals that the overall social welfare budget of €20.8bn (representing an increase of 1.5 per cent from 2009) now constitutes 33.4 per cent of all current government expenditure.
Such is the plethora of the more than 80 schemes which now come under the social welfare brief, actual dole payments to the unemployed, is just under 25 per cent of the total budget.
A further 22.1 per cent is spent on pensions, with the balance being taken up by an astonishing variety of payments from free travel to farm-assist payments.
The size and reach of the department means that simply administering the social welfare budget cost over €575m last year.
In spite of the apparent scale of the cost of administration, this was less than three per cent of the department's total budget.
Other major items of expenditure include single parent payments of €1.1bn -- whilst in spite of a swingeing series of cutbacks, 591,432 families and 1,124,0003 children receive just over €2.2bn in child benefit.
The figures for the department show the first indications of a country that is rapidly greying.
In 2001 the number of citizens in receipt of a pension from the State stood at 276,065. But by last year this had increased to 393,825.
The report also unveils an extraordinary increase over the last decade, particularly during the free-spending Cowen era, in the amount of people who are receiving social welfare payments and the cost of this to the Exchequer.
In 2001, 903,375 citizens received some form of social welfare and there were 1,460,574 beneficiaries of the social welfare system.
However, by last year this had escalated to 1,430,833 recipients and 2,179,428 beneficiaries.
During that same period of time, the social welfare budget increased from €7.842bn (or 6.7 per cent of GDP) in 2001 to €20.848bn which represents 13.5 per cent of GDP.
The overall breakdown of the social welfare expenditure is detailed below.
The percentage figures cited represent either increases and decreases on the 2009 figures.
Total budget: €20.848bn (approximately).
Older people -- €4,614,970,000 (+1 per cent); widows, widowers, one parent families -- €2,570,345,000 (-1.4 per cent); child benefit -- €2,650,751,000 (-7.9 per cent).
Illness and disability-- €3,469,550,000 (-1 per cent); employment supports -- €597,095,000 (+31.4 per cent); job-seekers supports -- €4,094,732,000 (Dole) (+9.5 per cent).
Supplementary welfare allowances -- €950,919,000 (-1.9 per cent); miscellaneous payments -- €1,324,101,000 (+8.4 per cent); administration -- €575,567,000 (-2.9 per cent).
A more detailed breakdown of the budget reveals an exponential growth in the amount of activities the Department of Social Protection now funds.
These include: deserted wives benefit -- €93,388,000; deserted wives allowance -- €5,020,000; one parent family payment -- €1,110,350,000; family income supplement -- €186,001,000.
Invalidity pension -- €640,007,000; illness benefit -- €942,386,000; farm assist -- €110,931,000; supplementary welfare -- €950,919,000.
Carers' allowance -- €501,822,000; carers benefit -- €26,305,000; respite care -- €128,114,000; household benefits and free travel -- €670,766,000.
The State also paid out €516,861,000 in rent supplements and a further €65,654 in mortgage interest payments to the unemployed.
Commenting on the publication of the report, however, the Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said "supports administered by my department provide for the complex and multi-faceted needs of people at every stage of life''.
She added that these supports affirmed "the Government's commitment to the welfare of all those in need of support''.