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Whatever about luxuries, we're cutting necessities

FOR many people this recession has re-defined the word 'luxury'. Nowadays the term can extend in practice to mean health insurance, home insurance, pension provision, mortgage protection cover – and even car insurance. New research from 'Amarach' today brings us many tales of silent terror behind brightly-painted hall doors in the once-prosperous suburbs.

For some people the family budget can fall asunder based on an income dip equivalent to €12.50 per week.

The cutback on things like insurance is exposing families to huge potential calamity – something which only compounds other anxieties.

In another sign of our times, our education editor today brings us new statistics on the rising level of third-level grants which reveal that one three in students now depends on a grant. Clearly, as incomes fall, more pressure comes on the grant system.

Maintaining these supports is about giving families hope and also providing for Ireland's future economic development. In the continuing re-ordering of government spending priorities, the third-level education grant system must be protected.

Today also we learn more about a review of pensions systems in this country which raises some very challenging questions about potential cuts. Given the success of our senior citizens in the recent past in facing down planned changes, this issue will be followed with great interest.

But all these reports on real life in middle Ireland dovetail neatly with a burgeoning debate about the policies of austerity. Over the weekend, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton added her voice to calls for a re-think.

Her officials were quick to downplay government internal tensions by insisting that Ms Burton was addressing her remarks towards Brussels and Frankfurt rather than colleagues at Government Buildings in Dublin.

But whatever about the micro-politics of this one, there is a growing sense that a real debate about the value of continued intensive economic austerity is now very firmly on the national agenda.

The authorities cannot continue to take people's heroic efforts to fight day-on-day battles against increasing demands for money and shrinking incomes. Many working people, and those who have lost their foothold in the employment market, now need special practical help. They also need tangible signs of hope that things will soon improve.

Too many people have long ago given up on luxuries and now they are cutting too deeply into necessities.

Welfare fraud is illegal, immoral and just plain wrong

IN THE latter half of the 1990s a series of early-morning checkpoints, involving gardai and tax and welfare officials, did wonders for reducing the official rate of unemployment. Today in this newspaper we bring you news of similar operations this time including people from the Social Protection Department's special investigations unit. We learn that some 80 people have been caught impersonating others in filing fraudulent claims over the past year – a shameful racket that cost taxpayers €1.25m.

Many of us will have come across these scam merchants who have no grasp of the difference between right and wrong. Shamefully, too many of us have kept silent about them and some of us have even had a sneaking regard for them in the past.

But among the lessons of economic recession is the reality that welfare fraud is theft. It is illegal and immoral and just plain wrong.

Claiming welfare payments to which one is not entitled is not a victimless crime. It is stealing from taxpayers and the vast majority of welfare claimants who play by the rules. It demoralises many people in society who sometimes feel that they are 'mugs' for being honest.

Given the current state of the economy these investigators' vigilance cannot make a huge dent in the unemployment figures. But they are doing very important work which richly deserves public support.

Irish Independent