New ESRI report has 'significant revisions'


THE ECONOMIC and Social Research Institute (ESRI) last night claimed a research paper that it removed from its website on Tuesday, because it feared the findings could have misled the public, has been significantly revised in a new draft.

The institute said the latest version of the The Cost of Working in Ireland paper stated that fewer than 10 per cent of people with young children would be better off on the “dole” than in employment, down from 44 per cent in the draft it withdrew in what it described as an “unprecedented” move.

However, a co-author of the report Richard Tol defended the methodology yesterday and last night said the figures cited from the revised draft “were news to me”.

In a statement, the ESRI said any suggestion that the paper was withdrawn “because of pressure, of any sort, from Government, or any other source, is entirely unfounded”.

It said the decision was taken because senior researchers, who it said were experts in this area, concluded that the analysis it contained was seriously flawed. “This was the sole reason for withdrawing the working paper.”

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said “there was certainly no pressure from myself” to remove the paper.

She said that evidence-based policy was critical to making good decisions, particularly around how social welfare money would be spent.

Earlier, Prof Richard Tol had defended the methodology that was used in the research and he said that two separate sets of data from the Central Statistics Office had been considered in the preparation of the paper.

Interviewed on RTÉ radio Prof Tol, who left the ESRI some six months ago, and who now works at Sussex University in England, was asked whether the withdrawal of his paper was an example of his not being allowed by the institute to publish “true information”.

He said: “It could easily be constructed as such. I don’t know why this decision was made or what pressure led to this decision.”

Asked if he suspected Government pressure had been brought to bear, he said: “It could have happened.”

Prof Tol’s departure from the ESRI was marked by claims that the institute’s independence was affected by its financial dependence on Government funding.

Ms Burton said some families with children, who were in receipt of unemployment assistance, could be in “poverty traps” and could be better off staying on the dole.

However, she said over two-thirds of unemployed people had a “significant financial incentive” to work, adding that the proportion of families with children on the live register, and getting rent supplement, amounted to just 2 per cent of the total.

Asked if her Department would be examining the findings of Prof Tol’s report she said that she would “certainly look at any research as it relates to unemployment”.

Ms Burton said, however, she found it “odd” that media were highlighting the unpublished findings given that her Department published CSO statistics on the live register every month.

These indicate that 51 per cent of people on the live register received less than €188 a week, and 67 per cent, or 289,000 people, received this amount or less.

She said there was a minority, particularly families with a high number of children, who might also be in receipt of rent supplement who were in a “poverty trap”.

The ESRI said Prof Tol did not follow its procedures when submitting the working paper and that this was how it came to be posted on the website.

“In the light of this episode, procedures for the release of working papers on the ESRI website will be revised to ensure that a similar situation does not arise in the future,” the ESRI said.

Prof Tol said last night in an emailed response to The Irish TImes: “I followed procedures, as far as I know.”