More than 4,000 people have had their unemployment benefit reduced this year for refusing to engage with the Department of Social Protection. Figures released to The Irish Times show 4,242 jobseekers have had penalties imposed on them since January 1st.
A spokeswoman for the department said: “Jobseekers who refuse to engage with services, refuse an appropriate offer of training or education, or do not attend meetings, can have their payment reduced by €44 per week.
“Strengthened sanctions were introduced in July 2013 to provide for a disqualification from payment for a period of up to nine weeks, in circumstances where a jobseeker who has had a penalty rate imposed for 21 days continues to fail to engage.
“The normal rate of payment may be reinstated at any time, if the jobseeker complies, as requested, with the activation measures; 4,242 penalty rates have been applied to Jobseekers’ payments since 1st January, 2016.”
The penalty rates for welfare payments differ depending on the size of the allowance. The top rate of Jobseeker’s Benefit can be cut from €188 to €144. Smaller penalties are applied in the case of smaller payments.
For example, a person on a rate of €84.50 may have it cut to €65.
The reduced payment rate was introduced as a last resort following a period of “non-engagement” by a welfare recipient in an employment action plan, the department said.
Meanwhile Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar confirmed that just 137 people aged between 18 and 25 took part in a Government initiative to assist young people claiming unemployment benefit to prepare for and get work.
The scheme, which was launched by then tánaiste Joan Burton last year, aimed to target 2,000 people that year. However the department said fewer than 150 people had begun internships.
In all, 137 people started First Steps internships. There are 43 now on the programme and 94 have completed it. Of those 29 have found employment.
The initiative lasts for six or nine months during which time the participants work for four days a week and use the fifth day to find a job.
Participants on First Steps receive €50 per week in addition to any existing social welfare entitlements.
Mr Varadkar is in the process of reviewing JobBridge and examining a replacement for the controversial scheme.