FG criticises some welfare pay increases during boom


THE RATE of increase in payments to some social welfare recipients during the economic boom was criticised by Fine Gael TD Billy Timmins. He said the most vulnerable in society must be protected. “We talk about the elderly, the sick, and many who will never be able to work again,’’ Mr Timmins added.

“It is also important to acknowledge that many people who receive payments from the €20.9 billion welfare budget are not vulnerable.’’ He called on Minister for Social Protection Eamon Ó Cuív to split the welfare budget between those who were vulnerable and those who were not in difficulty.

He was also concerned, he said, about social welfare fraud, adding that several billion euro could be saved if it was tackled properly.

Mr Timmins said in February 2001, at a time of virtually full employment, there were still 137,400 people on the Live Register claiming State assistance.

An OECD analysis of the labour force in 2009 concluded that the Republic had a disproportionate number of people claiming incapacity, unemployment, lone parent and safety net benefits when compared to countries with similar labour markets and historical roots, such as Australia, New Zealand and Britain.

“These countries made a determined effort to introduce new progressive employment and training policies to encourage benefit recipients into working during the years of high demand for employment,’’ said Mr Timmins.

“Ireland did nothing, and in 2007 it still had 15.6 per cent of the working age population claiming incapacity, unemployment, lone-parent and safety net benefits, up marginally from 15.2 per cent in 2001.’’ He said because of our young population, Ireland’s rate of incapacity benefit should be lower than other countries.

“The meaning of all this is that our high State dependency rate is making the current unemployment crisis worse and fostering a vicious circle of long-term unemployment as long-term benefit-recipients lose touch with the labour market and become demoralised,’’ said Mr Timmins.

He asked if governments serving since independence had failed people by not providing adequate resources for social welfare recipients, given the dramatic increases required between 2000 and 2010.

Alternatively, he added, was it the case that the Government bought the people with their own money and now must repay it in multiples?

“I believe the latter. This is a damning indictment of the policy of the Government,’’ said Mr Timmins. “I can still hear the clapping ringing in my ears after the budget, in which every benefit was increased.’’

Money was spent as if by drunken sailors, and Ireland was suffering because of that policy, he added.

Mr Timmins was speaking during a debate on the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No2) Bill 2010, amending and extending welfare legislation.

Introducing the Bill, Mr Ó Cuív said the Government was proud of its “unrivalled record’’ in increasing the level of social welfare payments.

Over the past 12 years, pension rates had risen by about 120 per cent, unemployment benefits by almost 130 per cent, and child benefit by over 330 per cent. The cost of living had increased by about 40 per cent over the same period.

This year, €20.9 billion would be spent by the Government on social welfare provision, some €500 million, or 2.45 per cent, more than last year.