Minister says welfare system ‘not working’ for many and needs to be changed

Doherty signals intention to end traditional across-the-board welfare increases on budget day

 Regina Doherty: “When you break it down there are some who are taking more than a minimum essential living standard from the State but there are a lot of people who are not”

Regina Doherty: “When you break it down there are some who are taking more than a minimum essential living standard from the State but there are a lot of people who are not”

 

The welfare system is not “working” for thousands of households living in poverty, and radical change to systems is needed, Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty has said.

Signalling an intention to end traditional across-the-board welfare increases on budget day, the Minister said she wanted a far more targeted approach to guarantee a minimum basic income for everyone.

“As a society we would like to ensure that everybody has at least a floor which they will never go under,” she said.

Speaking on the fringes of her department’s pre-budget forum, at which advocacy groups set out their “asks” for the budget in October, Ms Doherty argued that the welfare system should guarantee a minimum essential standard of living (MESL) for everyone.

The MESL for six household “types”, in rural and urban settings, is calculated annually by the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice. The adequacy of welfare payments to meet this is assessed, with shortfalls recorded as “adequacy gaps”.

This year’s report finds the deepest income inadequacy is “now exclusively found in households headed by one adult, ie single working-age adult and lone-parent households, or in households with older children”.

A single parent of two children – one in primary school and one in secondary, on welfare and living in a town – will need €428.50 per week for a MESL, but gets only €358.90 – an “adequacy gap” of €69.60.

The same family in a rural location needs €500.44 a week, gets the same as the urban family, and struggles with an “adequacy gap” of €141.53.

Pensioner couple

In contrast, an urban pensioner couple dependent on welfare needs €314.60 a week for a MESL, but gets €425.82 – €111.22 more than they need. The same couple in the countryside needs €386.11, gets the same as the urban couple, and so has €39.71 more than they need each week.

“These issues raise important questions about the relativities between social welfare rates,” says the report.

Ms Doherty said a new approach, if achieved, would require systems change, legislative change and political as well as societal “buy-in”. It would not happen in one budget cycle, she said, but she wanted discussions on moving towards such an approach.

“It’s not about deserving more or less because everyone deserves an essential standard of living. But if you live in an area where you have public transport outside your door and can get on your bus with a free travel card well then you don’t have that cost...whereas if you live in Glenroe and you have no public transport and you have to have a car or a bicycle [your costs are higher].”

Levels of poverty

She said it could be administratively onerous, but this was not a reason to ignore the persistent levels of poverty among some groups – particularly lone-parent families and households headed by people with disabilities – despite welfare increases and a recovering economy.

“When you break it down there are some who are taking more than a minimum essential living standard from the State but there are a lot of people who are not....So there is a whole different variety of circumstances that need to be looked at, that doesn’t get addressed when you give everybody the same, across-the-board, because you still leave the people at most risk behind.”